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Both countries stand to gain substantially by improving trade and diplomatic ties

April 29 - May 05, 2002

The recent visit of a six-member parliamentary delegation from Russia headed by the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs of the state duma is an important development both from political and economic point of view. It is an expression of the fact that the two countries, turning their back on the bitterness of the past, are looking forward for a new era of friendship and cooperation. The visit is the most recent in the steady trickle of delegations going back and forth between the two countries during the past few months.

The leader of the delegation Dimitry O-Rogozin expressed the confidence that Pakistan-Russia relation would strengthen and new chapter of bilateral relation and economic cooperation will begin between the two countries. From Pakistan's point of it is undoubtedly, an important development in context of its all-out efforts to attract foreign investment in addition to diversification of export and import trade globally.

The Russians have evinced keen interest in exploring investment opportunities in Pakistan's oil and gas sector in addition to exploitation of other mineral resources. At a meeting with the federal minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources, Usman Aminuddin in Islamabad the delegation indicated possibilities of Russian private investment in these sectors on a fairly wide range. The federal petroleum minister recalled Russian assistance to Pakistan in the 1960s for the development of oil, gas and mineral resources in the country. He felt that this relationship could once again be renewed with enhanced cooperation between the two countries. He disclosed that a Pakistan delegation would be sent to Russia as early as possible with plans to give a concrete shape to the proposals for reactivating Pak-Russian economic relationship especially in the fields of oil, gas and mineral development.

The Russians were also keen on launching joint ventures with Pakistan, and were eager to expand the present relatively low volume of trade between the two countries, which stands at a mere 60 million dollars. The Russians also showed interest in investing in Pakistan, particularly in the field of heavy machinery, construction equipment and agricultural products. In the past, the two countries collaborated on the massive steel mill project and have recently decided to collaborate in the field of space technology. The challenge today is to build on such past cooperation. Clearly, both countries stand to gain substantially by improving trade and diplomatic ties. Forgetting the past and moving forward to a new era of cordiality is clearly the best option for Pakistan and Russia in a world no more haunted by the cold war.

The optimism expressed by the Russian leader about prospects of improvement in bilateral relations with Pakistan augurs well for their future ties. The remarks are indicative of the goodwill that exists at top policy making levels in Russian for Pakistan. Russian leaders have off and on been expressing their desire to have good relations with Pakistan but unfortunately these gestures could not materialize into reality due to a host of factors. No doubt the Russian leaders have heavily been tilting in favour of India but this does not necessarily mean hostilities with Pakistan. In fact, most of the blame rests on Pakistan as it did not care much to improve its relations with a country that had great influence as one of the two superpowers and considerably influence even after loss of this status.

A cursory glance on developments in our foreign policy history would tell us that we ignored Russian gestures in our zest to have closer relations with the United States and the West. And we have not changed this approach even after change of the ground realities. Now Americans and Europeans themselves are trying to forge a cooperative relationship with the Russian Federation and in many areas consider it as an ally. Similarly, with a U-turn in our Afghanistan policy, there should not be any irritant blocking progress in trying to have friendly relationship between the two countries. Russia is opening up its economy and it should not be difficult for our public and private sector to increase exports to that country. Entering into a meaningful cooperative relationship with Russia can also help remove misunderstandings on regional and international issues as well as neutralise New Delhi's influence on Moscow to a great extent. Let us hope that our policy makers would review our policy vis-a-vis Russian in greater national interests.