Farewell to Russian arms?
By Agha Iqrar Haroon
Indian Prime Minister Modi is in Kremlin to celebrate 70th anniversary of Indo-Russo diplomatic ties.
Their exchange of diplomatic gifts can harm Pakistan’s interests and its relations with Russia as Putin announced his support to India as gift for her permanent seat in UNSC and membership for NSG while India gifted several mega and expensive projects to Russian companies including high speed freight trains project.
Pakistan can never accept Indian’s permanent seat in UNSC because it has border conflicts with India and New Delhi has become too hostile towards Pakistan under Modi Sarkar (government).
India has historic diplomatic, social, cultural and economic links with former Soviet Union and today’s Russian Federation. Their 70 year long relations enable Indian army and diplomatic Corp to intercept newly developed Pak-Russia relations having no historic and bilateral economic foundations. Trust deficit in Pak-Russia relationship is growing in changing Middle Eastern situation where Pakistan is seen as frontline country in Saudi-led military alliance while Russia supports Iran and Syria.
India and Russia are already engaged in several joint projects. Over 93% of Indian diamonds are crafted by Russian factories and over 200 Russian companies are working in India in different economic sectors including information technology, construction, transport, energy and heavy mechanical industries. Pakistan understands that India had been a strategic ally of former Soviet Union in South Asia having a deep engross in today’s Russian economy and diplomatic forums.
Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that disintegration of former Soviet Union took place because its (USSR) partners and allies had not been contributing in Soviet economy. He believes that diplomatic relation can only survive when there are strong economic relations and allies are buying Russian products or Russian services. For Putin, friendship cannot survive through MoUs but through execution of projects and flow of money in favour of Russia.
One should remember that Putin strongly criticized “Make in India” project of Modi Sarkar and stopped a number of Russian projects last year when he felt that India was only interested in transfer of technology to India for “Make in India” projects instead of buying Russian products. Putin believes India must buy products and services instead of just using Russian technology. Putin’s reaction was enough to tell Modi that their relations cannot survive without sending hard cash to Moscow. Now, Modi has offered several projects to Russian company during his visit to Russia. On May 1, 2017, India and Russian agreed a list of 19 projects aimed at establishing joint ventures for transport infrastructure, new technology, including pharmaceuticals, aircraft and automobile manufacturing, the diamond industry, and agriculture. Bilateral investment between India and Russia is demonstrating positive dynamics. Russia’s cumulative investment in the Indian economy has exceeded $4 billion, and the relevant figure for Indian investment in Russia is $8 billion.
Indo-Russo relations went through a rough patch of journey by early 2000 when India United States announced their strategic partnership in 2004. This Strategic Partnership became a real partnership during the era of Shivshankar Menon as Indian Foreign Secretary and as National Security Adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Menon added a new element into Indian Foreign Policy and that was “Look West” that steered Indian diplomacy towards Washington.
Vladimir Putin is very susceptible about his relations with any country having relations with cold-era enemies. He asked his team in mid of 2000 to look for more friends in South Asia instead of absolutely depending upon India as its ally in the region due to “look West” policy of New Delhi. This “Putinist Approach” opened doors for Pakistan although Pakistan was instrumental in destroying former Soviet Union through Operation Cyclone in Afghanistan. Putin has been extra conscious while dealing with three major partners of Operation Cyclone and those are United States, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan therefore he refused to visit Pakistan last year despite of receiving invitation at Ufa SCO Summit. He is still conscious about Pakistan and he is following the Russian policy of “я буду ждать тебя” (I will wait you). He wants to understand where Pakistan will stand if it (Pakistan) has to chose between United States and Russia. “I will wait you” is a message Russians give to someone they wish relationship but have doubts about the future of their relationship.
People like Uzbek SSR born Zamir Kabulov who is Special envoy of President Putin to Afghanistan and the Director of Second Asian Department in Russian Foreign Ministry favours close relations with Pakistan due to its (Pakistan) influence in Afghan politics. Kabulov understands this region very deeply as he is working here since 1977 when Operation Cyclone was in the process of conceptual designing. He served in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan during turbulent era of Afghan-Russo war. However, India-allied Russian Think Tanks sitting in Kremlin always raise their voices against Pakistan claiming that Pakistani foreign policy is Middle Eastern centric and Pakistan can never follow Kremlin-friendly foreign policy in Afghanistan and Middle East due to its historic links with USA and Saudi Arabia.
These veterans raise doubts against Pakistan portraying Pakistan as an unreliable and unpredictable country and a satellite of US and Saudi orbit. USA and Saudi Arabia are permanent adversaries for Russia in Middle East.
Russian Ambassador to Pakistan Alexey Y. Dedov played a positive role during the last three years to enhance Pak-Russia diplomatic relationship. Dedov like Kabulov served in Iran and at Second Asian Department of Russian Foreign Office. He also believes that Pakistan and Russia can work together in military and economic sectors. Pakistan has shown its interest in buying military hardware from Russia and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Islamabad in 2014 for drafting a new Pak-Russia collaboration in military sector. Pakistan participated in Russian war games and also attended Army exhibitions. However, Russia is yet to get anything tangible from Islamabad as the only mega project of Russia in Pakistan is facing constant delays and turbulences that is South-North Gas pipeline project while sale of military hardware is also not up to the expectations of Kremlin. Interestingly, Pakistan went for a contract of refurbishing of tanks with Russian archrival Ukraine this year and this development helped pro-Indian lobby in Moscow.
It may be mentioned that Pakistan and Russia signed South-North Gas pipeline project in October 2015 for transferring imported gas from Karachi to Lahore. The project is supposed to work with BOOT model (Build Own Operate Transfer). The built pipeline will be owned and operated by the project company for 25 years. During this period payments for gas deliveries will help the company return the investments and make profit. After that the pipeline will be handed over to the government of Pakistan. This project was scheduled to be started in 2016. However, this project is still in files and nothing has appeared on ground.
Current circumstances indicate that Pakistan is not providing any business opportunity to Russia and it (Pakistan) looks towards Turkey, China, Qatar and United States for buying services and hardware. Contrary to the situation, India is already sending hard cash to Moscow and has offered more projects to Russian companies. It is simple to calculate with whom Moscow feels comfortable?
Modi and Putin will meet again at Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Astana Summit starting from June 8. They can come up with more surprises for Pakistan.
Now time will tell what common ground Pakistan and Russia will find to stand together and work forward—
The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of Dispatch News Desk.