1. What are the most successful areas of bilateral cooperation between Russia and Pakistan?
It is a good question. Since 1961 and for a long time the former Soviet Union and Pakistan primarily had cooperation in trade and the economy. At first, it started with geological prospecting works on oil and gas in Pakistan. Then we began to exchange goods.
Even despite the deployment of Soviet troops in Afghanistan and hostilities between the two parties, trade continued. Moreover, the turnover increased compared with the 1970s and amounted to 200 million dollars a year. The Karachinsky Metallurgical Plant built in the early 1980s had long remained the largest area of our cooperation.
A serious improvement in our relations began after 2014 when Crimea became part of Russia and international sanctions followed. In this regard, Russia had to have more contact with the east than before. Indeed, it was a breakthrough in our bilateral relationship.
First of all, it was the beginning of our military and defence cooperation. Previously, we refused to take part in such kind of cooperation, although Islamabad many times asked us for weapons. They asked us to provide them with any kind of weapon from small arms to modern fighters.
Our military cooperation started in April 2014, after a friendly visit of our anti-submarine warfare ship Admiral Shaposhnikov to the navy base in Karachi. Our parties conducted joint military exercises to combat piracy. Later in October 2014, similar exercises took place in the Arabian Sea. Patrol ship Yaroslav Mudry was involved in the drills.
However, the most significant indicator of our cooperation was the visit of Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu to Pakistan in November 2014. During the visit, the parties signed the framework agreement on military cooperation. At the same time negotiations began on the purchase of several modern Mi-35M helicopters. In 2015, we signed an agreement to sell four Mi-35M helicopters.
The visit of the Pakistani navy frigate Alamgir to Novorossiysk took place in December 2016, the day after the meeting of Black Sea Fleet Commander Alexander Vitko with the Deputy Commander of the Pakistani Navy, Rear Admiral Muhammad Fayyaz Gilani.
However, the most important step in the expansion of a bilateral cooperation was the framework agreement on the construction of the 1,100 km gas pipeline from Karachi to Lahore, with a capacity of 12.4 billion cubic meters of gas per year and an estimated cost of 2 to 2.5 billion dollars. Yet, the final agreement has not been signed because of the dispute on the price of gas pumping. The decision is postponed until 2019.
In September 2016 our countries held first bilateral military exercises Druzhba-2016 in the highlands of Pakistan and Druzhba-2017 in Kabardino-Balkaria in September 2017 to work out counter-terrorist actions in the mountains.
After the visit of Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov to Pakistan in March 2017, our regional ties, in particular between Pakistan’s provinces Punjab and the Republic of Tatarstan, has been expanding.
However, we believe that a real breakthrough is yet to come. It is far too early to talk about substantial growth of Russian-Pakistani relations. With its difficult political and economic situation, Russia has to contact more closely with Asia, including Pakistan while Pakistan conducts a difficult game in the international arena, balancing between the great powers and trying to avoid any risks. But the most important thing is Pakistan’s willingness to resolve its economic issues and upgrade military hardware through weapons trade with Russia. Pakistan tries to expand its military ties with Russia, since some weapons there are cheaper than in the US, France or Israel. Also, deterioration in the Pakistani-American relations plays a role here.
It is fair to say that our relations are expanding across a broad spectrum. We have not had such interaction since the freeze 30 years following the launch of the Karachinsky Metallurgical Plant in the mid-1980s. But the main thing is that Moscow got rid of the long-standing focus on Delhi regarding the development of relations with Pakistan, primarily in the field of military and technical cooperation.
However, the turnover between our two countries during the last years remained at a rather low level of 400-500 million dollars per year (for example, the turnover between Pakistan and India, which is of Pakistan’s main opponent internationally, if not the main enemy, has reached 2.5 billion dollars). In this regard, there is a lot to be done here, since we have great opportunities for a drastic expansion of imports and exports. These opportunities can be implemented through decisions of the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and the Economy, Science, Technical and Cultural Cooperation between Russia and Pakistan and the Russia-Pakistan Business Council at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation.
2. What is the status of anti-terrorism cooperation between our countries?
Cooperation in the fight against terrorism between Russia and Pakistan had been regularly discussed from 2009 to 2012 at the quadripartite summits in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, during which bilateral meetings of our leaders also took place. During Pakistan’s accession to the SCO in Ufa in July 2015, Vladimir Putin met with Nawaz Sharif and stressed that “we equally accept the challenges that we have been going through, and the terrorism concern is one of the main problems on this list. We are very pleased to have the opportunity of regular contacts within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization”.
