Sergei KAMENEV – Independent analyst and researcher
At the start of February this year, a trilateral meeting dealing with the situation in Afghanistan came to an end in London between the presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan and British prime minister. The outcome of the meeting was an agreement for a strategic Pakistan-Afghanistan partnership. Following the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan in 2014, close cooperation between Kabul and Islamabad will have a decisive influence on the situation in Afghanistan.
For Russia, the importance of relations with Pakistan is already on the increase, if only given Afghanistan's involvement in drug trafficking, since the bulk of the drugs end up in Russia and the rest go on to Europe. How many times has Nadir Mir, a retired brigadier general of the Pakistan Army who took part in military operations against the Pakistani Taliban, noted that increasing the level of Russia-Pakistan relations will unequivocally lead to a reduction in domestic political tensions in Afghanistan?
Following the withdrawal of the majority of NATO troops from Afghanistan in 2014, there will remain approximately 10,000 American servicemen (as of 1 January 2013, there were 66,000 American soldiers and officers in the country). The American contingent staying on in Afghanistan will, just as before, need supplies of food, fuel and other products and these will be delivered to Afghanistan via tried and tested routes – through Pakistan and Russia. This means that the coordination of actions between Moscow and Islamabad is also important from this angle… In general, improving relations between Russia and Pakistan could have a positive influence on the situation both in Afghanistan itself and in Central Asia.
A breakthrough in relations between Russia and Pakistan was made possible by the annual quadrilateral summits between Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia and Tajikistan, which included bilateral meetings between the presidents of Russia and Pakistan. Initially (in Tajikistan, 2009), an expansion of Russia-Pakistan cooperation was reflected in the establishment of more trusting relationships at a higher level, the signing of several memorandums of mutual understanding and a number of other specific agreements. Even at that time, substantial discussions were under way at a meeting in Dushanbe between the presidents of Russia and Pakistan regarding the possibility of really combating drug trafficking (including the direct and active participation of Afghanistan in this process), terrorism and extremism, the involvement of Gazprom in Pakistani energy projects, the possibility of developing regional trade, the creation of a favourable investment climate and a number of other issues.
The expansion of bilateral relations continued at a similar summit in Sochi in August 2010. At that time during bilateral meetings between the presidents of Russia and Pakistan, opportunities to collaborate in the financial sector were explored (the opening of branches of Russian banks in Pakistan and Pakistani banks in Russia), the admission of Pakistani students to study in Russia and many others. Most importantly, however, was the decision to hold the first meeting of the Russia-Pakistan Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation in September 2010, which took place as planned. On the Russian side, the commission is headed by the Minister for Sport, Tourism and Youth Policy, V.L. Mutko, while the Pakistani side at that time was headed by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar.
The agenda for the 4th quadrilateral summit in Islamabad (2-3 October 2012) included, at the top of the list, discussions regarding the domestic political situation in Afghanistan. However, the meeting was cancelled several days before it was due to start as V.V. Putin was unable to attend the "Dushanbe Four" summit in Islamabad. After the quick cancellation of the summit on 2-3 October 2012, the government of Pakistan diplomatically expressed hope that the Russian president would nevertheless still have the opportunity to visit Pakistan.
As such, there was much speculation in the media that the "Indian factor" had played a major role in the cancellation of V.V. Putin's visit to Pakistan, with reports that Moscow continues to look at Pakistan through Indian eyes. However, in our opinion, Russia-Pakistan relations will increasingly develop no matter what. All the prerequisites are present for this and there is no doubt that it will have a positive impact on the general situation in Central Asia and on the situation in Afghanistan and surrounding areas.
It would be impossible not to mention relations between the military leaders of the two countries, in particular about the visit made to Moscow at the beginning of October 2012 by virtually the most important military official in Pakistan, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Chief of Army Staff of the Pakistan Army. During the visit, talks took place between General Kayani and his Russian counterpart, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Ground Forces Colonel General A.N. Postnikov, as well as the-then Chief of the General Staff N.E. Makarov. A meeting was also held between the Pakistani military leader and the chairman of the State Duma Committee on Defence, V.P. Komoedov. It is possible to suppose that one of the main subjects of the talks was Afghanistan.
The arrival of Air Marshal Tahir Rafiq Butt, chief of the Pakistan Air Force, in Moscow in August 2012 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Russian Air Force also indicates that there are real prospects for military-technical cooperation between Russia and Pakistan. According to Russian experts, at the first stage this cooperation could well be developed within the framework of supplies of Russian dual-use technologies to Pakistan, for example heavy-duty trucks (which can transport both soil and troops across rough terrain, if and when required). There has already been similar cooperation to this in the history of Russia-Pakistan relations. Alternatively, the supply of civilian helicopters (which has also happened in the past), which are comparatively easy to convert into military transport helicopters.
It should also be noted that during the visit made by the Russian Foreign Affairs Minister S.V. Lavrov to Pakistan at the beginning of October 2012, three Memorandums of Mutual Understanding were signed – in the areas of metallurgy, energy production and railroad transportation.
There is no doubt that the talks held between the prime ministers of Russia and Pakistan at the beginning of November 2012 in Laos as part of the "Asia-Europe" summit will also promote the development of cooperation between Russia and Pakistan. An unconventional document was signed following the meeting – a Decree on the willingness to sign a Memorandum of Mutual Understanding to modernise a Pakistani metallurgical plant. During the course of the talks, the heads of the two countries' governments referred to the trade figure for 2011 (348 million dollars) and expressed regret that this was 40% lower than before the financial crisis (prior to 2008); at that time, the volume of bilateral trade had amounted to approximately 570 million dollars. At a meeting of the Business Council for Cooperation with Pakistan held at the end of December 2012, meanwhile, it was noted that according to preliminary figures, the volume of trade between Russia and Pakistan had shown a steady upward trend overall and in 2012 had reached 660 million dollars. In our view, however, this figure far from exhausts the total wealth of existing possibilities.
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The contours of the geopolitical situation in Asia are literally changing before our very eyes. Large areas of intergovernmental cooperation that convey the ideas of a Greater East Asia and a Central East Asia macro region are taking shape. At an organisational level, this is reflected in the stepping up of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
We would like to quote a few words from one of the leading Russian experts on Southern and Central Asia, Professor Vyacheslav Belokrenitsky, who as much as five years ago wrote that, firstly, "strengthening Russia-Pakistan relations would enable Moscow to equalise their chances with China's in a multilateral dialogue on the expanses of Central and Eastern Asia. Secondly, it would enable Russia to make it clear to India that the time has passed, first and foremost, for its interests in terms of Russia's priorities regarding South Asia to be taken into account. If New Delhi is going to strengthen its strategic partnership with the United States by entering into an exclusive long-lasting peaceful nuclear cooperation agreement with them and opening up the way for cooperation with the West in the military-technical sphere, can it rely on the fact that Russia will still refrain from military cooperation with Pakistan that would be to Russia's advantage? The point here, of course, is not that the vector of Moscow's military-technical cooperation itself will change, but that the implementation of certain corrections is possible and even necessary".
In short, the way for the implementation of new projects between Russia and Pakistan is open. From the point of view of the needs of the Pakistan economy, cooperation with Russia would be most productive in the infrastructure sectors, in energy production, including atomic energy, and in the sectors of communication, metallurgy, irrigation and amelioration. Here is something for both Islamabad and Moscow to think about.