Russia’s challenge in South Asia
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Islamabad in April was the first such engagement in nearly a decade.
The visit underlined the importance of bilateral relations between Russia and Pakistan. The crucial discussions Lavrov had with Pakistani leaders covered a variety of areas, including economics, finance, trade and defense.
In their joint press conference, the Pakistani foreign minister and his Russian counterpart recognized the need for more engagement at different levels in order to unlock the potential of ties that have, to a large extent, been cold. However, as the visit of the senior Russian diplomat pointed out, there is a common will to reverse the legacy of the past and carve out an independent niche for itself in line with current reality.
In recent years, Pakistan has shown a greater willingness to invest its diplomatic influence in the countries of the region, in what appears to be sound policy informed by contemporary realities. This approach provided Islamabad with the much-needed space to examine the region solely in light of regional challenges.
Pakistan is right to have legitimate interests in Afghanistan, India, China, Iran and the Middle East. It is only natural for Islamabad to try to take advantage of its geostrategic location, coupled with its enormous market potential, and to work with countries in the region to protect its vital commercial, security, economic and strategic interests.
The etiquette of being in this or that camp has made decision-makers in Islamabad lose sight of the challenges and opportunities presented by our region at large. This one-track foreign policy approach placed too much emphasis on geostrategic thinking and the virtual exclusion of geo-economic realities.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi alluded to this new reality when he said: “There is a new approach and a new mindset in Pakistan for a relationship with Russia. We feel that [we not only] have geographic proximity but [that] Russia is a factor of stability in the region and in the world in general. “
The desire to reconnect with the Kremlin means that Pakistan wants to develop bilateral relations with each regional power on its own trajectory without letting one influence the other. The main challenge, however, is to realize the political intention in the form of trade, defense and economic cooperation through mutually beneficial projects.
Priority areas for Pakistan and Russia remain the construction of the multi-billion dollar North-South gas pipeline from Karachi to Lahore, the provision of counterterrorism equipment as part of defense cooperation, peace and stability in Afghanistan and the strengthening of trade relations.
Despite the collapse of the USSR three decades ago, an event of epic proportions that transformed the global political, economic and strategic landscape with the United States as the world’s only superpower, Russia remains a key regional player. with an important military and diplomatic role. and political influence. Under President Putin, Russia carefully projected its influence and power into different regions.
Despite the fact that Indo-Russian relations have always been an important factor for the Kremlin, the latest contact with Pakistan represents a renewed search for allies and business partners.
Russia understands that this is an Asian century marked by the resurgence of Asian countries and that its pivotal policy towards Asia has been marked by three components – a civilizational alliance against Western “universal values”; a geopolitical effort to present itself as an alternative to US-based alliances; and a geo-economic initiative to forge greater economic and trade partnerships with Asian countries.
For a long time, the Kremlin (then the Soviet Union) viewed South Asia through the prism of the Cold War. The Indo-Soviet relationship, described as “a legacy of trust, mutual interests, cooperation and lasting peace”, was officially inaugurated by Prime Minister Nehru’s visit to Moscow in June 1955 and by a return visit in India of Nikita Khrushchev, the first secretary. of the Communist Party the same year.
Although the USSR acted as a mediator between India and Pakistan to end the 1965 war and its peace efforts resulted in the signing of the Tashkent Declaration, the Soviet Union / Russia did gave consistent and unequivocal support to India on the Jammu and Kashmir issue, describing it as India’s “internal issue”.
Under the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation, the USSR provided crucial military, diplomatic and political support to New Delhi in the 1971 war with Pakistan which resulted in the creation of Bangladesh. The era of the Cold War saw Indo-Soviet relations strengthen in the areas of trade and defense.
Russia, as the successor to the Soviet Union, continued its mother country’s policy of investing in bilateral relations with India. President Putin, who took over in 2000, has placed relations with New Delhi at the forefront of his foreign policy agenda. The signing of the Declaration on Strategic Partnership in 2000 led to the opening of new avenues of cooperation in the fields of the fight against terrorism, nuclear energy, technology and space.
Although Russia has made sporadic efforts to mediate among archivists, it has largely leaned towards New Delhi. While its standard stance has been to invoke the Simla and Lahore Peace Accords to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir issue, the Kremlin gave critical support to India after India revoked the special status of the IIOJ & K by deleting Articles 370 and 35-A.
The special and privileged strategic partnership that the two countries signed in 2010 has further strengthened the defense and trade ties between them. Indo-Russian defense cooperation, once defined as a supplier-customer relationship, has evolved into shared research, development and production of military materiel. The full range of bilateral relations is covered by the Indo-Russian Intergovernmental Commission (IRIGC), with Military Technical Cooperation (MTC) being a pillar of this framework.
On the contrary, relations between Islamabad and Moscow have been marred by mutual suspicion, acrimony and mistrust since Pakistan joined the Western bloc via SEATO and CENTO in 1955. power in favor of India during the 1971 war .
Bilateral relations improved dramatically during Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s tenure, as he struggled to pursue an independent foreign policy after the country’s split. The resurgence of relations with Moscow followed the weakening of ties with the United States. To this day, Pakistan Steels Mills remains the legacy of Bhutto’s bonhomie with the USSR.
Pakistan’s role as an active conduit and facilitator of the Afghan Jihad put an end to any notion of improving relations with the Soviet Union. The specter of the collapse of the USSR and the rise of the Taliban haunted Russia. However, it was not until after September 11, when Pakistan joined the “war on terror,” that Russian-Pakistani relations improved somewhat. Subsequent interactions were gradually built on it.
The post-Cold War era has created a new set of political and strategic realities for Russia as it reconsiders its policies in South Asia. Much has changed over the past decade. A new multipolarity seems to be shaping the international system.
India, once a strong ally, is closely linked to the United States. China has become a powerful challenger for American hegemony. With the announcement of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the war-torn country is poised for potentially more deadly violence with significant security ramifications for Russia and Pakistan.
Above all, Pakistan’s geostrategic position as a bridge between the Middle East and Central and South Asia is strengthened, thanks to the CPEC. In addition, Islamabad remains a key player in Afghanistan.
Russia’s drive for a new policy in South Asia is motivated by its aspiration to establish itself as a new stabilizing power and an economic and trade partner.
The writer, a Chevening scholar, studied international journalism at the University of Sussex.
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Twitter: @ Amanat222