On a practical level, the joint military exercises of Russia and Pakistan in 2016 and 2017 focused on jointly fighting terrorism.
3. How can the conflict between Pakistan and India be resolved, in your opinion?
There are several unresolved issues in Pakistan-India relations, among which the Kashmir conflict is the main concern, along with the Arab-Israeli conflict. Together, these conflicts create the oldest and most complex conflicts in international relations.
I think that one of the most realistic options to resolve this problem through the transformation of the line of control into a state border between India and Pakistan. However, both countries oppose it, claiming Kashmir their own possession.
By the way, at the direction of Secretary-General of the United Nations Mr. Boutros-Ghali, in 1992 the Russian-American expert group was formed to determine the ways of resolving the Kashmir conflict and to report the solution to Secretary-General. This group included four persons, two representatives from each side, and I was group member from the Russian side. Then we shared the same opinion that the most realistic way out is to create a state border instead of the line of control.
I think this approach may be possible when both countries will be governed by strong leaders able to resist the pressure of Pakistani militants, who deny such a solution, and to oppose the Hindu lobby in India.
Another approach, which is less real, is to hold a referendum in Kashmir aimed to make its population choose between joining Pakistan or India. However, the Indian side vehemently opposes that approach, since most likely the population of Kashmir will choose to join Pakistan, which may lead to negative consequences for further development of Pakistan-Indian relations.
The third approach is the least likely scenario, however, it is worth to be mentioned. Hypothetically, there is a possibility to create an independent state instead of the Indian and Pakistani parts of present-day Kashmir. Such an approach was announced by Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front in 1991. The neighboring countries are unlikely to agree to have on their border an unstable small Muslim state, where a large part of the population has inclination to extremism.
The existing conflict between India and Pakistan is exacerbated by increasing rivalry over Afghanistan. There has always been tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan on various issues and Kabul has sought support from Delhi in resolving its political and economic issues.
4. What about economic development of Pakistan with regard to its internal political situation?
Paradoxically, an internal political crisis that took place in Pakistan after the resignation of Prime-Minister Nawaz Sharif, as a result of a corruption scandal, did not affect country’s economic situation. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the former Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources, temporarily occupied the post of head of state before the June election, and the former Minister of Defense Khawaja Muhammad Asif became Foreign Minister. Both of them also belong to the Pakistan Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif. According to the information available to us, they constantly contact former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on all issues, according internal and external policy, and current economic issues.
Pakistan achieved notable success in the development of its economy. According to the results of the 2016 /17 financial year, which ended on June 30, 2017, the economic growth rate reached 5.3% (in comparison with 3.8% when the Pakistan Muslim League’s Nawaz Sharif came to power in 2013), and income per capita for the same period increased from 1,334 to 1,630 dollars. To some extent, it is a result of Ishaq Dar’s activities, the “economic leader” of Pakistan, and the Minister of Finance, Economics and Statistics.
Currently, he is embroiled in a corruption scandal and his situation is not in his favor, however, the current leadership of Pakistan fully recognizes his important role in stabilizing the country’s economy. He tried to overcome the negative barriers to economic growth, such as the energy crisis, the huge negative trade balance, when import twice exceeds exports, and the weak tax system. Apparently, his 5.5% forecast for the current financial year is set to be achieved.
5. Tell us about the Centre of Pakistan Studies at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The Centre of Pakistan was formed in the 1959, and later it became an independent center in 1969. In 1978, our Pakistan group became part of the large Middle East Centre. Our center studies Pakistan’s internal and external policy, its economic development and foreign economic relations, social and economic history of the country, demographic issues, and current political, social, cultural and political situation in the country, geopolitics and international relations.
Currently, our Centre has a staff of six. Two colleagues study philology at the Literature Department of the Institute of Oriental Studies, and another one is the leading expert in the field of Pakistan studies at the Directorate of the Institute of Oriental Studies.
In the past 17 years, our Centre has issued 16 papers and compilations of articles on the issues mentioned above. Over 500 scientific articles were published by various Russian and foreign journals and posted by various web sites.
Over the past 15 years the Centre has held almost 40 scientific conferences and expert meetings, and its members took part in more than 200 scientific conferences in Russia and abroad.
We closely cooperate with the embassy of Pakistan in Russia, the Embassy of Russia in Islamabad, as well as with the leading centers and universities of Pakistan. We arrange exchanges of scientists and scientific literature. Finally, we maintain close ties with various Russian organizations and ministries interested in research of the political and economic life of the Pakistani society.