As is well-known, Indo-Pak relations have been strained since independence, owing to a self-serving desire for perpetual conflict with India on the part of Pakistan’s military establishment to justify their importance and disproportionate budgetary share. Indeed, the emergence of a country, which is a formidable nuclear and military power and has been India’s friend, as Pakistan’s ally causes further worry. Historically, Russia’s (and by extension, the erstwhile Soviet Union’s) relationship with the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has had its ups and downs.
While Pakistan, since its inception, tilted towards the Americans and later, even developed good relations with the Chinese, the Soviets by the late 1960s and early 1970s, had become close to India.
The Soviet army invaded Afghanistan in 1979 under the pretext of helping the Afghan government which was facing a rebellion. They soon arrived in Kabul, and staged a coup, which included killing the president and installed a rival socialist Afghan as the new president. The war was a part of the Cold War, and lasted for nine years; which gave it the name of “Soviet Union’s Vietnam War”, which is said to have played a major role in the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
During this war, Pakistan took an aggressive approach to topple Soviet influence, the most important military action being the Battle of Jalalabad. This was authorised as a show of power and loyalty of the Pakistani government to its Armed Forces, with US backing. It can also be said that it was a vengeful act for the Soviet Union’s long support to India and Pakistan’s loss of the erstwhile East Pakistan (which became Bangladesh) in the war in 1971. Although it was intended to obtain a victory over the Soviet army, the operation failed, which had consequences as large as Hamid Gul, the then chief of the ISI, being fired.
In the light of the deteriorating relations between China and the Soviet Union, owing to a variety of factors including the desire to lead the Communist bloc globally (just as Saudi Arabia and Iran compete these days for leading the Islamic world), with Russia backing the Uighur Muslims’ struggle to ‘free’ Xingjiang from China.
The disintegration of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s played a vital role in re-establishing ties between the two nations, with their mutual geopolitical and strategic concerns bringing them together. Russia’s power base, natural resources, skilled manpower, and advanced technology, have all remained intact despite the split. It would definitely be a mistake to underestimate Russia’s role in global affairs, although its concerns in recent times seemed to have shifted from geopolitics to geo-economics, but its wars with Georgia and Ukraine make it clear that Russia wants to assert itself in geopolitics again.
One of Russia’s biggest concerns is the activities of religious extremists in countries, which are technically not its neighbours, but what it considers “near abroad”. This is where Pakistan’s role is absolutely vital: its proximity. Good relations with a country which requires what Russia has to offer gives it somewhat of a strategic advantage to manipulate it to an extent, and receive what it requires. Thus, in the last few years, Russia and Pakistan are openly seen as coming together, even engaging in defence deals. Though Russia has said that this won’t adversely affect its relations with India, Indians are indeed understandably concerned.
Islamist terrorism is understandably considered a very big threat to Russia’s security, with over seventeen terrorist outfits being banned. Chechnya and Dagestan are two provinces where most of the activity is taking place, with terrorists wanting to make a sovereign state out of Chechnya. Russia’s friendship with Pakistan has something to do with ensuring that the government of Pakistan helps to prevent any possible support to Chechen terrorists from its own soil.
Given that the Pakistani state has not been a reliable ally of the United States when it comes to fighting terror (though it has been better with China on this front), allying with a nation which is turbulent, due to terrorist forces, to control the situation in its vicinity, may not be the best idea for Russia.
With Russia receiving the support of Pakistan for managing the turbulent Middle East situation, Russia has economic aid to give to Pakistan. Pakistan is rapidly to become a regional trade hub, with China and West Asia carrying out substantial trade. Furthermore, the two nations can act as a bridge for Euro-Asian countries for undertaking further activities. Ideally, Pakistan should adopt a pragmatic approach towards its engagement with Russia, and make actual concrete efforts to realise the potential available. Apart from talks, there has been no action on part of Pakistan to avail of Russia’s extensive knowledge of the energy sector to meet its own growing energy requirements.
Apart from energy and arms, Russia has even been in the process of building a gas pipeline to Pakistan, estimated to be completed by 2017, which gives Pakistan a certain advantage to go about its politics better in the international scenario.
There hardly exists an area of contention between the two nations now, with the only irritant being that Russia’s relationship with India. The Indo-Russian relationship has been quite strategic and cordial, with their partnership extending to crucial sectors like politics, defence, nuclear energy and space. India is the second largest market for Russia’s defence industry, and politically, the two nations are a part of BRICS, and Russia is vocal about its support about India getting a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council.
It is a well-known fact that Russia openly supports India on the Kashmir issue, established by the fact that it actually vetoed the United Nations resolution in 1962.
But as the Russian foreign minister holds that the relationship with India will not affect its ties with Pakistan because defence is not the only or primary sector which they will explore, rather, energy is of prime importance. Russia’s primary concern in South Asia is regional stability, and has assured that India’s security concerns are its topmost priority. Its relationship with Pakistan is primarily to curb the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and the looming threat of the ISIS, and is entirely independent and not against India. Assurances apart, Russia coming closer to Pakistan is not particularly very heartening for India.
With the gradual betterment of relations between the two nations, it is clear that this affinity is for the realisation of its self-interest, and is being done effectively, although it might be seen that Pakistan and Russia are gradually strengthening their relationship, just like India and the US are. However, despite everything that is wrong with Pakistan, it must be acknowledged that it takes great diplomatic finesse to procure aid from and even superficially be friends with the US, China and even Russia! That too, when these three countries are victims of jihadist terrorism, of which Pakistan is the global epicentre! And this, when the Pakistani state (no negative generalisation whatsoever about the Pakistani people) doesn’t really mend its fences (superficial gimmicks are another thing) with its neighbours like India, Afghanistan and Iran.
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