Pakistan Russia Bilateral Relations
A seminar on the subject was held at Strategic Vision Institute Islamabad where we had eminent panelists to dwell on the subject. What gave it more credence was the presence Andrey N. Shabalin, Consular (Political) from the Russian Embassy other being Akram Khattak, Pakistan’s former Ambassador to Moscow that was chaired by Dr Zaffar Cheema. Since I been a strong proponent of bilateral relations with Russia hence this seminar was of great significance to me.
Very little is known to the public about the depth and breadth of this relationship for which one can only blame the media and the bureaucracy of Pakistan who for some reasons do not highlight the relationship. But hearing it from Andrey N Shabalin it was only discovered that spectrum of this relationship is very wide on the canvas that is deprived of the proper colours to complete the picture.
Before going into the discussion of the day, feel it appropriate to go into a brief historical perspective of the relationship but would not like to touch some of the more bad patches that now we must burry in the past and take a fresh start as per the dictum of the time.
On independence, Soviet Union was the first country to extend formal invitation to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan. After having accepted the invitation, he chose to visit the United States and never visited the Soviet Union. This was a bad start of developing any fruitful relationship with a neighbor who was also leading a block in the bipolar world.
The price for this diplomatic anomly was very heavy that Pakistan paid subsequently. Soviet Union forged strong relationship with India and the results of that are before us, how we suffered and our ally the US abandoned us at every critical juncture of our history. Our relationship with the US is known with strong and frequent punctuations of embargos, sanctions and humiliations. The US projected Pakistan as a beggar state and further worked to corrupt the systems within Pakistan to keep her under the thumb.
While talking to the audience, Andrey Shabalin stated it categorically that Russia does not treat Pakistan as a beggar state but an equal partner in every respect of the relationship. What he stated was in his personal capacity and not as an official of the Embassy but its well understood by the recent bilateral developments between the two countries.
After the demise of Soviet Union, Russia became the official heir of the Soviet Union but many of the actors of the Soviet era had left the scene, mostly moving away with the new emerging states that were formally part of the Soviet Union thus it gave rise to a new leadership in Russia of which Vladimir Putin takes the center spot under whose leadership, Russia has bounced back and acquired its lost status of being a global leader that has ended the US myth of the Uni-polar World.
Putin is a dynamic personality whose every word matters; his words are calculated and well balanced. He also has the capacity to back his words with action. Russia has no such history where she might have abandoned her ally at any stage perhaps except for a brief period soon after the demise of Soviet Union.
Now when Putin says, “Pakistan today is not an important trade and economic partner of Russia, but also most important Russian partner in South Asia and in the Islamic world,” it’s no hollow slogan but it’s for the Pakistani leadership to ensure that the conditions are created where Russia can play its rightful role.
Putin’s much hyped visit that did not take place, also came under discussion. During the discussion it was revealed that Pakistan had not done her homework to receive the Russian president for the very first time. Mr. Putin seeing the agenda of his visit did not think it worthwhile to waste his time and Russian money just for a photo session. Certainly the flaw was at our end that the authorities must investigate as to what went wrong and where.
Bonding relations with Russia should be no big deal as according to Muhammad Ahsen Chaudhry, a historian, the ancestors of the people of Pakistan (particularly West Pakistan) “came from the Soviet Central Asia and brought a full rich Soviet culture with them.” Field Marshal Ayub khan had also stated during his visit to Moscow.
On April 3, 1965, President Ayub Khan paid a first ever state visit to Moscow with a view to establishing a strong cultural relations with the people of the USSR. Publicly, President Ayub Khan thanked Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin, and quoted:”Soviet Union is our next door neighbor with which Pakistan had close friendly connections in the past.” During this visit, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Andrei Gromyko signed the agreements in the field of trade, economic cooperation and cultural exchange.
As the result of President Khan’s visit to the Soviet Union, both countries concluded another agreement for cultural exchanges that was signed on 5 June 1965. This agreement was on the basis of exchange the academicians, scholars, scientists, artists, sportsmen, and also the exchange of music records, radio and television programs. During the signing ceremony of this cultural agreement, S.K. Romonovsky, the Soviet Cultural Minister quoted that “many pacts between two countries would help towards better understanding among the people of Pakistan and the USSR.” Finally, on 17 April 1968, Premier Kosygin paid a visit to Pakistan and was welcomed by President Ayub and the Pakistan’s civil society members with cordial manner. During his visit Alexi Kosygin said: “that relations between Pakistan and the Soviet Union are very good indeed and we should want more and more to strengthen and better them.”
