PAK-RUSSIA ECONOMIC RELATIONS

There has always been a strong feeling in Pakistan that opening of the Moscow Window was in the country's interest

FROM SHAMIM A. RIZVI, 
ISLAMABAD

Feb 24 - Mar 02, 2003

Describing President Pervez Musharraf visit to Russia as momentous, the advisor to the Prime Minister on Finance, Mr. Shaukat Aziz said it has given a new turn to bilateral and economic ties between the two countries.

Mr. Shaukat Aziz addressed a press conference in Islamabad jointly with Commerce Minister Mr. Humayun Akhtar and Secretary Ministry of Industries Dr. Akram Sheikh who accompanied the President on his visit to Russia. "With this visit we will writing a new chapter on Pak-Russia relations marked with increase mutual understanding and advanced help and cooperation in economic field". Mr. Aziz said he listed several positive features of the visit including re-activization of the Joint Economic Commission, agreement with President Putin on rescheduling of $ 125 million debt; proposed modernization and expansion of Soviet-aided Pakistan Steel's capacity of 1.1 million tonnes to 1.5 million tonnes 'topmost Russian oil companies' interest in new international gas pipeline and investment in offshore and onshore exploration in Pakistan's petroleum sector. He added that in S&T sector, Pakistan has also sounded Russian for assistance in launching Pak Sat-II in space after recent launch of Pak Sat-I and likely transfer of technology.

Elaborating on the proposals for economic cooperation, Commerce Minister said that joint economic mission would meet within the next few months and he hoped a delegation would accompany the Russian team to discuss of fostering more trade ties. Besides, Pakistan would set up a warehouse for Pakistan's exports in Moscow, as a number of warehouses are being opened in some other countries also.

Dr. Akram Shaikh, Secretary, Ministry of Industries, gave details of MoU signed with Russia for $ 100 million assistance for expansion of steel mill capacity and the new focus on value-added products of the steel mill. The expansion programme of the Steel Mill, which has materialized during this visit was in negotiations since over a decade.

President Pervez Musharraf visits to Russian this month is the first visit of any Pakistani head of the State or Government since 1972 when Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto visited the then Soviet Union as President of Pakistan. This visit provided long due opportunity to the two leaders to bury the unpleasant past marked with mutual mistrust and begin a new chapter of close ties between the two countries. During the visit the two presidents broke new grounds as they had "serious and conceptual discussion on all bilateral, regional and international issues. The busy schedule finalized by the top diplomats on the two sides, Musharraf and Putin had been provided adequate time for serious discussion encompassing all issues such as Iraq, Kashmir, Pak-India relations, nuclear proliferations, terrorism and expansion in economic ties and cooperation. They had a two hours long one to one meeting as well.

Although this visit was not expected to bring about any dramatic change in the relations of the two countries but at the same time one should not under estimate the big initiative taken by the two countries. The greatest impetus for Pak-Russian reconciliation is the dawning of realization in both Moscow and Islamabad that collaboration is vital for the stability of Afghanistan, Central Asia and the region in general. It may be pointed out that Iranian President Khatami's visit to Pakistan last month more or less covered these areas. Further more the friendly Pak-Russian relationship can better ensure promotion of the two countries economic interests in resource-rich Central Asia.

Secondly, no body understands it better than Kremlin that Pakistan's strategic location makes it a valuable for any state. Unfortunately, Pakistan has not been able to exploit its strategic location to its advance, and allowed itself to be used cheaply by the United States. Pakistan is a vital link in the stability of the belt in which Moscow has overbearing stakes and interest.

There has always been a strong feeling in Pakistan that opening of the Moscow Window was in the country's interest. However, on account of the rapidly changing priorities and whims within the establishment, the policy toward Moscow has suffered from inconsistency. It will always remain debatable whether Pakistan has any other option than friendship with the United States immediately after independence. However, there is no difference of opinion that friendship with US at the cost of enmity with the Kremlin was not a wise approach. Pakistan at no stage had the capacity and recourses to play the role of a front-line state. This was a suicidal approach for which the country had to pay dearly subsequently. Pakistan has to learn to have friendly relations with both Moscow and Washington at the same time. With the end of cold war this should pose no problem for Islamabad. India has done it remarkably well and in the process gained enormously. Even during the height of cold war, Indian was equally important both in Washington and Moscow. The comparison may irk Pak policy farmers, but lessons could only be learnt from facing the truth.