Guest Lecture on “Pakistan-Russia Relations: Opportunities and Challenges” By Dr. Azmat Hayat Khan

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  • Russia is an important country for Pakistan, as regionally Russia is a super power and globally it’s a regional power. Islamabad can have cordial relations with all regional states by improving its ties with Russia.
  • The former Soviet Union did not break, it was a political change from the top. None of the former Soviet Union states asked for separation. It was a political change because there were no demonstrations and demand for independence, they were simply given independence.
  • Some scholars say that Soviet Union was the continuation of Tsarist state, while Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is the continuation of Soviet Union. The charter of CIS outlines that external borders would be manned by Russia and internal borders would be transparent; equipment and training of the security forces would be provided by Russia.
  • Russia still considers Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics (CARs) as its backyard. After their withdrawal from Afghanistan the Soviet leaders said that they had strategic interests in Afghanistan, and India was looking after those interests. One can say that, Afghanistan is as important for Russia as Mexico is important for the US. Hence there is no way they can ignore Afghanistan.
  • For Russia, Pakistan is important in two ways. One is economic, because it serves as an outlet for CARs and Russia would never desire instability in CARs. Russia wants to see CARs economically strong and politically stable. The crisis which took place in Andijan was economic in nature but was given a religious color. Another reason which makes Pakistan important for Russia is the strategic location of Pakistan. Because of its geography, Pakistan can provide an access for Central Asian resources towards the Middle East and Indian Ocean. Even Russian goods can reach the outside world through Pakistan.
  • Iran has linked Mashhad to Sarakhs, and if Mashhad is linked to Quetta via Herat, and Kandhar, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan will get connected. If Zahedan, and Pakistan are connected through rail it will connect Pakistan to Russian railway system. Russia is looking for an opening through Iran or CARs mostly from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Russia can have access to Persian Gulf via Gwadar. Middle East is important for Russia because of oil and politics. Middle East can serve as a market for Russian products.
  • During Cold War Pakistan-Russia relations had seen many ups and downs. Incidents such as Soviet Union support for Afghanistan on Pashtunistan issue, the U-2 incident and Pakistan’s support for Afghan Mujahideen had shaken the confidence of both countries.
  • The Central Asian borders are not natural. They are administrative borders and were finalised by Stalin in 1939. Russia fears ethnic or religious violence in the CARs. The ethnicities overlap all over CARs, and if the ethnic or religious issue becomes violent in CARs, it would open a Pandora box. There will be influx of refugees in Russia and weaken their system and Moscow is scared of it.
  • The militant movements in CARs, such as Islamic Movement in Uzbekistan and Lal-e-Badakshan in Tajikistan are neither politically organized to run a system, nor militarily strong enough to topple a government.
  • Pakistan should not give too much value to implications of India’s relations with Russia on its relations with Pakistan. India has its own value to the Russians and Pakistan has its own importance. States protect their national interests and so does Russia.
  • As the US withdraws from Afghanistan, a vacuum is being created and Russia fears instability in CARs. Therefore, for Moscow, Pakistan is of great importance since it can assist for stability in Afghanistan and CARs. Russia believes that the only country which can bring stability to Afghanistan is Pakistan. This provides an opportunity for the improvement of relations between the two countries, and Islamabad should avail it.
  • Trade, education and military technology are areas for cooperation between Pakistan and Russia, and offer a lot of prospects. Russia wants to invest in Pakistan in technology, drip irrigation, desert farming and agriculture. Russian exports to Pakistan are only 1%, and Pakistan’s exports to Russia are 0.06%. There is an opportunity for Pakistan, because Russia has a market of more than 12,000 billion USD. Russian market needs Pakistani products but there is a need to have a robust policy to tap the Russian market. There are prospects of raising the bilateral trade to 3-4 billion USD.
  • Cooperation in education is an opportunity to develop people to people contacts. Exchange of scholars and sending Pakistani scientists to Russia will promote bilateral cooperation. Presently less than 500 Pakistani students are in Russian universities, which is a very small number.
  • Military technology is an area which offers potential for cooperation. In 1965, former Soviet Union gave Pakistan amphibious tanks, now Russia has lifted the arms embargo and is ready to give helicopters.
  • After the US withdrawal, Russia wants to play a major role in South Asian region. Moscow still considers former Soviet republics as its territory, and Afghanistan as its backyard. Russians do not want any hostile power in their backyard. Any movement, which is a threat to peace and stability of Russia and CARs, is perceived as hostile.
  • Pakistan’s importance has enhanced because Moscow believes that Pakistan can play its role in bringing peace and stability in the region, provided Islamabad plays its cards well.

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Aftab Hussein is Research Officer in IPRI.

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