Revisioning Pak-russia Relations
Dr. Shaheen Akhtar Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Regional Studies, Islamabad.
In recent years there has been warming up of Pak-Russia relations that have seen many ups and downs during the Cold War years when erstwhile Soviet Union was engaged in power bloc politics and looked at the South Asian region through that prism. Pakistan on the other hand looked at its relations with the Soviet Union through the lens of its relations with India and joined the opposite western bloc and became a close ally of the United States. The end of ColdWar, the emergence of a multipolar world and 9/11 has created space for revisioning of Pakistan Russia relationship. In international politics, there are no permanent friends or enemies but the interests of the states that shape their friendship or enmity. The two countries live in a shared neighbourhood and have lot of commonality of interest that binds them together. These range from threat of terrorism, extremism, challenges to regional peace and stability especially in Afghanistan to collaboration in diverse economic sectors and regional economic connectivity. Since 2002, there has been a visible thaw in the Pak-Russia ties, marked by exchange of visits at the highest level. In 2003, PresidentMusharraf visited Russia, first ever visit of any Pakistani President in 33 years which marked a new turn in the bilateral relations. In their meeting, Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Musharraf expressed their determination to bury the past and forge a new relationship. Agreements were also reached in areas of trade, cultural cooperation and oil and gas exploration and expansion and modernization of Pakistan SteelMills at a cost of $ 100 million. Other areas of collaboration identified included narcotics control, debt restructuring, banking, giving each other the most-favoured nation treatment in trade and investment, and a review of the existing joint commissions. On the political plane, the leaders discussed issues such as international terrorism, Afghanistan, increased drugs production in Afghanistan, South Asian region, Iraq and the Middle East. Both states stress the need for a multi-polar world and the centrality of theUNrole in the world affairs. After a long period of hibernation, Russia is seeking an assertive role in the region and the world affairs which is driving its engagementwith Pakistan which is also trying to diversify its relationship so as to reduce dependence on the western bloc. In April 2007 the relations took an upwards turn when Russian Prime Minister Mekhail Fradkov visited Pakistan, the first ever visit by a Soviet leader in almost four decades. Fradkov termed his visit an 'important step' for strengthening bilateral relations between Pakistan and Russia with special focus on cementing economic ties. Both sides agreed to promote economic diplomacy and expand cooperation in the war on terrorism and extremism. Three memorandums of understanding were also signed to boost cooperation in various sectors, including the laying of new railway tracks, supply of sleepers and signalling system, upgradation ofMughalpura and carriage and bridge workshop and setting up metro railways in major cities of Pakistan. The two sides also agreed to finalize bilateral investment treaty and agreement on avoidance of double taxation with an objective to expand their trade and economic ties. An MoU was signed on programme of cultural, educational and scientific exchanges. An agreement on cooperating in combating illicit trafficking and abuse of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances was also signed. Islamabad also welcomed Russian offer to participate in the India-Pakistan-Iran (IPI) gas pipeline project through investment in laying the pipeline. Prime Minister Mekhail Fradkov stated: 'Pakistan is one of the important countries in the Russian foreign policy due to its role in the region and in Islamic community.' Pakistan is keen to expand its political, security and economic ties with Russia. In May 2011, President Zardari visited Russia and built on the progress achieved in the past years. Both sides agreed to promote trade, investment and pursue joint projects particularly in the fields of energy, infrastructure development, metal industry and agriculture. The presidents underscored the importance of stability and peace in Afghanistan and reaffirmed their support for Afghan-led and Afghan-owned efforts towards promoting national reconciliation in Afghanistan. They expressed their deep concern about the threat of terrorism and drugrelated crimes persisting in the region. The presidents recognised the need for promoting trans-regional economic and trade cooperation. They stressed that regional development projects would ensure prosperity for the people of the region and itwas important to optimally utilise national economic complementarities. They agreed to coordinate their efforts bilaterally as well as through regional multilateral cooperative mechanisms. Zardari invited Russia to use Pakistani territory to gain an access to 'southern seas' which would contribute to economic prosperity of both countries. President Zardari has been emphasizing on institutionalizing a regular dialogue between Pakistan and Russia at the ForeignMinisters' level with annual bilateral meetings, alternatively in Islamabad and Moscow, to sustain the upward trajectory in the relationship. Over the past few years Pakistan and Russia have become part of regional political, security and economic dialogue such as Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and quadrilateral dialogue. The SCO comprising China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is emerging as an important regional and global player. The group is committed to fighting three evils of terrorism, extremism and fundamentalism and promoting regional economic potential. Its perspective on Afghanistan, Iran