The News International
September 29, 2012
In the final analysis, as the Central and South Asian configuration of states undergoes a new transformation, Russia and Pakistan need to reach out to each other to reap the full and positive benefits of a real relationship, including the tempting energy and economic objectives that could lead to advantageous geopolitical outcomes for all involved.
A flurry of high-level visits by Russian officials to Islamabad in the recent past and the much-anticipated trip by Russian President Vladimir Putin have been reported both as highlighting Russia’s efforts to augment strategic relations with Pakistan and Pakistan’s attempt to find new friends given the growing impasse with the United States.
While there has been much talk of a quiet and inconspicuous Russo-Pak rapprochement evolving, what do we make of Putin calling off his visit to Pakistan at the eleventh hour this Thursday? This has also meant the deferment of a planned quadrilateral summit between Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan that was to be held in Islamabad on Oct 2.
For now, there is no word on new dates either for the summit or for Putin’s visit. The reasons for the deferral are also unclear. There is speculation that Putin’s decision was the result of Pakistan’s reluctance to award, without bidding, the contract for building its section of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline to Russian energy giant Gazprom. The other view is that Russia may have pulled out of the trip due to Indian pressure. Hopefully, the Russians will provide a fuller explanation soon – it is certainly being read as a setback for Pakistan’s attempt to cultivate new relationships and create negotiating space vis-à-vis the US.
Russia and Pakistan have been working, quietly and out of sight, on a rapprochement after decades of bitterness and misgivings. The reorientation of ties has been particularly spurred by developments in Afghanistan.
President Zardari and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev have met six times in the last three years. On Russia’s end, it realises that, given the US-Nato exit from Afghanistan in the near future, power in the region will shift.
It is, thus, trying to improve economic ties and secure its southern borders against the spread of terrorism by reaching out to both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Russia sees Pakistan as a gateway for energy trade to the entire Subcontinent. On the other hand, Pakistan desires better ties with Russia not just on the economic front but also as an alternate source of military supplies, especially given Washington’s growing foot-dragging and China’s continued inability to meet all of Pakistan’s requests.
The question remains: given extenuating reasons on both sides to push for enhanced ties and a recent display of all the right gestures and statements, how then do we explain the cancellation of Putin’s visit, which is clearly a step back in the relationship? Before jumping to conclusions, it is important to take into account the long-standing foundation of mistrust that will undergird any future relationship between Pakistan and Russia. In light of a deeply acrimonious past, hiccups along the way are to be expected. Let us then look at Putin’s decision as just one of these hiccups that will hopefully be ironed out in time. In the final analysis, as the Central and South Asian configuration of states undergoes a new transformation, Russia and Pakistan need to reach out to each other to reap the full and positive benefits of a real relationship, including the tempting energy and economic objectives that could lead to advantageous geopolitical outcomes for all involved.