Warmth in Pak-Russia relations
A 64-member delegation headed by Minister for Trade and Industries for the Russian Federation, Denis V Manturov, has just concluded 4 days official visit to attend the sixth Inter-Governmental Commission’s meeting in Pakistan. It is a big achievement and a landmark event in the recent history of Pak-Russia relations. Several agreements signed worth US dollars 9 billion investment between the two governments. It includes Reconstruction of Pakistan Steel Mills at Karachi, Energy Sector, CASA 1000 & TAPI Projects, railway track from Quetta to Taftan, Sukhoi SuperJet-100 passenger planes for PIA, North-South gas pipeline project, etc.
As a matter of fact, after the cold war era, the geopolitics of the region was emerging into completely a new shape. India, a traditionally with Russia for 5 decades, and has been milking Russia in terms of Russian Technology, Weapons, Economic assistance, political & diplomatic support, etc., has changed its affiliations toward the USA. And now, India is largest beneficiary of the US assistance in term of High-Tech, Advance Weapons, Trade Concessions, Economic assistance, Political and Diplomatic support and etc. While Pakistan a close ally with the USA for almost 7 decades was left alone and especially after 2011, the visible shift in the US attitude toward Pakistan was very much disappointing and it was felt seriously that the West has written-off Pakistan almost.
Under these circumstances, Pakistan has to realign itself with the emerging geopolitics and naturally got closed with China and Russia. The first high-level contact was established with the official visit of President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari in 2011. The visit was a turning point, as Russian leadership was receptive to almost all suggestions aimed at putting the bilateral relationship on a substantive trajectory against the backdrop of new geostrategic and geo-economic considerations.
Although the planned return visit by President Putin was canceled at last moment in 2012 and instead Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Islamabad, reassuring the latter that President Putin was looking forward to visiting Pakistan as soon as possible. However, other important visits happened by Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov in 2007 and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in 2014.
On the other hand, almost all Pakistani leaders have visited Moscow post-Cold War, including Nawaz Sharif in 1999 and President Pervez Musharraf in 2003. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit is yet to be scheduled though he met President Putin in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit (SCO). Where he kept engaged President Putin during lunch and both leaders almost have not eaten anything except talking with each other all the time and close to each other’s ears. The body language was very positive and conveyed a strong message of friendship.
The current trade between the two countries stands at US dollars 400 million approximately. Pakistan’s exports stand at $150 million while the import from Russia is $250 million. Last year, the bilateral trade surged by up to $700 million as Pakistan purchased MI-35 helicopters from Russia. There is a strong will on both sides to enhance bilateral trade between the two nations gradually. The immediate target set is to reach a figure of US Dollars 1 billion in the very near future.
Russia realizes fast-changing ground realities and the evolving Indian strategic partnership with the US. This gives it considerable diplomatic space to reach out to Pakistan, breaking from Cold War dynamics.
Russia’s decision to supply four combat Mi-35 helicopters to Pakistan in 2017 while ignoring India’s objections was a huge leap of faith. Similarly, instituting bilateral military exercises under the rubric of ‘Druzhba’ (Friendship) is another important breakthrough. Russia also eventually supported Pakistan’s membership in the SCO along with India. Traditionally India was dependent on Russian Weapons and its defense needs during the cold war era, but now India is very close to the US and enjoying the transfer of technology and advanced weaponry. Almost India has met its defense requirements from the USA, but still signed agreement worth US Dollars 5.5 Billion with for S-400s.
I have been to Russia twice recently and can witness the warmth of relationships. People to people contact can play an even more important role. The trade potential between the two countries is huge and estimated can grow US Dollars 1 Billion annually for the next couple of years. Russia can export Energy, Technology, Defense needs and invests in the reconstruction of Pakistan. While Pakistan can Food and Agriculture produce, Garments, Textiles, Leather, Gemstones, and minerals. Russia can import Pakistan labor and raw material at very competitive costs to boost its Industrialization.
There is a need to enhance our exchanges of students, youth, intellectuals, and think tanks. There exists a huge space to expand our bilateral relations in almost all dimensions. Tourism can be a beginning point as Pakistan is blessed with rich resources for Tourism.
Trust, the days to come will witness the warmth between Russia and Pakistan friendship growing exponentially.