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AFP
May 14, 2011

To Russia, with friendship

Sports

AFP
May 14, 2011

The importance of President Zardari’s visit to Russia does not lie only in the fact that it is the first official visit to Russia of any Pakistani president in over 30 years, but that it took place at a time when Pakistan’s relations with its traditional ally, the United States, are at their lowest ebb. Pakistan badly needs regional friends to ward off the potential for mischief.
This is a defining moment for Pakistan. The fallout of the Abbottabad operation has caused serious strains in already tense bilateral relations with the US. Despite all efforts at damage control, these relations are likely to remain fractured. To keep trouble at bay, Pakistan needs to develop greater understanding with countries in the region and the role of Russia is critical in any such strategic search. Friendship with Moscow will hopefully have a salubrious effect on our relations with India and could be evoked to dampen Indian hostility.
The importance of close economic and trade relations is obvious and the discussions and MOUs signed in Moscow testify to the mutual desire to raise the profile of bilateral relations by exploring new avenues of mutual collaboration and joint ventures. President Zardari has rightly placed emphasis on cooperation in the energy sector, critical for Pakistan’s economic development. The agreements on the exploitation of oil, gas, and coal deposits, electricity transit from Central Asia and the modernisation of Pakistan’s steel mills will provide an anchor to the political edifice and common objectives of seeking regional stability, countering terrorism and interacting through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). A close understanding on Afghanistan, particularly on the role of Pakistan in the post-US withdrawal scenario, would also be a source of stability and security in the region and needs to be pursued vigorously.
Friendship with Moscow, however, also has its own unique significance. The Cold War era is over. Both

Islamabad and Moscow recognise the need to turn a new page in their relations. However, the stumbling block has been a mindset that makes Moscow view relations with Pakistan through the prism of India. Moscow’s perceptions of Pakistan’s policies have been deeply influenced by the Indian perspective, blocking the blossoming of genuine and lasting friendship.
Pakistan has an important place in Russia’s foreign policy being one of the major influential Muslim countries. Pakistan’s foreign policy has of late focused on developing closer relations with countries in Central Asia. The president’s visit is part of the continuing effort that began with Prime Minister Gilani’s visit in 2008. Pakistan should institute a high-level dialogue on strategic and political issues and build up a mechanism to focus on economic cooperation through increased market access to Pakistan and connectivity in the trade and energy sectors.
Pakistan is at a crossroads and any miscalculation by its leadership would multiply its predicament and problems. Failure to contain the current bitter controversy on the Bin Laden affair could ignite fresh flames of antagonism between Washington and Islamabad. India is already fishing in the troubled waters and has exploited Pakistan’s precarious situation by issuing a list of 50 men, allegedly including five serving military officers, that it wants extradited to stand trial on terror charges. If the rapprochement with Washington recedes and events take an ugly turn, India may be encouraged to invoke UN Security Resolution 1368 of September 2001 which “calls on all states to work together urgently to bring to justice the perpetrators, organisers and sponsors of terrorist attacks and stresses that those responsible for aiding, supporting or harbouring the perpetrators, organisers and sponsors of these acts should be held accountable.”
Friendship with the Soviet Union is now a strategic imperative and must be achieved and sustained.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email: [email protected]

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