Pakistan Russia Defence Relations Revisited
Dr. Tughral Yamin Retired Brigadier and currently teaches at the National Defence University, Islamabad.
If it was not for the thin sliver of land known as theWakhan corridor, Pakistan and Russiawould have been neighbours. Despite the geographical proximity, it is indeed unfortunate that after so many years their bilateral relationship has failed to take off. At the best of times, it has only been lukewarm. The thaw has been slow and long drawn. The major stumbling block had been the Cold War rivalry between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. During this time period, which coincided with its formative years, Pakistan chose to join the system of western alliances. India despite its claims to non-alignment grew close to the USSR. The Soviets returned the honour by casting the veto in favour of India, whenever the case of Kashmir was moved at the forum of the United Nations. In December 1955 Prime Minister Khrushchev and Marshal Bulganin visited India and travelled all the way to Kashmir. In a speech made in Srinagar, Khrushchev pointedly declared “Kashmir as one of the States of the Republic of India,” because the decision had already been made by the people of Kashmir. Bulganin referred to Kashmir as the northern part of India and its population “as part of the Indian people,” who he could discern felt “great joy” at being part of India. A bizarre incident in 1960 threatened to turn the ColdWar hot. Pakistan stood at the epicentre of the storm. On 1st of May, a United States U2 spy plane was shot down deep inside Soviet airspace. The high altitude surveillance plane had taken off from the Peshawar airbase in northern Pakistan and its end destination was supposed to be Norway. The United States government at first denied the plane's purpose and mission, but then was forced to admit its role as a covert surveillance aircraft, when the Soviet government produced its intact remains and surviving pilot, Francis Gary Powers, as well as photos of military bases in Russia taken by Powers. Coming roughly two weeks before the scheduled opening of an East–West summit in Paris, the incident was a great embarrassment to the United States and prompted a marked deterioration in its relations with the Soviet Union. While the Pakistani leadership was genuinely surprised about the incident, the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev threatened to destroy the Peshawar airbase and the electronic eavesdropping station at Badaber with a barrage of missiles. The Pakistanis took note of the warning and did not allow any more U2 flights from Peshawar and did not renew the lease of the Badaber sigint facility, which closed down in January 1970. Given the existing political climate therewas little room for cooperation in defence related matters. However, it would be unfair to posit that it had been a totally unfruitful affair. In April 1965, President Ayub Khan became the first Pakistani leader, ever to visit the USSR. He was accompanied by his young foreign minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. During his eight day visitAyub Khan met the Soviet leadership including Prime Minister Kosygin and Foreign Minister Gromyko. It was reported in the Soviet press that the discussions concerned pressing world issues, including the Vietnam crisis. The Soviet press reported that the talks were held 'in a spirit of cordiality and friendship.' After the 1965 War the Soviet Union offered its good offices to negotiate a settlement between India and Pakistan resulting from the 17 day clash. TheAgreement brokered inTashkent by the Soviet premier Kosygin gave a glimmer of hope that the long outstanding dispute over Kashmir may finally be resolved. The death of the Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadar Shastri on the eve of the signing of theAgreement put paid to these early hopes. Since American military aid was stopped during the 1965 War, Pakistan turned to other sources for defence supplies. The new suppliers included among others the former Soviet Union (FSU). Pakistani defence acquisitions from the FSU included T59 main battle tanks and the Mi8 helicopters. Pakistan would also acquire the Mi17 helicopters but that would be many years later. In January 1969 a contract was concluded with V/o Tyaz Promexport of the USSR, to prepare a feasibility report for the Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) Corporation Limited to be established and run at Karachi. In January 1971 Pakistan and the USSR signed an agreement under which the latter agreed to provide technofinancial assistance for the construction of a coastal-based integrated steel mill at Karachi. The foundation stone of this vital and gigantic project was laid on 30 December 1973 by Prime Minister ZulfikarAli Bhutto. The mammoth construction and erection work of an integrated steel mill was carried out by a consortium of Pakistani construction companies under the overall supervision of Soviet experts. The steel mill is a strategic asset of Pakistan and contributes in no insignificantway towards its defence industry. Ever since a number of events have put drags on Pakistan's relations with Russia. In 1971 before the Indian forces attacked Pakistan's eastern wing, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi concluded the Indo–Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation. The treaty signed in August 1971 was good for 25 years and Article IX of the Treaty explicitly declared that “In the event of either being subjected to an attack or a threat thereof, the High Contracting Parties shall immediately enter into mutual consultations in order to remove such threat and to take appropriate effective measures to ensure peace and the security of their countries.” It was a significant deviation from India's previous position of Non-alignment. In 1976 Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto visited Moscow to revive relations the flagging relations with the Soviet Union. It was the case of too little and too late. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1979-89) brought Pakistan and