From the day of its independence, Pakistan’s relations with the former Soviet Union (Russia) have been subject to a fundamental question which most experts both in the academic and practitioner circles identify as the foundation stone of Pakistan-Russia Relations. This question relates to whether Pakistan ever really had the infamous ‘Russian option’.
The well-known visit of Liaqat Ali Khan, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, to United States in May 1950 is claimed to have set the direction of Pakistan’s foreign policy — making Pakistan forevermore an ally of the US and the Western bloc and therefore ‘necessarily’ in conflict with the USSR — and throughout the Cold War period, Pakistan’s relations with the former Soviet Union progressed in this direction. Whether there was ever a formal invitation from the USSR or a mere verbal communiqué, the result remains the same – given the evolving strategic environment of the time, Liaqat Ali Khan’s visit to Washington was not perceived or received well in Moscow.
This visit has been a historical ‘stigma’ of sorts for Pakistan and a dominant factor in defining Pak-Russia relations in the following decades. It is important to remember however, that Pakistan’s foreign policy has always evolved through a vicious cycle of reactions to developing circumstances, and it has never been proactive or designed beforehand.
Pakistan-Russia relations have often been the victim of unsystematic foreign policy decisions and patchy fixes, as a consequence of which there has been little to no stability and very little progress. While there has always been great potential for economic growth and political rapport between the two, it has never managed to get materialized in a progressive fashion.
Today, the scenario of regional and international politics in South Asia is about to change in light of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and particularly given the recent rapprochement between Iran and USA on the nuclear deal. The region is in for a massive upheaval; the US will be scaling back from Afghanistan, the nature of interest of regional players and the great powers will be changing, perhaps over and over again in short periods of time. It is therefore a vital necessity of the time to reflect on Pakistan’s foreign policy and relations, deliberate and develop viable policy options for how Pakistan can diversify its foreign policy and broaden its diplomatic options.
CPGS has taken an initiative in this regard by organizing and conducting a Monthly Seminar Series, Pakistan Foreign Policy Review, analyzing bilateral relations with a different partner state in each session, with the aim of better understanding global and regional dynamics and Pakistan’s relations with these states. The first CPGS seminar was “Pakistan-USA Relations: Convergence and Divergence” and this seminar focuses on “Pakistan-Russia Relations: Prospects and Challenges”.
The Pakistani Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif paid an official visit to the United States of America from October 20th to 23rd, 2013. The visit and his talks with President Obama received widespread attention and media coverage in both countries. Pakistani and USA media coverage of the visit highlighted various critical bilateral issues between Pakistan and the US. The key issues of counter terrorism, non-proliferation, the end-game in Afghanistan, shared democratic values, economic growth, aid for energy and social sectors, defense cooperation, nuclear security and regional cooperation were among some of the topics discussed.
It was interesting to note that the American media did not portray a very positive outcome of this visit; an article published in The Washington Post on October 21st, 2013 that Pakistani and US leaders aimed to bolster ‘troubled ties’ only with an eye on the end-game in Afghanistan. Pakistani media on the other hand mainly covered issues like drone strikes, strategic dialogue, trade and aid.
In this backdrop, CPGS conducted an in-house Roundtable Discussion, with a select panel of prominent scholars and experts on Pakistan-US ties, to evaluate and discuss “Pakistan-US Relations: Convergence and Divergence”, in order to build a fair understanding of the current and future Pakistan-US relationship.
The US-Pakistan relations are characterized by increasing divergence between the two countries rather than the convergence. Both countries disagree on the issue of drone attacks, on the war against terror, over relationship with India and Iran. A potential convergence also exists on the end game in Afghanistan and a strategic cooperation leading to a broad partnership in other spheres but it will take a herculean effort on both sides to overcome their differences.
The issue of drone attacks tops the list of Pakistani agenda as the drone attacks kill the innocent civilians, inflict collateral damage and violate Pakistan’s sovereignty. Pakistan is caught in the vicious cycle as the drone attacks create new suicide bombers who seek revenge from the Pakistani public, a supposed US ally in the war against terror.
More importantly, the drone attacks also prevent the newly elected democratic regime of Pakistan to adopt an indigenous counter-terrorism policy towards the militant groups in FATA as endorsed by the All Parties conference. Whenever Pakistan government shows its willingness to engage in the dialogue, the drone attacks take place as has happened recently, or a wave of terrorist attacks is unleashed, putting the policy on hold. It is ironical that the US itself has been pursuing the policy of dialogue with the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan while pressurizing Pakistan to use force in FATA. These contending conceptions of war against terrorism also constitute another divergence between the two countries.
