By Ikram Ullah Khan & Ifrah Waqar

Jun 5, 2014

Pak RussiaPakistan and Russia are entering into a new phase of bilateral cooperation as Moscow announced lifting of an arms embargo on Pakistan on June 2, 2014 which was imposed during the Soviet era. This step is being viewed by the relevant experts as a major development insofar as the two countries’ relationship is concerned as no such cooperation or collaboration has existed before between them.

Nonetheless, it needs to be seen how the lifting of this embargo will benefit Pakistan. While Pakistan already has a sufficient arms supply chain from the United States, it is widely assumed that the quality of those weapons is better than the Russian ones.

If we analyze the situation carefully, the scope of this development may not be limited to military cooperation only. It is highly likely that this development will widen the scope of bilateral cooperation between these two countries. This notable development will open new frontiers of cooperation which will primarily deal with three main domains, i.e., defence, politics and economy.

This recent move by the Russian side will bolster the bilateral ties between these two states. It would act as a catalyst to improve bilateral relations between Pakistan and Russia in the coming years. It will also facilitate in establishing close professional collaboration based on mutual trust between the two militaries and in energy development and industrial sector. This cooperation will also strengthen the regional anti-terrorism efforts and maritime security.

In the past, both the states have had no formal cooperative defence mechanism, and their defence ties were rather strained and more influenced by the Cold War era relationship of the Soviet Union with India. During the Cold War period, there were two global blocs headed by the United States and the Soviet Union. Pakistan was then a U.S. ally and had tense relations with the Soviet Union.

Especially after the 9/11 incident, the strategic landscape has changed which has set a strategic compulsion forcing the countries to revisit their earlier foreign policies. In this context, Pakistan and Russia are no exceptions.

In the post-9/11 era, the politico-military leadership of both sides paid important visits to each other’s country. In this context, the Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affaris, Alexander Losyukov’s visit in April 2001, former Pakistani President Pervaiz Musharaff’s visit to Moscow in 2003 are worth mentioning. The relations revitalized between the two countries when the Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov visited Pakistan in 2007. He was the first post-Soviet prime minister to visit Pakistan in 38 years.

The Army Chiefs of both sides have also visited each other’s country. First, the Russian Army Chief paid a visit to Pakistan and then Pakistan’s former Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani, visited Russia in 2012. This visit turned many heads as Russia’s Defence Minister cancelled his visit to India in order to receive General Kiyani in Moscow.

Apparently, these past developments have brought no significant outcome as far as the relationship between the two countries is concerned. It is important to note that the recent happenings are a direct result of the afore-mentioned events that have taken place as far as Pakistan-Russia relations are concerned. It is also a poignant question as to why such a crucial decision, having strategic implications, has been taken by the Russian side to lift the arms embargo on Pakistan, at this point?

It is pertinent to note that the Russian decision to lift this arms embargo has come after the Crimea episode which has been referred to by the observers as Cold War version 2.0; the echoes of the Cold War era are being heard across the globe.

Experts view that in this current world order, new informal alliances are taking place, especially after the Syrian crisis when Iran, Russia and China have made it clear through diplomatic means and gestures that they will not accept any foreign interference in the entire region. The world has seen that there were tangible Western plans to attack Syria, but they changed their intentions mainly due to the resistance of and the combined pressure applied by China, Russia and Iran.

Many believe the resurgence of Russia has brought a new opportunity for Pakistan to engage, initiate and enhance a meaningful bilateral dialogue and cooperation with Russia. This opportunity should not be missed as was the case during Liaquat Ali Khan’s first visit to Washington in 1950 because, according to some historians, he chose to visit Washington instead of the Soviet Union and so the opportunity to forge ties with the Soviet Union was not utilized.

A pleasant and meaningful bilateral cooperation between these countries appears to be of paramount importance for regional peace and stability as a stable Afghanistan is in favour of both states.  A prevailing opinion within Pakistan is that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the likelihood of a proxy war will have a spill-over effect on this country.

It has been evident in the past that the U.S. has left Pakistan to deal with the consequences as was seen at the end of the Afghan war in 1988. It is a known fact that the extremists Pakistan is currently fighting against are a by-product of that Afghan war. So, in this regard, Pakistan has a lot of concerns regarding the American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Some political analysts within Pakistan also believe that the formation of a new regional alliance consisting of China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan would have great potential in stabilizing the region in the post-2014 scenario. Moreover, Russia can play an instrumental role in preventing a vacuum formation in Afghanistan. It is of significant importance that Pakistan needs to be on the same page with all  neighbouring countries of Afghanistan to the extent post 2014 Afghanistan is concerned.

Pakistan and Russia are nuclear weapon states. Russia can help Pakistan by providing its support in this domain just the way it supported India by leasing it a nuclear submarine in 2011 which was formally commissioned into service by the Indian navy as INS-Chakra in 2012. If Russia and Pakistan can strike a deal on the procurement of the Russian Mi-35 helicopters, which are currently being negotiated between the two countries, it would be a huge leap forward in their relations.

Pakistan and Russia have a huge potential in the field of trade. Russia can utilize Pakistan’s southern waters for trade and shipping. That will help increase Pakistan’s bilateral trade volume with Russia many-fold. Pakistan’s infrastructure will also improve if Pakistan provides Russia with this trade corridor in case these plans materalise. An example of Pakistan steel mills is in front of us which was established with Russia’s assistance and has proved to be one of the most important strategic assets for Pakistan.

Russia can help Pakistan in the energy development sector as it has the relevant expertise and technology. During the past few years, Pakistan has been facing an intense energy crisis which has directly affected Pakistan’s economic growth. Pakistan’s energy sector can provide a huge potential for establishing collaboration between Pakistan and Russia. Russia can not only invest in Pakistan’s energy sector, but Pakistan can also reap benefits from Russia’s vast experience and expertise in the fields of oil and gas exploration.

Pakistan can utilise Russia’s influence in Central Asia to garner future energy collaboration with the Central Asian Republics (CARs) as it will not only benefit Pakistan’s energy needs but also provide the CARs with a new market. Moreover, an agreement with Russia’s Gazprom (Gas company in which Russian government has major stakes) can prove to be of vital strategic importance between the two countries.

In a nutshell, Pakistan and Russia have a huge unexplored potential in their relationship. It is quite evident that Islamabad is not oblivious to the resurgence of Russia and, meanwhile, a strong realization of Pakistan’s geo-strategic location and importance also exists in Moscow. It is the need of time that the two countries formally channelized their bilateral cooperation and explore further avenues of mutual importance to the maximum. The lifting of the Russian arms embargo is a significant step, but it should be kept in mind that this step is not an end in itself; it should rather be viewed as one of the many steps to come.

The writers are currently working as Research Associate at the Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS).

The views expressed in this article are of writers own and do not necessarily present the position of the Centre.

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