By Sadia Kazmi
While the prospects of Pakistan and Russia cozying up to each other seem bright, there are certain geopolitical realities which shall be considered before getting too optimistic or skeptical about the future of the ties. The warming up of relations has been welcomed on both sides however one notices an intentional cautiousness regarding out rightly embracing each other. There are understandable reasons behind that. The Cold War grievances although are washing away, owing mostly to the reshuffling of interests at the regional and global levels, they can’t be altogether forgotten. This is one of the reasons why Russia at many instances is being very careful lest it annoys its longtime ally and strategic partner India. India has asked Russia not to
Nonetheless, the positive drift has been set in motion through frequent diplomatic exchanges which have considerably cemented the way for promising military, security and defence cooperation. Recent in this regard was a high level ministerial meeting in Moscow led by the National Security Advisor Nasser Khan Janjua on 22-23 April with his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev. The meetings came against the backdrop of the 9th International Meeting of High-Level Officials responsible for security matters, hosted by Russia in Sochi. It also came in the wake of a meeting between the Pakistani and Russian defense ministers at the 7th Moscow Conference on International Security in early April where Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said both nations would build upon efforts to boost defense cooperation.
A major factor for the convergence of interests between the two is the IS, wherein Russia has genuine fears regarding the existence, influence and spread of the IS and its supporters inside Afghanistan to the adjacent Central Asian states and eventually into Russia. This happens to be a concern for Pakistan too, having Afghanistan its westward neighbor, the threat of IS is brought quite close to home. Hence a collective effort by both Russia and Pakistan against this threat is the need of the hour. Russia has already been quite actively engaged with Iran and Syria in fight against IS. Russia’s experience can come in handy for Pakistan, whose battle hardened military forces are already well equipped with fighting terrorism at domestic and global levels. While Pakistan can be helpful for Russia in the context of familiarity with the terrain and can also provide much required physical contiguity. In fact, this is the very reason Russia in February 2018, named an honorary consul to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that border Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, with IS having its headquarters there.
The presence of IS along the northern borders of Afghanistan also worries Russia since the influence is being spilled over into the adjacent Central Asian states. The desire to expand the military to military cooperation was expressed in the latest bilateral meeting between Pakistan COAS Gen. Qamar Jawed Bajwa and the Russian counterpart Gen. Oleg Salyukov. Both met when Gen. Bajwa went on a two day visit to Russia on 22-23 April 2018. Russia openly acknowledged Pakistan as an important geostrategic partner and endorsed that Pakistan’s efforts in curbing terrorism are praise worthy. This is quite opposite to what the US has been accusing Pakistan of and is continuously pressurizing Pakistan to do more. This could be good for Pakistan especially with regards to the FATF decision put in motion by the US, according to which it is likely that Pakistan is going to be put on the FATF watchlist/grey list by June 2018. This faith in Pakistan’s efforts by Russia, surely makes the case for Pakistan much stronger and helps regain Pakistan’s faith within the international community.
At the same time Russia and Pakistan both believe that economic development is the ultimate answer to any kind of extremism. There is a realization that the economic prosperity is bound to bring stability and peace and fends off any untoward elements. Even though at present, the trade volume between the two only accounts for US $ 500 million, which is not much. The energy starved Pakistan could be a potential market for Russia. By forging military, economic and robust diplomatic ties, Russia can upend historic alliances in the region, as there are many common grounds on which to build a firm diplomatic ties. There is also a hope that Russia would explore the option of being part of the economic corridor with Pakistan. Although it might be too early to say anything in this regard with certainty but the possibility cannot be , as ruled out, as Russia requires a convenient access to the warm waters, which Pakistan can provide to it.
Along with that, the US factor also is one of the pushing elements, where in Russia views the presence of the US inside Afghanistan with concern. By warming up to Pakistan, Russia also wants to undermine the US influence particularly in Afghanistan and in the region.
Last but not the least, the Russian growing interest in renewing relations with Pakistan, provides a much needed respite to the deteriorating diplomatic Pak-US relations. While the Russia-Pak relations cannot probably serve as a substitute for Pak-US relations, but the opening has emerged where Pakistan can diversify its diplomatic options and may not necessarily have to rely on just one state.