To Russia, with love

Published: February 12, 2012

The writer is a former foreign secretary and former ambassador to several countries including Iran, Russia and France

Following important contacts between President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani in Moscow or in high-level meetings held in the ‘common region’ where Pakistan and Russia belong, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has negotiated a realistic framework of bilateral cooperation that may supersede a long history of estrangement. Two factors have contributed to this landmark development: one, for the first time in decades of interaction, there is national consensus in Pakistan to engage with Russia earnestly; and, two, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has read the regional and global scene afresh and recognised Pakistan role as a factor of peace and stability.

The point about the national consensus in Pakistan cannot be overstated. What has been highlighted in the Pakistani discourse is the harm done by Moscow’s policies to the Kashmir cause, its contribution to the Indian invasion of erstwhile East Pakistan and the negative impact of extravagant Russian military supplies to India on the South Asian balance of power. What has often been played down is Pakistan’s anti-Soviet zeal in the Cold War context, including its salient role in the reversal suffered by Russia in Afghanistan, and no less importantly Pakistan’s failure to seize such opportunities as Moscow offered to improve relations.

Call it inertia or bias, powerful sections of the Pakistani establishment simply refused to acknowledge a potential change in Russian approach even after Mikhail Gorbachev’s famous Vladivostok speech signalling Soviet disengagement from Afghanistan or Andrei Kozyrev’s hints, admittedly short-lived, to develop a more even- handed South Asia policy. In my experience, Islamabad’s reluctance to explore fresh opportunities with Moscow was less attributable to American pressure and more to a flawed strategic vision in Pakistan’s strategic enclave. A couple of moments down the memory lane reinforce my perception.

In the winter of 1996, Benazir Bhutto’s government collapsed. A senior staffer of Sahibzada Yaqub Khan who had returned as caretaker foreign minister phoned me in Moscow in some panic that on his arrival in the Foreign Office that morning, the minister did not want to do anything before terminating my assignment to Moscow. I was neither surprised nor unhappy and devoted the week given to me to wind up my mission to securing Moscow’s agreement for my successor on a fast track. Unbelievably, despite instant acceptance by Moscow, the ambassador -designate never arrived and the Pakistan embassy in Moscow was without an ambassador for six months. Not just a negative signal, it was a gratuitous insult to a proud nation hurt deeply by Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan. Some seven years earlier, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had tasked me, as foreign secretary, with an immediate mission to Moscow mostly to assess the import of some messages she had received that promised a less violent and bloody dénouement in Afghanistan where Najeebullah still ruled. Foreign Minister Yaqub Khan opposed the mission and told me that I “would rue the day (I) set foot in Moscow”. Interpreting Bhutto’s decision positively, the Russians had designated one of their top diplomats, the highly gifted Yuli Vorontsov as my interlocutor. Intensive, occasionally heated, discussions spread over ten hours produced a body of ideas that could have conceivably led to a peaceful transition from the ill-fated Najeebullah to a broad-based Mujahideen-led government in a few months. My 14-page report tabled in a high-powered meeting presided over by president and prime minister got a short shrift as the foreign minister rubbished it; it never reached the Defence Committee of the Cabinet as ordered by Benazir Bhutto, who, incidentally, was sacked about four months later. High placed personalities told me in 1994 when I went to Moscow as ambassador that after this episode, Moscow simply despaired of Pakistani intentions.

This op-ed piece cannot do justice to the areas for future cooperation flagged by Foreign Ministers Hina Khar and Sergei Lavrov: joint action plan for trade and investment; energy including Russian interest in Thar Coal; CASA-1000 project and Turkmenistan-Pakistan-India gas pipe line; agriculture, science and technology; investment in the Karachi Steel Mills etc. Moscow’s readiness to support Pakistan’s membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and Putin’s expected participation in a Quadrilateral summit in Islamabad denote, at long last, a basic strategic understanding. If the relationship was clouded by perpetual mistrust, there is now a chance for this dark cloud to lift.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th, 2012.

Reader Comments (28)

  • SalSal
    Feb 12, 2012 - 9:37PM

    Good article. We should mend ties with countries over the world as much as we can. Why unnecessarily create angry faces against us in the region?

