Can Gen Kayani retrieve situation?
President Putin, in a letter to President Asif Zardari, expressed his inability to attend the Quadrilateral Summit (Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Afghanistan), which was planned in Islamabad from 2-3 October 2012. It is not yet known whether the visit has been cancelled altogether or has been postponed for the time being, as reasons for the postponement or cancellation were neither given by Russian presidency nor its ministry of foreign affairs. However, a brief statement from Foreign Office of Pakistan said: “The Quadrilateral Summit planned in Islamabad for 2-3 October is being rescheduled.” But commentariat and analysts consider it as an embarrassment rather a rude shock to Pakistan since Pakistan harbours ambitions for a new era in the relations with Russia. There is a perception that the US pressurized India to play its role in getting President Putin’s visit to Pakistan cancelled. If this is the case then Russia is playing in America’s hands, and its interests would be compromised in the region and adverse impact elsewhere also.
Speculation abounds regarding Putin’s visit. Section of Pakistan media came out with the story that Russia wanted that its state-controlled Gazprom be given the contract for building Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline without going through the procedure of bidding. Russia’s deputy minister for energy and representatives of leading energy giant Gazprom had attended the Pak-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on 10th September. In the meeting, Gazprom representatives had given a presentation on the pipeline and reiterated the interest during a meeting with President Zardari. Apart from that, Russia is also interested in the Central Asia-South Asia electricity transmission from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan (CASA-1000), and the construction of rail tracks and motor roads from Tajikistan to Pakistan to create new trade routes in the region. According to Russia’s special envoy for Afghanistan, President Putin was not pleased with Pakistan’s less than keen response to Russian interest in the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project under American pressure.
One should not ignore another possibility. Russian President might have postponed the visit for security reasons in the wake of protests over sacrilege film and scores of people were killed and at least one hundred wounded. After all, General Dempsy also postponed his visit to Pakistan for security reasons. Having that said, President Putin in his letter to President Zardari has radiated an aura of optimism by writing: “I am confident that in future we shall be able to find opportunities for arranging our personal meeting…We shall always be happy to receive you in Russia.” According to military sources, COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s four-day visit to Moscow will be on course i.e. from 3rd October to 6th October despite postponement or cancellation of President Putin’s visit. General Kayani has now additional responsibility on his shoulders to retrieve the situation. Of course, he is poised to carry forward the strengthening of military-to-military relations initiated by Russian Military Chief Col-Gen Alexander Postnikov’s visit to Pakistan in May last year. It is expected that his visit would help in the reset of ties and continuation of the process that led to vast improvement in the relationship after decades of mistrust. Anyhow, General Kayani during his visit will have several high-level engagements with the Russian political leadership in addition to the dialogue with his counterpart on expanding relations between the two militaries. In fact, General Kayani’s last visit to Moscow in 2009 at the invitation of then Russian Ground Forces Chief General Vladimir Boldyrev had led to the meeting between then Russian President Medvedev and President Zardari on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. The Medvedev-Zardari meeting in 2010 had set the ground for the silent rapprochement that followed. It has to be mentioned that Pakistan is central to Russia’s strategy for stabilisation of Afghanistan after the pullout of the US-led coalition forces in 2014, whereas India wants to be the sole beneficiary of post-withdrawal of the NATO forces from Afghanistan.
Russian President’s special envoy for Afghanistan Mr. Zamir Kabulov admitted the eidetic reality when he said: “Our own experience in the past and the track record of others in recent years has taught us that the problem of Afghanistan cannot be resolved without the constructive involvement of Pakistan and Iran…Russia belongs to this region and is against attempts to reorient regional economy and trade from the north to the south.” He added that Moscow and Islamabad share similar perceptions on the post-2014 scenarios for Afghanistan. Both believe in regional solutions for Afghanistan and both are strongly opposed to Washington’s plans to retain military bases in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the coalition forces. Hence, improved political and economic ties with Pakistan should help Moscow counteract US plans to shut out Russia from Central Asia, which is the goal of the New Silk Road project promoted by Washington. In this backdrop, India and the US would not like to see development of strong relations between Russia and Pakistan; hence they are trying to throw spanner in the works.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was supposed to be a pro-American reformer; but at the same time he has had the passion to restore Russia’s lost might and make it a principal counterweight to America’s power. At the present, the US is the only super power, and wishes to run the world according to its whims and fancy. Of course, Russia and Pakistan have left behind the bitterness of the past, as over the years, there is drastic change in the political landscape of the world, and relationships between the countries are also changing. The fact remains that relations between America and Pakistan have become strained, as the present military leadership has resisted America’s pressure and refused to accept unreasonable demands. Anyhow, Russia is watching whether Pakistan is serious in bringing about a paradigm shift in its foreign policy. There is indeed a window of opportunity, as Russia is willing to welcome General Kayani despite cancellation of Putin’s visit, which is reflective of the fact that he is considered trustworthy as compared with the politicos.