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Diplomacy

Russia's 'friendly' overtures to Pakistan raise concerns among observers

The improvement of ties between Moscow and Islamabad will jeopardise Pakistan's relations with the rest of the world, analysts say.

Pakistan Forward


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) welcomes Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif during his visit to Moscow February 20. [Vasily Maximov/AFP]

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) welcomes Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif during his visit to Moscow February 20. [Vasily Maximov/AFP]

ISLAMABAD -- A number of Pakistani analysts and observers are expressing concern about Russia's recent attempts to cozy up to Pakistan.

The regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin for years has been attempting to regain relevancy in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Central Asia and beyond following the fall of the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation's subsequent international isolation due to its actions in Syria and Ukraine.

Now it appears Moscow has designs on Pakistan, making a concerted effort in recent months to entice Islamabad into a number of agreements.

For instance, at the invitation of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif travelled to Moscow in February for a three-day visit.

One of the results of that trip was the establishment of a joint "Anti-Terror Military Co-operation Commission" between Russia and Pakistan.

On April 24, Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa also visited Moscow to discuss military relations between the two countries.

Russian statements following the meeting clearly show the Kremlin is trying to woo Pakistan.

"Pakistan is a geo-strategically important country, and Russia is keen to expand its existing bilateral military to military co-operation," Col. Gen. Oleg Salyukov, commander of Russia's ground forces, said during Bajwa's visit, Pakistani media reported.

"We want to promote defence ties with Pakistan," he said.

Meanwhile, Russia has taken a number of other diplomatic steps to improve relations, such as opening up a consulate in Peshawar in February.

Russia's efforts self-serving

Despite Moscow's friendly overtures, a number of Pakistani analysts and observers say they see through the Kremlin's self-serving efforts.

Pakistan's Express Tribune described a Pakistani Foreign Ministry statement in February saying "Russia enjoys a special place in our foreign policy" as "an unprecedented expression... for a country that remained Pakistan's bitter cold war rival".

"Of late, the shift in Russia's policy towards Pakistan is very clear," said Abdur Rehman, a lecturer at the University of Peshawar.

"Pakistan has assumed greater significance for Russia because of its role in Afghanistan," he told Pakistan Forward.

"However, it is not possible for the two erstwhile foes to see an improvement in their relations because of their history of being poles apart as far as the war in Afghanistan is concerned," he said, referring to the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan and to Pakistan's aid to insurgents at the time.

Russia's pivot towards Pakistan is based on "its desire to gain access to the Arabian Sea and beyond", he said.

"The only purpose of Russia's warmth in relations with Pakistan is to serve its own interests," Rehman said. "Pakistan's friendship with Russia will harm its relations with China, the United States, Saudi Arabia and European countries that have had trade ties with Pakistan for decades."

"Russia's engagement with Pakistan will drastically reduce [Islamabad's] ties with the rest of the world," he said.

Russia cannot replace the US

Rehman also cited US support in non-military matters.

"Besides its military assistance to Pakistan, the United States has been helping Pakistan overcome its energy crisis by installing several electricity-generating projects in all four provinces," he said.

"Thousands of Pakistani students are studying in the United States on scholarships, while thousands have been employed in the United States," he said.

"Russia's economy is extremely fragile and cannot extend any assistance to Pakistan," Rehman said. "Pakistanis know Russia does not have quality exports. On the contrary, other countries, including the United States, have top quality exports, including medicines, machines, etc., which are in high demand here."

Muhammad Asim, a lecturer in international relations at the University of Peshawar, provided a similar assessment.

"The Russian economy is very weak and cannot help Pakistan like the United States can," he told Pakistan Forward.

"We have time-tested relations with the United States," he said. "The Americans have been supporting us financially, militarily and technically for a long time, while Russia lacked the capacity to help us."

Former Brig. Saad Muhammad, a senior security analyst based in Islamabad, agreed.

"The United States is a superpower and Russia does not have that sort of capacity," he told Pakistan Forward.