    Recommend

  • Akhtar
    Feb 12, 2012 - 9:48PM

    Russian’s will always back the Indians. They have always done it. Also, Russia is a huge trade partner, with huge defense imports. How can we match? Also, we are buying aircraft from china based on very old Russian models with engines imported from Russia!

    Also, there is the Chechan angle, & how can we support the Russians? Frankly, I believe our military strategists are right ignoring Russians. The Russians need us more than we need them.

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  • John B
    Feb 12, 2012 - 10:13PM

    PAK can start mending ties with her neighbors first.

    PAK’s sudden love for Russia is nothing more than the fear of the shaky US-PAK relationship. PAK went to China, soon after Indo-China conflict, and now off to Russia when US-PAK relationships are heading south.

    “Enemy’s enemy is my friend” has been PAK’s foreign policy and one can see where it led to.

    There is nothing wrong in love for Russia but is it an altruistic love? The burden is on PAK shoulders to prove it.Recommend

  • Anjaan
    Feb 12, 2012 - 10:48PM

    The Russians are not fools not to be able to see what is behind Pakistan’s sudden new found “LOVE” towards them ………….. !!

    @ Akhtar,

    Pakistanis like youself need to realize that terrorism as bargaining chip will get Pakistan nowhere except down the slippery slope …….. be it in Chechnya or elsewhere ………. !!Recommend

  • Cautious
    Feb 12, 2012 - 10:50PM

    A more practical/realistic assessment is that 1) the national consensus has never counted for anything when it comes to policy making 2) the elected govt has limited (if any) control over foreign policy and 3)Pakistan is desperate and trying to get support from any quarter.

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  • faraz
    Feb 12, 2012 - 11:47PM

    What about our Taliban who are up against Northern Alliance which is backed by Russia?

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  • Harry Stone
    Feb 13, 2012 - 5:00AM

    Too funny. PAK and Russia stability and peace. This has to be another PAK only understood joke. Where in the world has PAK and Russia been the foundation of peace?

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  • hammad
    Feb 13, 2012 - 7:30AM

    @Akhtar:
    That didn’t make any sense. Pakistan is friends with China depsite the Xinxiang problem. It’s time Pakistanis stop being “thekeydaars” of muslims all around the world and take care of their own country.

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  • Singh
    Feb 13, 2012 - 9:14AM

    @Akhtar,
    How come every nation need Pakistan but it does not need any one. OH beggar don’t have friends but master.

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  • ashok sai
    Feb 13, 2012 - 11:46AM

    I stopped reading with this,

    Vladimir Putin’s Russia has read the regional and global scene afresh and recognised Pakistan role as a factor of peace and stability.

    Dear Author, why you rate the IQ’s of Russians so lowly ?

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  • BlackJack
    Feb 13, 2012 - 1:00PM

    @Akhtar:
    Why worry about who Russia’s other friends are? Has anyone supported you against India so far? Do you think India approaches its relationship with China or Saudi Arabia or Turkey on the basis of their perceived closeness with Pakistan? Relationships with foreign powers is a leading indicator of which way you are seen to be going in the world, and cannot be held hostage to other intractable disagreements with no solution in sight. Wake up and smell the coffee, my friend!Recommend

  • Feb 13, 2012 - 1:34PM

    @John B: Sir, you are unable to understand the evolving geo-political situation. Also, Pakistan was a member of SEATO and CENTO and the USA was under obligation to assist Pakistan under the rules of the agreement. Instead they embargoed our country and assisted India during the 1965 war. Have a nice day and read with purpose.

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  • Feb 13, 2012 - 1:39PM

    @John B:
    Mr John can u name any country in the world consisting of over 200 nations, that in altruistic love with another! My country Pakistan has never followed this realism’s “golden” rule i.e “Enemy’s enemy is my friend

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  • Asturian
    Feb 13, 2012 - 3:51PM

    Even Russia is not an angel or something, ask the East Europeans, they revolted against the Brutal Soviet Regime imposed on them and got independence, even today they still hate the Russians just like we hate USA because of their interference in our local matters.
    Pakistan has got to stand of its feet instead of switching sides between superpowers. We should have good relations with both of them side by side without taking any sides.
    We should not be dependent on one superpower.

