stans relations with the Soviet Union during the Cold War generally lacked substance and warmth barring a few short periods in which the two countries explored the possibilities of promoting mutual understanding and cooperation. This was not surprising considering the fact that the two countries were on the opposite sides of the Cold War divide, as Pakistan was squarely in the Western camp and a close ally of the United States.
In contrast, India took full advantage of its non-aligned status to develop in-depth cooperation with the Soviet Union in political, military and economic fields. Indias friendship with the Soviet Union enabled it to secure the Soviet support for its position at critical moments in the Pakistan-India relations. On the other hand, Pakistans general neglect of its relations with the Soviet Union not only narrowed the countrys diplomatic options, but also proved costly, particularly during the 1971 East Pakistan crisis. One can argue that by maintaining a more balanced approach in its relations with the two superpowers of that era instead of putting most of its eggs in the same basket (the only exception being Pakistans relations with China), Pakistan could have derived significant political, military and economic benefits that were otherwise denied to it.
The end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union have brought about a fundamental transformation of the global scenario. During the 1990s, the US dominated the globe as the only superpower, while Russia as the successor State to the Soviet Union suffered from strategic dislocation in the form of internal weakness and indecisiveness in external affairs. China was growing rapidly in economic terms, but was still far from the position of posing any challenge to the US. The situation provided a golden opportunity to the US to provide leadership to the international community underpinned by diplomacy, multilateralism and morality, instead of reliance on unilateralism and military power. Unfortunately, Washington failed to come up to the mark, especially under President Bush Jr, as reflected by his administrations adoption of the doctrine of unilateral preemptive military intervention.
The US attack on Iraq without any UN sanction was a practical demonstration of this doctrine, besides being a blatant violation of international law and the UN Charter. The earlier attack on Afghanistan, which was initially justified to punish Al-Qaeda for having organised the 9/11 attacks and the Taliban for having provided sanctuary to it, led to a brazen attempt by the US to impose a government of its choice on the Afghan people. Little wonder that the civil war in Afghanistan and the Afghan resistance against the foreign forces led by the US continue. In both these cases, the US exhibited a remarkable lack of restraint and sense of proportion in the exercise of power leading to disastrous consequences. Already, the US, according to one estimate, has spent more than $4 trillion on these wars, besides suffering an enormous loss of lives. While the US remains bogged down in these wars, China has made rapid strides economically emerging, as the second largest economy in the world with the prospect of surpassing the US some time in the 2020s. Russia has gradually recovered from the strategic setback that it suffered during the Cold War and under Putin is determined to reassert its power, especially in its periphery. China and Russia have also joined hands in a strategic partnership to check the US unilateralism and expansionism. On the other hand, Washington is building up India, as a counterweight to China. While the US, despite its current economic difficulties, will remain the most powerful nation on the globe, economically and militarily, for quite some time to come, the American unipolar moment has already passed.
My visit to Moscow last month was partly meant to assess the emerging trends in the Russian foreign policy so as to identify the opportunities for Pakistan-Russia cooperation. My detailed meetings with the senior scholars of the famous Institute of Oriental Studies were particularly instructive in enlightening me on the current thinking in Russia on the Pakistan-Russia relations and the situation in Afghanistan. I was struck by the apparently sincere desire of the Russian academics for the strengthening of relations with Pakistan. They stressed that both Russia and Pakistan could learn from their past mistakes in the management of their relationship in the future.
As for Afghanistan, they noted the convergence of the interests of Pakistan and Russia in the early restoration of durable peace in Afghanistan. My Russian interlocutors recognised the need for a broad-based or a coalition government in Afghanistan, representing its various ethnic communities for the restoration of peace and stability in the country. The Taliban, despite their obscurantism as well as other Afghan political groups, would have to be adequately represented in such a government.
At the same time, they were apprehensive about the Taliban gaining exclusive control over Afghanistan because of its likely destabilising repercussions on the Central Asian Republics through the spread of religious extremism. The Russian academics also laid stress on cooperation between Pakistan and Iran for the restoration of durable peace in Afghanistan.
Russia is steadily recovering from the strategic and economic setbacks it had suffered during the Cold War. With the growth rate of 4 percent, its GDP is expected to reach $1.7 trillion during 2011. In purchasing power parity terms, the GDP may amount to $2.4 trillion during the current year. Russia has a highly developed weapon production sector as well as a fairly advanced industrial sector. Its achievements in space technology are quite well known. It has the largest gas reserves, besides being the top producer of crude oil in the world. Its strategic cooperation with China, close relations with India and the Central Asian Republics, and membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation provide it with special significance from Pakistans point of view. At the global level, Russias permanent membership of the UN Security Council enhances its influence on international and regional issues of peace and security. Thus, there is a strong case for Pakistan to build up bridges of understanding and develop mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia.
My brief but intensive interaction with Russian scholars leads me to believe that the Russian side would respond positively to our initiatives to forge closer ties between the two countries. We should take advantage of the Russian expertise in the oil and gas sector to develop our capabilities in this field.
Russia may also be interested in investing in the planned gas pipelines to Pakistan from Iran and Turkmenistan. It may even become a supplier of military equipment to Pakistan in a favourable strategic scenario. Our close cooperation with Russia within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation would help in promoting mutual understanding on strategic issues relevant to the region. Russias cooperation would also be indispensable for the restoration of durable peace and stability in Afghanistan. In this regard, our policymakers should take note of the Russian apprehensions about the Taliban gaining exclusive control over Afghanistan, which would have disastrous consequences for the region, especially Pakistan, through the spread of religious extremism.
The essence of diplomacy lies in keeping the channels of communication open and in diversifying ones diplomatic options, instead of putting all our eggs in the same basket. During the past few years, we have made some feeble attempts to improve our relations with Russia. However, the need is for a more a focused and sustained approach to strengthen cooperation with Russia to redress the general neglect of which we were guilty during the Cold War era and to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the transformation of the global strategic scenario.
n The writer is a retired ambassador.