Let’s take practical steps
The cancellation of a keenly awaited visit by President Putin had caused dismay in Pakistan. The departure of COAS Kayani for Moscow and the arrival of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Islamabad however indicate that the ties are in a process of improvement. The renewal of the relations after a lengthy period of cooling off indicates that the two countries share perspectives on a number of issues vital to both. In the post-Cold War twilight world where alliances are changing without countries shifting to altogether opposite positions, Russia and Pakistan find many things in common. Both are keen to have good relations with the US but do not agree with many policies pursued by Washington. These include drone attacks inside Pakistan which were duly condemned by Lavrov as being in violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Lavrov assured that Russia backs Pakistan’s position on the issue. There is also a proximity in both countries’ positions on Iran, Syria and the Palestinian state.
Much more important for the two are other issues like narcotics smuggling, terrorism in the region and the situation in Afghanistan after the departure of the US-led NATO troops. Russia has with great effort brought under control the terrorist groups operating from its Muslim dominated areas, some of whom had been trained in Afghanistan or Pakistan’s tribal areas. Better ties with Islamabad would ensure that Chechens do not use Pakistan’s soil against Moscow. Russia also recognizes the key role Pakistan has to play in helping bring peace to war torn Afghanistan.
Moscow helped set up the first steel mill in Pakistan in an era when no western country was willing to fulfill the need. Pakistan now wants Russian assistance for balancing, modernizing, revamping and expanding (BMRE) of the ailing PSM. Moscow is also in a position to expedite TAPI and provide finances for the project to bring Central Asian electricity to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In political field, an isolated Pakistan badly needs to cultivate relations with countries in the region as well as those outside who matter in international politics, Russia being one. Lavrov has already promised support for Pakistan’s membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Hopefully the visit by Gen Kayani would take military to military ties to a higher level, increasing Pakistan’s options for acquiring modern weapons. Relations between countries take time to mature. The next step should be the removal of hindrances that led to the cancelation of President Putin’s visit. The holding of the quadrilateral conference would further bring Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan closer.