Russia an international pariah

One of the main issues of aligning with Russia is the baggage that comes with the Putin regime.

One sore point is Moscow's increasingly close ties with Tehran, which are exacerbating sectarian fault lines across the Muslim world and reveal the Kremlin's aim to gain influence by aligning with Iran's destabilising activities.

In terms of Pakistan, this includes Iran's continuing support of the Zainebiyoun Brigade, a Shia militia fighting in Syria that undermines the sovereignty of Pakistan, as well as Iran's multiple attempts to sabotage the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline.

Another issue is Russia's growing state of international isolation due to its illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its support and protection for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who has used chemical weapons against his own people.

"I am sure there will be no acceptance for Russia either at the state or the public level," Asim said.

"Historically, our people as well as our governments have been opposed to Russian intervention in Pakistan," he said. "Despite Russia's struggle and willingness to see a toehold in Pakistan, I see no tangible improvement in relations."

"Pakistan cannot trust Putin's government," he said. "The level of trust between both the countries is next to zero. Even the Pakistani people consider Russia a permanent enemy."

[Ashfaq Yusufzai from Peshawar contributed to this report.]

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9 Comments 💬

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Afnan | 06-19-2018

Stupid and highly biased analysis. China has beem instrumental in bringing Russia closer to Pakistan after the Cold war and Afghan war era, so would our relations deteriorate with China due to Russia? US has always been the most unreliable partner for Pakistan. They backed out at every critical juncture in history, putting undue pressure on Pakistan to act on US policies of global hegemony. Most importantly, unlike the writers delusional perception, being a Regional Powerhouse Russia has to be incorporated into our Foreign Policy. Better relations with them may also be a source of restricting India from their designs of Regional Hegemony.


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Saddam Gillani | 06-17-2018

who said Pakistani people consider Russians as their permanent enemy, this is totally strange statement to make, whoever has contributed to this article, I guess they might be living in previous century or they just the facts but dont wanna believe. We need to balance our relations with every country.We have made this mistake in the past by taking sides and we have lost so much coz of such policies.So please Peshawar university I.R lecturers need to stay away from making such fool comments


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Zameer | 06-15-2018

Non sense analysis!! India has balanced her relationship with Moscow & rest of the world. Why India's historic relationship has not resulted into deteriorating her relationship with other countries? Besides, the nations that are mentioned enjoy relationship with Moscow.


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Atta | 06-13-2018

Strange analysis indeed. Countries move forward through their own vision of their own national interests. Keeping in view CEPEC and China growing interest in ex-Russian states & EU, Pakistan's good relationship with Russia is preferable. As far as sectarian division! Well USA and its beloved Saudia have given us enough venom for each other.


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habib | 06-12-2018

Nice


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Rohail Saleem | 06-10-2018

The author is extremely delusional and myopic. Russia is an emerging power and it is in Pakistan's interests to widen its diplomatic engagements rather than relying only upon the questionable utility of the American sphere of influence.


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Ajmal jamil | 06-10-2018

Relations are established..your predictions are too late..Russia has poor economy but China has got excellent..if we advance our relations with both these along with Iran than its better bcz these all are our neighbours..they can also help us in solving problems with India and Afghanistan.. All other countries are far from Pakistan including Saudi Arabia.. So in my view we should shift our close relations...what we got from USA in 70 years..if we blame Russia for Afghan intervention, what is America doing there..is it less horrible than Russia in Afghanistan..? If Pakistan has concerns over zain brigade in syria..then what about American-indian backed TTP & PTM in Pakistan..? Putin has started visiting Europe on their call bcz Europe is also fed up of America..his recent visit to Austria and then to Italy were very warm and cordial... believe me that scenario is going to b changed..


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Imran | 06-08-2018

Stupid arguments, regional cooperation is essential for Pakistan's growth, people have no problem with Russia, finally Pakistan should have better relationship with Russia and the West at the same time.


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Mujtaba | 06-08-2018

Us "time tested relations...." Whats the rrsult of these tests