Why Pakistan and Russia are getting closer?

Pakistan defied the US pressure, considered expanding relationship with Russia a vital foreign policy objective

Kamran Yousaf February 28, 2022
This writer is a senior foreign affairs correspondent at The Express Tribune


Just days before Prime Minister Imran Khan was set to embark on a historic trip to Moscow, a senior Biden administration official approached Pakistan, with a message to reconsider what was going to be the first bilateral visit by a Pakistani leader in 23 years. Pakistan was also told to take a clear stance against Russia over its conflict with Ukrainian.

Pakistan politely said ‘no’ after carefully listening to the US view. The government justified the visit despite criticism. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Pakistan weighed pros and cons before the trip and arrived at a conclusion that Pakistan must not squander this opportunity to maximise and enhance its diplomatic space. Given the outcome of the visit, Qureshi was convinced that Pakistan did the right thing. Nevertheless, it was not an easy decision for Pakistan to go ahead with the visit against the backdrop of possible implications it may face from the western countries. But the reason Pakistan defied the US pressure was that it considered expanding relationship with Russia as a vital foreign policy objective.

PM Imran’s visit was part of several years of overt and covert efforts by the two sides to bury their bitter past and enter into a new era of cooperation. Efforts to mend fences between the two former Cold War rivals were linked to the new geo-strategic realities and alignments. For decades, Pakistan remained the US ally, despite undergoing many ups and downs. The turning point in the relationship came when the US decided to bring a strategic shift in its South Asia policy, propping up India as a major regional power.

Before this shift, the US had always taken care of Pakistan’s sensitivities whenever it dealt with India. But after its decision to deepen strategic ties with India in order to counter the rise of China, successive US administrations — from Bush to Biden — completely ignored Pakistan’s concerns. The US signed several defence agreements with India raising its status on a par with NATO allies. India has been given access to most advanced defence and other technologies. Despite not being a signatory to the Nuclear-non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), India has been allowed to have access to the nuclear technology for civilian purposes — something Pakistan felt could further augment its nuclear weapons programme. While the main idea was to enhance defence capabilities of India to counter China, it disturbed the strategic and conventional balance in South Asia.

Also the US attitude towards Pakistan became very cold in recent years. Pakistan feels that the US approach kept it stuck in the FATF grey list and it also has a role behind tough IMF conditions over the bailout programme. All these factors contributed to Pakistan moving to diversify its foreign policy options.

What helped Pakistan in advancing its ties with Russia is the China factor. Beijing is playing a key role in bringing Russia and Pakistan together since it thinks that these regional countries can make a formidable force to deal with regional and international challenges. In view of these realities, Pakistan would never call off the PM’s visit, which was the result of several years of efforts. Those efforts have taken Russia and Pakistan ties on the verge of strategic partnership. The two countries have identified several areas of cooperation — from defence to intelligence sharing and from energy to people to people contacts.

Given that Russia is now trying to reassert itself while the US and other western countries have only imposed sanctions and do not have other means to stop Moscow, Pakistan in its calculation feels that it is playing its cards well. This does not mean Pakistan wants to move away from the US or West but through its reach-out to Russia it seeks to increase its leverage in the increasingly divided world.


Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2022.

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