Pakistan needs to establish a long-term political and economic relations with Russia in the wake of fast changing international political scenario, experts have urged.
Top political, diplomats and analysts see the recent visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Islamabad as an opportunity for Pakistan to improve and modify its policy towards one of the most powerful countries in Asia and the region. This was the first visit by a Russian foreign minister to Pakistan since 2012.
During his two-day visit in April, Lavrov discussed bilateral ties, including counter-terrorism, socio-economic ramification of the Covid-19 and economic cooperation.
“I firmly believe that for many practical and moral reasons we have to rise above the quagmire of our fallacious misunderstanding of Afghan Jihad era and other irritants with Russia and embrace the opportunity to improve our relations with Russia and other courntries,” said Dr Naveed, Centre for Peace and Security Research, while moderating a webinar in cooperation with DubaiNews.tv.
Riaz H. Khokhar, former ambassador of Pakistan to Soviet Union; Asif Durrani, ex-ambassador, Maj-Gen Noel Khokhar, Pakistan’s ambassador to Ukraine; and Ayaz Sadiq, MNA, former Speaker of National Assembly; shared their views during a webinar on Pak-Russia Relations: Prospects and Challenges.
Pakistan can play key role
“Pakistan can play a role of connecting countries, we can connect countries through our network of roads and infrastructure and play a vital role… However, first of all we have put our house in order by enhancing security and improving law and order situation,” said Noel Khokhar.
Recalling the Pakistan-Soviet Union relations in the past, Durrani said that when Pakistan participated in the United States backed Baghdad Pact and CENTO, it was a clear message for Soviet Union that Pakistan is in Western block.
The Baghdad Pact was a defensive organisation for promoting shared political, military and economic goals founded in 1955 by Turkey, Iraq, Great Britain, Pakistan and Iran. Similar to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation, the main purpose of the Baghdad Pact was to prevent communist incursions and foster peace in the Middle East. It was renamed the Central Treaty Organisation, or CENTO, in 1959 after Iraq pulled out of the Pact.
“Now the situation has completely changed. Pakistan has an opportunity to transform its policy and take advantage of its geographical location as a viable transport hub, which can provide Central Asia and Russia an access to the warm waters through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor(CPEC) making it the central artery of the Belt and Road Initiative,” he said.
$2 billion gas pipeline project
South North Pipeline
Pakistan and Russia agreed on a deal to start work on the more than $2 billion North-South Gas Pipeline Project (NSGPP) over six years ago.
The pipeline has been held up since 2015 due to disagreement over fees and US sanctions against Russian state conglomerate Rostec.
Former Speaker of National Assembly, Ayaz Sadiq, who chaired several parliamentarian committee in the previous governments, which were tasked to improve political and relations with Russia said that bureaucratic hurdles are the main cause in the execution of the NSGPP.
Removing key hurdles
Panellists said that American political pressure and weaknesses of Pakistani politicians such as clarity of thought, spontaneous decision-making and continuity in policy are among the major hurdles in the timely execution of the project.
Experts believed that the implementation on the project would strengthen the Pakistan-Russia relations.
“If we are serious, if we want a substantive relations with Russia then the NSGPP agreement must go forward. My feeling is that if this agreement is finalised and Russians are given the contract for the pipeline you may get President Vladimir Putin to come to Pakistan,” said Riaz H. Khokhar, who served as an ambassador to Soviet Union during 1968-71.
“Putin is not a sort of person who would come to Pakistan only to shake hands… He believes in substantive relationships. If we are not going to pursue a solid economic relations with Russia, I don’t think president Putin is likely to visit Pakistan in the near future,” he added.
Relationship between India and the Soviet Union, and now Russia, has been stable since its inception. At the same time rivalry between India and Pakistan is considered a major obstacle in a long-term relationships between Pakistan and Russia.
“If you want have a good relations with Russia you have to give economic confidence to Russia. India had already established its relationships with the Soviet Union, even before its Independence.
Congress party of India had ties with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the relations improved exponentially in all sectors including economically and militarily. Even now almost 70 per cent of Indian armament are Russian made. We say Indian budget is $70 billion, according to last year’s estimate at least $30-31 billion worth of armaments are Russian made… On the other hand our total trade with Russia was $500-800 million,” said Durrani.
“Improving relations with Russia should be the strategic approach. But we should not have very wide expectation, it should be modest expectation. Russia is willing to cooperate with Pakistan on economic front on political front, but Russia will not take position when it comes to India and Pakistan.
We should remember this that India is Russia’s biggest client in South Asia… Russian arms industry would suffer a huge loss of India is not going to buy it,” conclude Khokhar.