Pak-Russia relations: certain realities

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 13.01.16

Pakistan has finally decided to undo the act of Liaquat Ali Khan who, in 1949, as the Prime
Minister (PM) of Pakistan, turned down the request of the then USSR to visit it; instead, he
visited the US in May 1950. The former USSR must have been annoyed at this. Fuel to the
fire was added when Pakistan joined the anti-USSR western alliance rooted in antagonism
towards the communist ideology, which was upheld and sponsored by the former USSR.
This was how the annoyance of the former USSR with Pakistan was turned into animosity
and the same reflected in the events leading up to the 1971 crisis, which witnessed
Pakistan getting divided into two halves. With hindsight, Pakistan’s reliance on the US for
military and financial aid since 1947 attributed to Pakistan’s joining the anti-USSR camp,
chaired by the US. Pakistan became a prisoner to its needs sprouted from insecurity —
enforced by India — by denying Pakistan even the rightful share of assets consequent to
partition.

It was the famous Atlantic Charter — a joint declaration signed and released on August 14,
1941 by Franklin Roosevelt, the US president, and Sir Winston Churchill, the PM of the UK,
following their meeting during the Second World War, expressing their post-war aims — that
offered a glimmer of hope to colonial subjects (including those populating British colonies)
to exercise the right of self-determination (i.e. the rights of all peoples to choose their own
government and which may be by opting for decolonisation), as enshrined in point three of
the charter. During the war, subjects from the Indian subcontinent fought alongside the
British army against the Nazi regime of Germany and did not hesitate to risk or lay down
their lives for their colonial commanders but did not revolt. Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour
in December 1941 brought the US into the war theatre from where the US emerged as the
victor of the war by creating a humanitarian crisis in Japan, whereas the former USSR,
which also bore the onslaught of the Nazi army, remained one of the beneficiaries of the
triumph. This point placed the former USSR at least one notch below on the ladder of global
significance vis-à-vis the US. Consequently, it was quite natural with Pakistan to join the
victor club preferably and hurriedly, since Pakistan was beset by severe economic and
military inadequacies since 1947.

The hostile embrace between Pakistan and the former USSR took place in Afghanistan
from 1979 to 1991 and this time it ended in the dismemberment of the former USSR into
several small states. The score was settled. Communist ideology was defeated. From the
rubble emerged the Russian Federation carrying the cargo of legacy and the burden of the
lament of the former USSR, besides the resolve to reform its own system. The Russian
Federation, the core of which is Russia, can still be called the reduced, if not deflated,
version of the former USSR.

The Russia of today is grappled with two major issues on the foreign policy front: first, how
to support the allies (such as the regime of al-Assad of Syria) of the former USSR and
second how to cope with the needs of the modern age predicating on economic realities
(instead of ideological veracities including Islamic ideology) more than ever. Russia has
been trying to balance these two incongruent aspects. Regionally, Russia has been
successful in mending fences with China. Russia is in need of China owing to China’s
economic prosperity whereas China needs Russia’s help (in terms of supplying energy
resources and distributing transport networks for the movement of goods to and fro from
Europe) to develop its western half. The other leg of China’s need-based paradigm is to
touch the warm waters of the Arabian sea, the same warm waters the former USSR is said
to have aspired to reach after stepping into Afghanistan in 1979, even if the term ‘invasion’
is avoided to elucidate the act.

Russia has also mollified Pakistan. Immediately after 1991, Russia started extending the
hand of friendship to Pakistan to which Pakistan remained sceptical. In the meantime,
Russia also tried to associate itself with the west but failed. On the other hand, since 1991,
the US has also started bringing India closer to its fold. Post-9/11 developments offered
both the US and India wider space to figure out ways of working together in a range of fields
from nuclear energy harnessing to space exploration. In the post-9/11 era, circumstances
called developments have also brought Pakistan nearer to Russia in reciprocal
reconciliatory terms on both bilateral and multilateral fronts including sharing the platform of
the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in July 2015. In short, in Asia, the priority of
Russia seems to be economic cooperation and not military invasion. Russia is looking
towards the East. The word hegemony is not being bandied about.

Interestingly, the post-Cold War realignment was slow and shallow but the post-9/11
realignments are quick and sturdy between the regional countries of Asia. More
interestingly still, Pakistan was not happy with the former USSR but now Pakistan seems to
be happy with the modified but condensed version of the same called Russia. The appalling
episode of 9/11 must have offered sufficient space to Russia to yearn for revival.

Pakistan must be asked how it views its former nemesis, the former USSR, which now
embodies Russia, to destroy the Islamic militant monster it has created and which is now
Pakistan’s biggest existential threat. Pakistan is soon going to offer a land route to Russia
to let its goods have access to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea or Russia may achieve
that target through China. If amity and reconciliation are the ultimate destiny of a crisis, who
will justify the lives lost on both sides of the border in a struggle to subdue the other in the
name of ideology?

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