The Soviet Premier’s visit in April 1968 was the first of its kind state visit and was of outstanding significance. Kosygin agreed to the granting of aid for a steel mill, a nuclear power plant and also economic aid on a broad range of development projects. During the time of Kosygin’s reception, renowned poet Hafeez Jullundhri, sang out a poem, comparing Kosygin’s visit to the coming of the dawn, which would bring self-determination and justice to the Kashmiri people. Kosygin enjoyed the amusing poetry, but remained silent on this issue. Alexei Kosygin said:
There were many forces in the world which did not want to see friendship growing between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and Pakistan. Pakistan would achieve great success in all spheres under the leadership of President Muhammad Ayub Khan……Alexei Kosygin, Premier, 1968,
Trade and Economic relations kept on developing but not a pace to match the potential of growth.
The Soviet Union had been long associated with Pakistan to help build its technical industries and allied infrastructure since late 1950s. In 1950, Soviet Union and Pakistan established the multi-billion dollar worth Pakistan-Soviet Oil Fields later renamed as Pakistan Oilfields. In 1969, the Pakistan Government employed “V/o Tyaz Promexport”, a USSR technical consortium, for vertically integrated steel mills in Karachi, Sindh Province. Later, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto succeeded to bring full-scale Soviet investment in this project, and laid the foundations of the steel mills in 1972 with the help of Soviet Union.
In 1980-85, the Soviet direct investment increased from 10% to 15% after officially signing an economic cooperation agreement in 1985. The overall 1.6% of all Pakistan’s exports were accounted in 1981, which increased to 2.5% in 1985. Unlike India, the USSR and Pakistan were able to continue the trade of their preferable machinery and technical goods, whilst also cooperated in agricultural products. However, the Soviet Union maintained its restriction to export its military equipments and technology to Pakistan, instead offering an economic package (restrictively based on civilian basis) to Pakistan in 1981. This once again pushed Pakistan to secure the arms deal with the United States in 1981, including the acquisition of F-16 fighter jets.
Now that Russia has lifted all restrictions for weapons sales to Pakistan, India have been conveyed the message in clear terms that Russia intends to sell all weaponry to Pakistan and they would accept no Indian binding in doing so. As a result of this, soon Pakistan would witness induction of Russian weapon systems to modernize its armed forces. MI 35 Gunships are in a very advanced stage of sale program that is likely to be announced soon.
Other than this, Russia would also be selling to Pakistan nuclear power plants to meet Pakistan’s energy crisis. Russia is a country that can withstand any global pressure to meet its commitments.
In November 1981, the USSR financially funded and solely established the Guddo Thermal Power Station, and surprised Pakistan by offering to build a second nuclear power plant in May 1981. On 1 March 1990, the USSR again offered its nuclear deal with Pakistan and officially stated that the Pakistan has to increase its power generation needs and the USSR Ambassador to Pakistan, V.P. Yakunin, quoted that “once the required guarantees are provided, there is no harm in supplying a nuclear power plant to Pakistan.” Raja Shahid Zafar Pakistan’s Production Minister, immediately traveled to Moscow to discuss the issue. However, after analyzing the technology, Benazir Bhutto (Prime minister at that time) rebuffed the plan and made a move to secure the French deal which also went into cold storage.
Andrey speaking on Pakistan Russia Relations said that, Pakistan and Russia have joint political-Consultation Mechanism on Strategic Stability, regional, bilateral and International matters. To further the traditional, commercial and reciprocal relationship between Pakistan and Russia and to maintain the spirit of the brotherly relations between the two countries, in April, 2009, it was decided to establish Pakistan Russia Economic Forum. Intergovernmental Commission on trade, economic, scientific and technical cooperation between Russia and Pakistan (IGC) was created to aid the development of mutual cooperation in the fields of trade, economy, science and technology and education. Russia has a joint working group with Pakistan on Energy Cooperation. With all these cooperation in place, there are some problems as well that need to be addressed immediately. One such problem is that Pakistan has frozen some 160 million US dollars of Russia that was in a bank for the up gradation of Pakistan Steel Mill. Though not a big amount but has become an irritant in developing of smooth and firm relations.
For Russia-Pakistan bilateral relations, the field is wide open to expand it to any level. All that it needs is for Pakistan in particular to identify its immediate and long term requirements and work on those with heads down.
Immediately, three areas need special focus i.e. strategic cooperation, defense and transfer of defense technology and collaboration in civil- nuclear technology.
For reasons known to all, there would be some negative forces from within working as proxies that need to be identified and sidelined so that no hurdle is created in developing this relationship.
Strategic Vision Institute needs a commendation for organizing this seminar which was not only a need but very timely also.