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Finding Friends outside the Circle :: By Nasurullah Brohi


The foreign policy of any state consists of some basic principles and primary objectives of national interest like safeguarding its existence and boosting up the economic prosperity through bilateral or multilateral engagements.
Right from the early days after Pakistan’s independence when the country had to formulate its foreign policy, there were two major options, either to get closer to the Soviet Union or to be in ties with the West. Pakistan is a state that had always remained under severe threats to its very existence from a powerful belligerent neighbour therefore, the Country always tried to seek alignment with any powerful state that could come to its rescue during any crisis and aggression from the Indian side. At this stage, Pakistan was passing through a very critical period where it was facing extreme challenges of external aggression, internal chaos and economic setbacks.
It was the end of WW-II and the initial phase of the Cold War between the two Super Powers of the world when the Pakistanis had to choose the direction to move towards any of the Super Powers or better to remain neutral like India in Non Alignment Movement. In 1948, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Sir Zafarullah Khan took efforts for the bilateral relations between Pakistan and the Soviet Union. At that time, the Soviet policies towards India were not yet leveled due to the Indian decision for remaining within the British Commonwealth of Nations. The Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru also announced to proceed on a state visit to the United States on May 7, 1949. Such developments from the Indian side twisted the prospects for Pakistan therefore; the Soviet leadership invited Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, in 1949 to visit the Moscow. But fatefully due to the cold response from either side the dates and the plans for the meeting could not be finalized and as a result of the holdup, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan also received an invitation from the Washington and went for the US state visit In May 1950 to set the course of Pakistan’s foreign policy and close relations with the West.
Initially, during the post partition’s chaotic era of South Asia, the USSR had a neutral attitude towards the South Asia affairs, whereas the Kashmir issue being of prime concern to Pakistan, the West in UN Security Council frequently supported it, such developments and the Pakistan’s inclination towards the Western irritated the Soviet leadership and they used their veto power in Indian support. The relations of both countries have historically experienced scrupulous acrimony throughout, but it is very essential to understand that Pakistan’s foreign policy had been constantly advancing right through the history with callous occurrences.
Pakistan had continuously been remained under threats of Indian aggression and there was only option to maximize its strength through joining any defence and mutual economic cooperation pacts. That was the reason Pakistan chose to join the SEATO in September 1954 and CENTO in 1955. However, unluckily, when the Country faced aggression from the Indian side none of Western powers came to its rescue. In addition, by joining these mutual defence pacts the 1960 U-2 spy plane incident took place that decidedly spoiled the relation of Pakistan with the Soviet Union. These relations further deteriorated when during the 1971 War with India and East Pakistan crisis where the USSR took a very strong stand against Pakistan’s every stance. The USSR vetoed every resolution on the East Pakistan whenever Pakistan brought the matter to the United Nations.
Moreover, Afghanistan, conventionally has been remained a source of variance between Pak-Russia relations. The Afghan invasion by the Soviet troops in 1979, followed by the Afghan Jihad chapter at the very peak of the Cold War that disgruntled and fueled the situation- further spoiling the relationship and leaving very less chances of reconciliation at that time.
Pakistan-Russia relations have frequently suffered from unstable associations and as a result, there has been tiny evolution of bilateral ties. Whereas there have always been immense opportunities for economic development and regional progress. Conversely, keeping in view the notion of international relations, that in global arena there are neither permanent friends nor foes only the interests are permanent. The past is a period when both countries were passing through internal and external ebbs and flows, each side made a remarkable gaffe on its part and ultimately that led towards the deteriorated relationships each time.
However, at the moment, circumstances have changed and there is growing need for mutual respect and enhanced cooperation for the bilateral, regional as well as international progress and prosperity. The Russian side can benefit from Pakistan’s position in many terms of its Geo-strategic location being at the of east to west and north to south trade corridors, counting a new opportunity as a silk road for South Asian region, which will prove far more beneficial for Russia than any other state in the world where a mammoth penetration is possible in the coming future through the Persian Gulf – Bering Strait railroad via Trans-Siberian Railway and the Trans-Asian rail route from Asia to the rest of the Europe. Given the fact of separatism and religious extremism in the Central Asian region the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) are the largest radical organization posing threat to many Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) states, but with the Pakistan’s help, the regional powers like Russia and China would be able to control terrorist activities and fight against the threat of threat in the region.
The permanent membership of SCO is also one of the vital national and foreign policy interests of Pakistan. The Organization has already granted the observer status to four countries namely—India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan. Russia and China both have a distinct interest in trying to reduce the US influence in the region. Russia has hoped to use SCO as an antidote to strengthen its monopoly in oil and gas transit in Asia. While on the other hand, China would like to use SCO to facilitate in presenting Beijing as a dominant player of regional trade and investment. For further boosting up the economic cooperation, the China proposal for building an interstate pipeline network is essential for the SCO’s organizational effectiveness. Presentation of this proposal clearly highlights the extent of Beijing’s interests in gaining access of the energy resources in the region. Such an investment made by China could result in significant improvement of the commercial potential and infrastructure in the region. Generous economic assistance provided by SCO powers bring forth a realization that there is going to be “traditional ‘vassal’ relationships within the SCO member states in the future. The rise of China as a global economic power along with the Russian industrial developments with other oil rich SCO member states would yield in a tremendous impact and also a takeover of global financial institutions.
Apart from the SCO, Pakistan has already benefited from the Russia’s Soviet era mega-cooperation projects like Pakistan Steel Mills in 1970. In addition, Russia’s Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Factory (MMK) that has shown its interest for assistance in increased production capabilities of Pakistan Steel Mills from 1 million to 3 million tons in a year. Likewise, Russia has also offered solutions to Pakistan’s energy crisis through investing Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline through Russia’s energy giant Gazprom. Russia has plans to connect the Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan through a power strip, which will automatically satisfy the energy needs of Pakistan.
The smooth state-to-state relations remain an essential rule for prosperous and peaceful coexistence. Both Russia and Pakistan have a range of common interests; either side has the opportunity to utilize its resources for effective and efficient cooperation for greater objectives and mutual development. This cooperation should be based upon mutual trust, respect, common interest and non-interference. The bitter past needs to be forgotten for the sake of a better future of both countries and the region.

:: Nasurullah Brohi, The author works as Research Fellow in Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad and can be reached at [email protected]

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