Russia and the Muslim World


On growth trajectory: Pak-Russia ties

Pakistan-Russia ties have come a long way since the days of the Cold War. It was Gen Musharraf who travelled to Moscow in 2003 and laid the groundwork for a new direction in the ties between the two nations. In 2013, President Zardari and Gen Kayani both visited Russia, and Putin was widely expected to reciprocate but his trip was postponed, reportedly under pressure from India.

Nonetheless, the situation has evolved to such an extent that Russia-Pakistan Consultative Group on Strategic Stability meets regularly, while the first ever strategic dialogue was held from August 28 to 29. In addition to the political and economic cooperation the agenda for the recent talks also included defence ties between the two.

These consultations, and earlier ones, have taken place in the backdrop of still suspended Pakistan-US strategic talks and expanding Pakistan-China partnership. Pakistan’s ties with Russia are improving at a unique time, when the Kremlin is at a centre stage of world affairs as it opposes military intervention in Syria. The postures of Pakistan and Russia, including India, are increasingly aligned in promoting the role of UN Security Council in such international conflicts. However, they also diverge when it come to the future of Afghanistan beyond 2014. The emerging institutions of BRICS and the SCO have also complicated the role of these international players.

The views of Pakistan and India on key international issues are closer to each other, and to those of Russia and China. In addition to the focus on developing regional trade and energy corridors, the buzzwords emanating from China, Russia, Pakistan and India, are respect for sovereignty and national integrity of states and resistance to external intervention in regional disputes.

Obviously, these positions are deriving from the domestic environment of these states. For example, non-intervention helps India in maintaining the status quo in Kashmir while keeping a lid on the Maoist insurgency plaguing large parts of its territory. On the other hand, for Pakistan it helps to handle the foreign pressure when it comes to extremist sanctuaries in the FATA and insurgency brewing in Balochistan.

In the case of Russia, it is the revolt in Chechnya and Dagestan, and its dismal human rights record, which keeps it worried about interference in its internal affairs. This is a concern China shares with Russia, which has faced its own domestic turbulence in Xingjian province. At the same time, all of these players, including the US, are fearful of extremism that emanates from Pakistan.

At the same time, apprehensions have grown in the US about India not fully embracing its strategic security relations, especially as it relates to the American policy of pivoting to the Pacific. But Indian role is complicated by its involvement in BRICS and as an observer on the SCO. On the other hand, Pakistan is fully embracing its strategic partnership with China. This was obvious by moves such as handing over the Gwadar port to the Chinese and also deciding to adopt the Chinese global navigation system.

When it comes to Pakistan-Russia ties, the Russian have publicly endorsed Pakistan’s bid for full membership to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The Russian interest in Pakistan is multidimensional and not just limited to the post 2014 Afghanistan scenarios or securing its underbelly from the scourge of extremism. Putin has previously stated that it considers Pakistan an important economic and trading partner for Russia. “Pakistan is not only an important trade and economic partner but also a key Russian partner in South Asia and the Islamic world,” Putin was quoted as saying by ITAR-TASS news agency in 2012.

This comment provides important insights in to the Russian thinking about Pakistan. As the situation of Middle East rapidly deteriorates, the country is looking at the totality of its relations with the Islamic world.

The emerging sectarian dimension in the Middle East has the Russians increasingly worried. If wider conflagration erupts, as is generally expected, it wants to balance its ties with the Islamic world. The position of the Saudis and Turkey, on Syria and Iran, is putting to test its ties with the Sunni Muslim states. Chinese interest in Pakistan may not be much different. While the strategic location of Pakistan is of vital significance, good ties with it, help China offset traditionally tense ties with Muslim states of the Pacific, and perhaps soon with the Gulf states as well.

This is somewhat the same dilemma, albeit in reverse, the Americans face, by siding against Syria, Iran and the Shias. In this emerging landscape, the role of Pakistan becomes critical for Russia, China and the US, to balance ties with the Islamic world. It has also caught India in a bind: on how to delicately manage its ties with Iran and the Gulf states, while at the same time have good ties with the US, Russia, and Israel. Being a member of BRICS puts India is in a very tight spot.

What we may be witnessing resembles a similarity to what occurred during the WWI and the WWII: the Muslim regions of the time were divided amongst the competing interests of the colonial powers. About 1.3 million men from the subcontinent served in the British Indian Army in World War I and about 2.5 million in World War II. Many of these soldiers were Punjabis, Pathans and Balochis and voluntarily fought at various fronts in the subcontinent, Middle East, Africa, and Europe. These Muslims often fought with fellow Muslims, at the behest of the colonial powers of the time.

At the end of these wars, most pan-Islamic aspirations were transformed in to nation-state reality which exists today. A question to ponder over is: what will follow the present struggle and the shift in the global balance of power?

The writer is chief analyst at PoliTact, a Washington based futurist advisory firm ( and and can be reached [email protected]


  1. The international relationships are always changing. They say there are no permanent friends or foes in international relations. What matters is a country's own innate strengths that other countries appreciate and develop long term relationships, rather than developing a short-term relationship aimed at one particular objective. These relationships are akin to master and slave/proxy relationships. Pakistan-US relationship falls in category of Master-slave relationship while it is acting as a proxy for China when it comes to India. You have mentioned in your article "apprehensions have grown in the US about India not fully embracing its strategic security relations, especially as it relates to the American policy of pivoting to the Pacific" because India would never be US's hit man unlike Pakistan. It will do what suits it. Than you add "On the other hand, Pakistan is fully embracing its strategic partnership with China. This was obvious by moves such as handing over the Gwadar port to the Chinese and also deciding to adopt the Chinese global navigation system". proving my point that Pakistan is open to be used. Similarily, relationship with Russia is also for reasons unrelated to something permanent in Pakistan.

  2. .
    All weather China …
    Some weather Russia …
    Nephew weather 'oil kings' …

    'On to knees' weather US …

    • How right you are. Can i add something to your brilliant comments? All weather China for whom? Where was it 1971 war. It proved to a paper tiger! Some weather Russia ? Yes as long as we accept it,s enduring relation with India. Nephew weather " oil kings"? Yes as long we don,t tilt towards infidel russia. Do that a million pakistanis come home and cheap oil dries up and uncle discards nephew. Finally" on to the knees" We want marry it but are treated as a mistress . I quote Our former Ambassdor Haqqani. USA wants to make love to Pakistan but the latter wants to be entertained first.? Economic goodies. Next expensive perfumes—?F16 jet fighters . Finally USA should kneel down and give a ring? Strategic marriage. USA reply! Please can,t you be our mistress as always. This way it is better. We pay for the services rendered. Read Obama,s Wars. Pakistan is a rentier state!

    • This is for Mr Sunano
      Can you name one hundred Muslims who changed their religion for this verse.
      You mentioned millions , I am just asking for one hundred people's name. Thanks

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