CIA’s presence in Pakistan also becomes significant in the wake of Edward Snowden recent revelations that fifty percent of CIA’s black budget is being spent on the surveillance of Pakistan’s nuclear program. The issue of CIAs presence has been a source of friction between the US and Pakistan since the arrest of Raymond Davis in Lahore. It is no secret as Mark Mozzetti in his book “Way of Knife” has revealed that CIA has been involved in massive covert warfare in Pakistan and Pakistan is the “most penetrated” country in the world. Pakistan’s nuclear program is at grave risk in case the thousand s of CIA operatives remain active in the country. The leaked Abbott bad Commission report shows how the ground presence of CIA helped succeed the American raid on Pakistan.
Differences over Pakistan’s relations with India and Iran also constitute another source of friction between the US and Pakistan. The US wants Pakistan to stop backing the militant groups in Kashmir ignoring the indigenous causes of militancy in Kashmir while Pakistan wants US to persuade India to revive the composite dialogue process aimed at resolving all outstanding issues including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. It is also ironical that the US has made India its strategic partner by signing the nuclear deal and not only denies the same cooperation to energy-starved Pakistan but is also pressurizing Pakistan to cancel its gas pipe deal with Iran. Pakistan is threatened with sanctions if it goes ahead with the proposed Iran gas pipeline agreement.
A potential convergence exists about the end-game in Afghanistan where both the US and Pakistan want some kind of political settlement of Afghanistan. It is certainly in the interest of the two countries if the Taliban become the part of some power-sharing agreement in Afghanistan and the civil war does not erupt in Afghanistan. Pakistan has been releasing the key Taliban leadership to facilitate the reconciliation process in Afghanistan and is also making positive overtures to Afghanistan but the stalemate between the US and Taliban continues to persist as the US exit deadline approaches nearer. The indications are that the US will walk away from Afghanistan even without a compromise among the contending groups in Afghanistan, leading to a re-eruption of the civil war and leaving Pakistan in the lurch to deal with the fall-out. As the US-Afghan bilateral security talks hit the snags over the immunity issue for the American soldiers deployed in Afghanistan after 2014, the Obama administration is seriously thinking of zero option, i.e. withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan.
John Kerry, the US secretary of state talked about the revival of strategic cooperation between the two countries during his last visit to Islamabad but it appears to be a non-starter because of prevalence of hawkish groups led by CIA and Pentagon in the Obama administration. If the Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, despite her unusual access to Obama, could not make any difference in the US policy towards Pakistan then it appears unlikely that John Kerry would make any substantial difference. The talk of strategic cooperation appears to be merely rhetorical in order to seek Pakistan’s cooperation for the smooth exit of the US troops from Afghanistan.
Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS) held a round table with Prof. Marvin G. Weinbaum, Professor Emeritus, University of Illinois and Scholar, Middle East Institute, Washington D.C. on “Gulf Security: Emerging Scenario” on Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 1700 hours at the Islamabad Club, Islamabad. The round table was held under ‘Chatham House Rule.’
Scholars, intellectuals, policy makers, and academics from various field related to defence and security participated in the round table. This round table was aimed at discussing the evolving geopolitical and geostrategic situation of the gulf religion, security challenges, emerging security landscape of the region and future policy options for the countries concerned.
The roundtable was chaired by the CPGS President, Senator Sehar Kamran and moderated by Syed Muhammad Ali, member Board of Directors, CPGS. The roundtable started with the brief introduction of the panelist to the participants.
Prof. Marvin G. Weinbaum presented his views on the evolving situation of the Gulf Security and what, in his point of view; the security landscape of the Gulf Region will look like in future. After his impressive and knowledgeable talk on the issue, the house was opened for the questions and discourse. The scholars from the strategic community of Pakistan and Gulf Region held deep discussion with the panellist through questions and debate.
The proceedings started with the brief introduction of CPGS. He informed the participants that CPGS is a non-partisan think tank established to undertake studies in policy research, advocacy and consultancy to enhance understanding and relations in diverse fields between Pakistan, the Gulf countries as well as the world at large. The Centre has been instituted to harness mutual potential for cooperation to attain peace, security, economic development and to asses emerging trends and devise strategies for possible future challenges.
He further highlighted the objectives and operational framework of the think tank i.e. promoting regional integration and international peace and harmony with a broader aim to share the regional narrative with the rest of the world and vice versa, through intellectual and robust academic engagement.
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