|Pak-Russia "Friendship 2016'
Daily: Daily Times
The domain of military witnessed Pakistan and Russia — the latter in the form of the former
Soviet Union — become entangled with each other on the land of Afghanistan. The same
domain of military has been selected by both countries to herald a new era of friendship. A
contingent of Russian troops has arrived in Pakistan to conduct a first-ever joint military
exercise, named Friendship 2016, from September 24 to October 10.
Holding a joint military exercise is a single major achievement of both Pakistan and Russia.
In the past, it was impossible to imagine the Russian army landing on the land of Pakistan.
However, the exercise is indicative of the fact that both countries have significantly
reconciled their mutual differences. One of the objectives to hold the first ever military
exercise on the land of Pakistan may be that the message of reconciliation is spread across
Pakistan to let the people of Pakistan understand that now onward Russia should not be
viewed as a foe but as a friend. Certainly, the political face of the joint military exercise is
stronger and more prominent than the military objectives that both countries want to
The Cold War did interesting things to the world. On the one hand, it brought Socialist
China and Islamic Pakistan close to each other, while on the other hand, it brought the
Communist Russia (or the former Soviet Union) and several Middle Eastern Muslim
countries including Iraq and Syria in alliance with each other. Various conclusions can be
drawn from this kind of relationship. One of the conclusions may be that wars are more
political than ideological. Despite its tall claims of Islamism, the Middle East failed to induce
confrontation between Islam and Communism on its land. Secondly, to lay one’s life in the
name of an ideology may be a good idea but the world is no more driven by ideological
orientation but political understanding. Afghanistan has learnt this lesson the hard way.
Thirdly, political readjustment takes precedence over ideological reconciliation. The way the
Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has readjusted himself with the Kabul government is
one such example. Fourthly, in the past, ideology might be considered a driving force
behind a political system, but now the driving force is economic needs. The engagement of
Russia regionally means that it must have done adequate homework, as this time Russia is
not appealing to the region ideologically but economically. Fifthly, whether the underlying
reasons are ideological or economic, the face is meant to be political. Both Pakistan and
Russia have been now trying to be as political as possible.
In Pakistan’s friendship with China, Russia may find a way out of its regional isolation,
especially after 1991. One can hardly find anything common between Pakistan and China,
be the area of compatibility ideology, ethnicity, language, religion, or the political system.
However, over the years, both Pakistan and China have weaved themselves into an
enduring friendship defying the famous adage “no permanent friends or foes in the
international arena.” Both Pakistan and China view their bilateral friendly relationship as
permanent and deep.
On the model of Pak-China relations, Russia may also try to forge its relationship with
Pakistan. The tenacity of Russia in the holding of the military exercise despite a caveat
issued by India affords strength to the underlying resolve of Russia to foster amicable
bilateral ties with Pakistan. Both holding the military exercise on the land of Pakistan and
deflecting Indian admonition on the same indicate that Russia has decided to go ahead with
Pakistan on a long-term basis. Secondly, the Pak-Russia relations bedevil the desire of the
Indian prime minister to ‘isolate’ Pakistan.
It is obvious that under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin the Russia of today is
trying to recover politically. Russia’s effort to resolve its border disputes on Islands with
China began in 1995 and finished in 2008; Russia started establishing the Shanghai
Cooperation Organisation (SCO) with China, as two major countries, in 1996 and finished it
in 2001. Taken together, these two steps can be called an eastward stride of Russia.
Without appeasing China, neither could Russia come out of regional isolation nor could it
mollify Pakistan. The SCO was the first major milestone Russia achieved at the multilateral
level regionally. Pakistan became a member of the SCO in June 2016 after 15 years of
SCO’s formation. This point shows that the speed of reconciliation was quite slow. However,
with that the route to south, the Arabian Sea, is also opened for Russia by bypassing
Afghanistan. Recently, from September 11 to September 19, Russia has also conducted a
joint naval exercise with China in the South China Sea. The exercise is meant to embolden
China’s stance on the sea. Helping China is another factor that is bound to bring Russia
and Pakistan closer.
The Pak-China relations have trodden the unchartered water of cooperation and
diplomacy. To what extent the Pak-Russia relations can tread a similar path is yet to be
seen, as several challenges lie in waiting for both of them. The first major challenge to
Russia would be to strike a balance between its relations with Pakistan and India. The
Chinese tilt towards Pakistan is already known and abided by India; however, Russia’s tilt
towards Pakistan is bound to invite the ire of India. On the other hand, the first major
challenge to Pakistan is bound to come from the United States, the country that remained a
major supplier of modern weaponry to Pakistan, especially during the Cold War era. The
primary undeclared objective of Pakistan getting western military aid was to defend itself
against India. In a way, the confrontation with the former Soviet Union was not a primary but
a secondary aim.
The joint military exercise is bound to bring harmony between the two countries. The door
of technological help and economic cooperation may be opened. Pakistan can make
arrangements to import energy (i.e. electricity, oil and gas) from Russia. Pakistan Steel Mills
can be revived and more such mills can be made. In short, improvement in Pak-Russia
relations presages benefits for both the countries.
Back to columns in 2016