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Sep 14, 2022
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SCO summit: The potential of the Soviet era can become a starting point in Russian-Pakistani relations

SCO summit: The potential of the Soviet era can become a starting point in Russian-Pakistani relations

Photo: Mikhail Tereshchenko/TASS

President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Pakistan Shehbaz Sharif at the meeting to be held at the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), they will discuss the situation in Afghanistan and joint projects in the economy.

“I mean to discuss the key aspects of Russian-Pakistani cooperation, the progress in the implementation of joint projects in the trade and economic sphere. The leaders are expected to substantively consider a number of international affairs, including the state of affairs in Afghanistan,” reads the Kremlin materials prepared for the event.

It is noted that this will be the first personal meeting between the Russian and Pakistani leaders.

The SCO summit will be held in Samarkand on September 15-16, as part of the event, Vladimir Putin planned a number of meetings with the heads of other countries, in particular China, Turkey, and Iran.

Associate Professor at the Institute of Asian and African Countries, Moscow State University. M.V. Lomonosov Boris Volkhonsky recalled that at the very beginning of the special military operation (SVO) came to Russia Imran Khanwho at the time was the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

– Then it caused a very sharp rejection in the West and, probably, became one of the factors initiating a vote of no confidence and the resignation of that government and Imran Khan personally, although he is still the most popular politician in Pakistan. After his resignation, there was talk that Pakistan could change its foreign policy line, the new government would take a more pro-Western stance.

It should be taken into account that not only problems in bilateral relations depend on relations with Pakistan, but also the solution of a number of regional problems, in particular, with security in Afghanistan, and hence with stability in Central Asia, which directly affects Russian interests. Maintaining normal relations with Pakistan is an important and necessary task.

There are some nuances associated with the difficulties in relations between Pakistan and India. We must not overdo it. For example, military-technical cooperation: at one time, the supply of several helicopters to Pakistan, which are needed for the anti-terrorist struggle in the highlands, caused New Delhi to be wary. Wider military-technical cooperation with Pakistan may have a negative impact on our relations with India, so here we must adhere to a rather cautious, accurate line.

“SP”: – In the economic field, what is the situation and what are the prospects?

– A rather deplorable state: the figures for trade turnover are less than $1 billion, I can’t say for sure right now. We do not have direct flights between Moscow and Islamabad or Karachi, although in Soviet times Karachi was an important aviation hub for flights to Southeast Asia.

Sometimes you go into some Moscow supermarket and see tangerines from Pakistan. That is, fruits, vegetables, they have very good textile products. The light, food, and agricultural industries are what may interest us the most. If the situation in the region improves, then Pakistan could become a destination for educational and even recreational tourism: there are not particularly seaside resorts, but there are mountain resorts, however, they are located in a disputed area with India, which have their own difficulties.

There is potential, moreover, the potential has been accumulated since Soviet times, for example, steel mills etc. There is where to move, but there are no logistical routes between Russia and Pakistan, the roads through Afghanistan are not yet very safe.

Problems need to be solved, and the central problem in which Pakistan can play a major role is the stabilization of the situation in Afghanistan, and from here the solution of many issues will already begin.

Orientalist Alexander Saveliev notes that Islamabad is in traditional conflict relations with New Delhi, caused by the colonial partition of British India after the Second World War.

– The territorial dispute between countries, the so-called Kashmir conflict, is far from being fully resolved. In addition, as a result of the Third Indo-Pakistani War, Islamabad lost the so-called East Pakistan, on the site of which an independent state of Bangladesh was formed. For these reasons, Pakistan’s natural ally is China, which also has long-standing conflicts with India. Additional tension already on the western border of Pakistan was created by the flight of the United States from Afghanistan and the coming to power of the Taliban, who are only forming their foreign policy line and do not fully control Afghan territory proper. At the same time, about 30 million ethnic Pashtuns live in Pakistan, and it is they who form the backbone of the Taliban movement. The Afghan-Pakistani border, which runs along a very conditional Durand line, has a length of almost 2.5 thousand km and is practically open, that is, it remains a factor of instability, especially in the current conditions.

In addition, in March, the country experienced a change of power, as a result of which pro-American Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif came to power. Displaced ex-prime minister Imran Khan said that what happened was the result of US subversion.

In any case, Washington will not be able to guarantee Shahbaz Sharif the strengthening of positions in the conflict with India and the return of Pakistan to the Chinese orbit is a matter of time. The ideal development of the situation would be a trilateral rapprochement between China, India and Pakistan. Perhaps, at the upcoming SCO summit, with the assistance of Russia, there will be some progress in this direction.

“SP”: – What can Russia and Pakistan offer each other in terms of the economy?

– Previously, the project of the “Pakistan Stream” through the territory of Afghanistan was discussed. Given the extreme political turbulence in Pakistan and the instability in Afghanistan, it is unlikely that implementation will begin any time soon.

Pakistan is a traditional supplier of textile products. In the conditions of the global energy crisis, sporadic deliveries of Russian LNG were carried out. Now, until key domestic political and regional issues are resolved, breakthroughs in economic relations are unlikely.

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