By Senator Rehman Malik
Following our independence, Pakistan and Russia first established bilateral and diplomatic ties on 1st May 1948. Pakistan also celebrated the 70th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations with Russia on 1st May 2018.
Things changed in 1959, however, when Ayub Khan gave permission to USA to use its Peshawar Air Base, for which he got deceived by the USA when it sent its spy plane from the Peshawar Base to USSR without informing PAF authorities. The plane was shot down there by Russia and unfortunately Pakistan was blamed for sending the plane since it was Pakistan’s soil from where it had come. This made Russia turn against Pakistan and eventually the Soviets paid back their revenge on Pakistan in the 1971 Indo-Pak war.
India took full advantage of the clash and signed the August 1971 Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship for Peace and Cooperation which made Russia support India. Subsequent Soviet support to India, in terms of arms and financial aid, further deteriorated relations between Pakistan and Russia. Russia was right to turn against Pakistan and India took full advantage of the situation and we saw Pakistan disintegrated. USSR not only supported the creation of Bangladesh but also kept vetoing every resolution brought from Pakistan to the United Nations against the separation of East Pakistan.
USA, the so called best friend of Pakistan, played a diplomatic trick. While it apparently seemed to be supporting Pakistan against USSR and India, it made to spend its seventh fleet to the Bay of Bengal in order to threaten India and show off its support towards Pakistan. Yet it never sent the 8th fleet, which could have made Pakistan prevent East Pakistan from separating. As per the forever ill intentions of the USA, it wanted to create another never-ending conflict between India and Pakistan in the name of East Pakistan’s separation. This can be seen as the first betrayal of the USA as we paid heavenly by allowing the USA to use the airbase against Russia.
Later in 1979, when the USSR was intending to occupy Afghanistan, Pakistan made another mistake by helping USA against USSR efforts to invade Afghanistan. The USSR got disintegrated after defeat in the Afghan – USSR War, but still the Russian leadership was very much in a position to handle the situation and Russia of today has emerged even stronger. Russia has demonstrated to the world that it is still a great nation and a superpower.
The history of diplomatic relations of Pakistan & Russia has seen various ups and downs but most of the times, their perception about each other has been negative; Pakistan’s through the prism of western intentions and Russia’s through the Indian eyes. The last few years, however, have opened a new corridor for both countries to forget past deeds. In the recent decade, Russia has also started to take an interest in good bilateral relations with Pakistan. Both countries know that the potential threats emanating from South Asia will directly challenge the security of both countries. The cross- border issues of terrorism and the ongoing Afghan conflict guarantee a long-term engagement between Russia and Pakistan.
The signs of an improved relationship between Pakistan and Russia was seen in September 2016, when 70 Russian and 130 Pakistani Special Forces held their first joint military exercises in Cherat, Northern Pakistan. India opposed the meeting and tried its best to convince Russia to call off the exercise following the 18 September militant attack on an Indian army base which New Delhi blamed as usual on Pakistan, but the Russians declined.
We Pakistanis are happy to see that our diplomatic and the military relationships with Russia have improved. I hope Russia will take advantage of the offer now given by Pakistan for the use of Gwadar port. It is also great development that Russia has lifted the decade long arms embargo against Pakistan by agreeing to sell its helicopters to Pakistan despite the opposition of India.
It is only because of the exceptional leadership of Mr. Vladimir Putin that Moscow is now moving away from its years of hostility against Pakistan for which the Pakistan People’s Party Government had played a great role. I remember the first meeting of President Asif Ali Zardari with Mr. Putin where I was also present. In fact, this meeting and discussions cleared many miscommunications. This was the turning point and gave a window of opportunity to reconnect both diplomatically and to share intelligence on security matters.
I had the honour of meeting Mr Putin twice and I found him very positive about Pakistan. I would like to say that he has proven to be a great leader and a reformer who has outsmarted the western leadership. He has led Russians into a great nation with all the indicators of a successful nation.
It is unfortunate to note that no Russian President has ever visited Pakistan, but as long as the Taliban threat is there in the region, it is unlikely that a Russian leader will do so in future as well. The key to further enhancement of relations between both countries is an end to the continuing civil war in Afghanistan. China and Russia both feel threatened by this war, as well as by the increasing number of young men from their Muslim populations who are joining militant groups. Both Pakistan and Russia have a common threat in the form of ISIS now, which is recruiting youngsters from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Russia make it a long way for the two nations to go before the relations actually gets warmed up. Russia has emerged as an important player and he is playing a vital role in the international community.
Russia and Pakistan have passed through various ups and down and now they have decided to march towards better relationships and more cooperation in the interest of both countries. Russia and Pakistan are two very important countries of this region and I foresee a great role of Pakistan, China and Russia as a nuclear block to work for international peace and common growth of the economy.
My discussion at a recent meeting with H.E Alexey Y. Dedov Russian Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan based in Islamabad was very encouraging as the Russian changed policy towards Pakistan will benefit both the countries.
Let us wait and see how Russia plays a balancing role in keeping the region peaceful.
(The writer is Chairman of think tank “global eye” & former Interior Minister of Pakistan. firstname.lastname@example.org@GlobalEye_GSA)