Forging a New Partnership: Understanding the Importance of Pakistan-Russia Relations


Masuood Ahmad

With the split of USSR in 1991, a massive shift emerged in the nature of global politics with new principles becoming dominant factors in determining the strength of bonhomie between different nation-states. Pakistan’s relationship with USSR changed from cool to hostile. In its initial years of tremendous difficulties, Pakistan received two invitation letters from the United States of America and Soviet Union but the then Prime Minister of the country preferred to go to U.S. and thus sending an unfriendly gesture to Soviet Union which later resulted in increasing Soviet tilt towards India. This was the time when two countries developed cooperation in various fields with India started actively buying weapons from the USSR and thus becoming a threat to Pakistan. Defense experts still believe that Pakistan had an opportunity to maneuver and numerous policy options on the table that it failed to utilize. Pakistan becoming a member of US-led military alliances in the 1950’s further deteriorated the relationship with the USSR and diminished any possibility of the two countries becoming strategic partners in the Central Asian region.  However, in the late 1950s and early 1960s the two countries moved closer, concluding several trade agreements that would provide a solid basis for increasing cooperation in the security, industrial and energy sectors, setting the stage for the two countries to become significant players in the region.However, with the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and the beginning of the Soviet-Western confrontation, there was one of the most unpleasant turns in relations between the former superpower and Pakistan.

With the disintegration of USSR in 1991, a new world order emerged with different nation-states accelerating their mission to strengthen their defense systems and improve economic conditions with new national policies. The end of the cold war provided an opportunity for a new beginning in Islamabad-Moscow relations. Building on Pakistan’s experience of international cooperation with other countries after 9/11, the reverberations of which can still be heard throughout the region, Pakistan and Russia should adopt a practical approach in building a healthy and mutually beneficial relations rather than being beholden to the superpowers in pursuit of their national interests. The changing contours of strategic interests at regional and international levels demand a relationship of cooperation and understanding which the two countries have taken up despite their past differences. The forging of closer relations between the two has significant importance for promoting stability and enhancing economic cooperation in the region. In Central and South Asia, Russia tries to balance its relations and establish mutually beneficial cooperation with each country, taking into account their goodwill and independence. Pakistan has fallen on hard times, but is a significant player in geopolitics and a responsible partner.With its advantageous geophysical location, developing energy, trade and transport potential, and significant influence in the Islamic world, Pakistan can have a favourable impact on the region and the world at large.

One of the key areas of cooperation between Pakistan and Russia is in the field of defense. The two countries have signed multiple agreements on defense cooperation, including the sale of Russian military equipment to Pakistan. This partnership has helped Pakistan to diversify its sources of military hardware and reduce its reliance on Western countries for defense supplies. The constant threats from archrival India and its increasing military posture across Line of Control (LOC) and inside the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir are strong reasons that should force the Pakistani intelligentsia to revisit its policies. A strong military alliance and agreements on defense cooperation between the two countries will inevitably strengthen the defense mechanisms and pave way for a strong power bloc in the region that could act as a deterrent against Western hegemony. In addition to defense, Pakistan and Russia have also been cooperating on energy projects. Pakistan is a significant energy consumer and has been looking to diversify its sources of energy. Russia, with its vast energy sources, can provide an important source of energy to Pakistan. Although the two countries have signed several agreements on energy cooperation, there is a need to further strengthen these agreements and devise plans for more robust pacts based on mutual trust. Besides having significant implications for regional stability, improved relations between Pakistan, Russia, and Afghanistan has important implications for global politics.

The huge shifts in the international system have provided Islamabad and Moscow with a common reason to reevaluate their relations. Moscow is finding new opportunities in the region as the U.S. has withdrawn from Afghanistan while Pakistan on the other hand is gradually trying to revisit its weary relations with Washington that has, to a great extent, given rise to unprecedented homegrown extremism in the country resulting in an economic meltdown and rising security threats. As our enemies demonstrate an offensive mode of destabilizing Pakistan, the demands on national security continue to grow. Improved relations between the two countries with common interests could enhance stability, enhance economic cooperation and change the balance of power in the region, especially against the US and its Eurasian allies. And we have real opportunities to do so. There are mechanisms of interaction within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and other international associations, which are gaining new significance in the present reality.

The author is pursuing his Ph.D in English Literature at International Islamic University Islamabad, Pakistan.