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  • Feb 13, 2012 - 4:13PM

    In earlier Indo-Russian relationship India was the junior partner, but now Russia will be. Why on Earth would Russia want to invite India’s wrath by getting cozy with Pakistan?

    Also, who is one kidding? Pakistan is at best a middle level power, while India and Russia are equals, members of G20, part of BRIC nations. Can Pakistan ever hope to have a big enough economy to get into G20, at the least? I dont think so.

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  • Naveed Alam Khattak
    Feb 13, 2012 - 6:29PM

    We should always try for good relations with all including Russia & India. War is nothing but destruction.

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  • Reddy
    Feb 13, 2012 - 6:56PM

    @author: “Vladimir Putin’s Russia has read the regional and global scene afresh ”
    does that mean Russians are sleeping till today, and when do you think this starting afresh phenomena might have been started, after OBL incident or after Chechens got killed in pakistan.pakistan missed that bus in 1947,when mr zinnah went to US for AID,recently in 1980′s you burned that bus.First try to get the helicopters that you are bargaining for almost a decade

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  • M. I. Aslam
    Feb 13, 2012 - 7:11PM

    Dear Indians …………..
    mujha kuch jalna kee boo aa rahe ha

    no two countries are friends or foe its just the matter of convergence or conflict of interest which define relations at national level . People please do not forget that Pakistan Steel Mill is a kind courtesy of then USSR. Even in Musharf regime Russia was willing to invest in various projects including steel mills. now the geo-political realities are changing in the region and Pakistan is and will remain to be a critical player in the region to the great discomfort of DEAR INDIANS.

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  • antanu g
    Feb 13, 2012 - 7:57PM

    @Akhtar:
    you still live in past….try to move forward.Relations with Pak does not mean enemity with India.

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  • antanu g
    Feb 13, 2012 - 7:59PM

    @Harry Stone:
    ….and where was the foundation of peace and friendship between Germany and UK? Priorities keep changing as time goes by. This applies on international relations also.

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  • Harry Stone
    Feb 13, 2012 - 8:30PM

    @antanu g:

    So you are saying that PAK and Russia are going to change from their past behavior and move in a direction of peace and stability. Hope you are correct and so does the rest of the world.

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  • Adil
    Feb 14, 2012 - 8:49AM

    @M. I. Aslam:

    Even the author didn’t talk about having any military relations with Russia….rather cooperation in terms of steel mills,trade and agriculture. It’s just Pakistanphobia in their minds that any person visiting Pakistan or Pakistanis visiitng any other nation is seen as a sign of conspiracy against India.India has got strong relationships with Russia but I hope this doesn’t give Indians some authority to bully us saying hey it’s also my yard, get out of my face.It’s pure arrogance and myopic attitude which I witness on behalf of Indians in their comments over here even though the author didn’t say anything against their nation. Perhaps, they just came here after visiting Times of India website and one might know how they picture Pakistan’s present and future there in their news articles, decorated with (obviously) abusive,hateful and derogatory comments (which Thank God our moderators always filter).

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  • wasim
    Feb 14, 2012 - 2:42PM

    @Harry Stone: If Taliban and US can seek peace with each other why not Pak- Russia.

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  • Harry Stone
    Feb 14, 2012 - 10:07PM

    @wasim:

    I did not realize PAK was at war with Russia…. See how uninformed I am.

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  • wasim
    Feb 14, 2012 - 10:31PM

    @Harry Stone:

    Try remembering this:
    ‘So you are saying that PAK and Russia are going to change from their past behavior and move in a direction of peace and stability. Hope you are correct and so does the rest of the world.”
    Uninformed may be not, but seems like you have a short term memory.

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  • arjun
    Feb 15, 2012 - 5:11AM

    @M. I. Aslam: India has not agressively pushed for dismantling Pakistan-that it will- if another mumbai incident occurs. Then it will be an eye opener for miserable religiously guided society of Pakistan that religion cannot hold their nation together. Russia will remain Indias friend as long as islamic fundamentalism persists.

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  • Harry Stone
    Feb 15, 2012 - 9:15AM

    @wasim:

    So where has PAK and Russia brought peace and stability?

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  • wasim
    Feb 15, 2012 - 2:12PM

    @Harry Stone:
    Which one do you want to know first? when were they at War? or are they moving toward peace and stability?Recommend

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