Home Opinion Op-Ed National interests and geopolitical factors in Russia-Pakistan Relations

National interests and geopolitical factors in Russia-Pakistan Relations

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Leonid Savin |

Presentation text read at the international conference “The Seventy-year Jubilee of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between the USSR/Russia and Pakistan”, Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Oriental Studies, 21 May 2018.

First, when examining our two states (Russia and Pakistan) in the current geopolitical situation, we must turn our attention towards concepts such as context and national interests.

The term ‘context’ has two meanings when translated from Latin:

  1. That which surrounds us (the everyday, geographical meaning)
  2. That which is intertwined together.

It is clear that seeing as Russia and Pakistan are located on the Eurasian continent, they are culturally, historically and politically intertwined, which is why we are ‘fated’ to continuous neighbor-ship and consequently, we must cooperate with each other in various different areas.

What are ‘national interests’? Even the US, who consistently defend their national interests, do not have a general consensus about what they are. It is widely accepted that this concept has three elements:

  • All-national interests (apart from the fact that the concept of the ‘all-national’ is related to the ‘common interests’ of a nation’s citizens, which are based on common sense, this concept is fairly abstract)
  • The interests of the president
  • The interests of the government

There are two main camps that determine national interests: one which uses a hypothetical approach, and one which provides a definition through enumeration. The first camp is tied to the theories of realism and liberalism of international relations while the seconds includes defined categories of things in the concept of ‘national interests;’ that is to say, universal enumeration includes the survival of citizens, the support of domestic norms, the economy etc., or in other words, factors that are specific to a certain nation.

Two more options flow forth from this: national interests are either determined by a country’s leadership (and private citizens through a similar process) or inductively, as the preference of politicians in decision-making positions.

The process of the unification of efforts in the Eurasian space is not just related to formal membership in the EAEU but also with the creation of a free-trade zone. I believe that these questions must also be discussed with the Pakistani side.

In summary, national interest is a kind of a social construct. Moreover,, it can change with time. The example of the Soviet Union, Russia, and Pakistan is telling. After the USSR had collapsed, Russia changed its ideology and suddenly became a democratic state. When the position of the minister of foreign affairs was taken by Andrei Kozyrev, we were oriented entirely towards the US. Now, we see this as a highly negative experience.

Let us examine a similar experience from Pakistan: under the government of Mohammed Ayub Khan or Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the external vector of Pakistani policy changed slightly. It was friendlier towards the USSR. Now, too, this is seen as a positive phenomenon in Russia. Nonetheless, we can note, that sometimes, national interests (despite an ideological difference or confrontation) can coincide. For example, if we examine Pakistan’s independence and take into consideration our experience with the Marxist paradigm, we would rather have a positive opinion on this event, seeing as Pakistan liberated itself from Britain’s colonial pressure and finally, acquired a path to independence.

Read more: Despite daunting past, Pakistan and Russia draw closer amid geopolitical changes

We can also examine all of this in the context of geopolitics and even if we reject the ideas of the Anglo-Saxon authors, who first formulated several important concepts (Russia as the Eurasian Heartland, the territory which contains the geographical axis of history, and Pakistan as a coastal zone or Rimland) as the Soviet school did, which saw geopolitics as a bourgeois science, little will change in practice. This is because Russia is (geographically speaking) an enormous terrestrial mass as well as a strong political force that all states (in Eurasia as well as those on other continents) have to deal with.

Pakistan will also be seen as a state with an outlet towards the Indian Ocean and a certain demographic situation, as well as scientific, cultural, and political potential. I think that in this respect, we are simply fated to cooperation. In addition to this, if we follow a formulation by the famous German legal scholar, Carl Schmitt, about all politics being built on the ‘Friend-Enemy’ distinction (and these are not moral categories), our cooperation and mutual relations entirely fit into this logical structure.

Two more options flow forth from this: national interests are either determined by a country’s leadership (and private citizens through a similar process), or inductively, as the preference of politicians in decision-making positions.

Even if we were once enemies in the Soviet narrative (as there was a civil war in Afghanistan that we participated in and possibly made mistakes during it), the situation has undoubtedly changed and both of our states are interested in the normalization of the chronic instability that is wracking Afghanistan. We can add two more important moments: first, the polyethnic component – Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Russia are polyethnic states.

Read more: OPCW vote & South Asia: Why Pakistan backed Russia but India…

Here in Russia, we have good experience with managing inter-ethnic processes – experience that can be transferred to Afghanistan as well as Pakistan. The second is the concept of borders. Of course, the term ‘natural borders’ itself is fairly relative, only island states can truly speak of natural borders. Moreover, the ‘Durand Line’ that separates Afghanistan and Pakistan is conditional: it was drawn by the British colonial government and, naturally, several representatives of Afghan political groups do not wish to recognize it.

Paradoxical as it may be, it is a fact that Russia suffers from the same problems. We have an officially recognized border with Ukraine; however, we nonetheless acknowledge part of the citizens of that country as our compatriots. We have a strategy that clearly indicates that Russia must and will continue to support its compatriots. The Ukrainian conflict (which is tied to western interests and the organization of the 2014 political coup) was calculated in such a way that Russia would find itself in a new geopolitical trap and thus, has to follow the conditions that the West would dictate.

But this did not happen: Ukraine (as Afghanistan is to Pakistan) is our painful subject. Nonetheless, we can take stock of the experience and cooperation between our states to solve these problems. Additonally, the Syrian subject is also fairly telling as the Pakistani position on our military presence and attempts to normalize that country’s political processes is welcomed in Russia.

The next question is, of course, that of mutual relations in the area of economics and politics. We must specifically note the SCO and BRICS summits in Ufa in 2015 when the decision about Pakistan’s entry in the former organization was practically made. The second important decision was the idea of the linking of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Chinese ‘One Belt – One Road’ project. In this area, about 200 projects are already in the development stage. It is very important to use the Pakistani Chinese economic corridor, as it fully corresponds to the interests of all three partners (Pakistan, China, and Russia).

Read more: Russia and Pakistan: A Balancing Act?

What is more, if we follow the logic of our old ideas and traditions, this will give Russia the opportunity to have an exit towards a warm sea, an opportunity that was dreamed of by many rulers of the Russian state as far back as the days of the Russian Empire (there were also discussion on this subject in the USSR). The opportunity for an exit towards a warm sea can only be secured for us by two states: Pakistan and Iran. In the former’s case, there are already discussions about the creation of ferry link through the Caspian Sea and a railway junction through Azerbaijan. However, as the Pakistani transport corridor has already been created with the help of Chinese investment and technology, it opens up additional possibilities and perspectives.

The first camp is tied to the theories of realism and liberalism of international relations while the seconds includes defined categories of things in the concept of ‘national interests;’ that is to say, universal enumeration includes the survival of citizens.

In this respect, we must work more actively with small and medium businesses, and not just with large enterprises (several projects that the government has worked on have already been noted). As the Americans are wont to say, this is tracks II diplomacy – when the active involvement of civilians from very different social strata, often through the activities of non-governmental organizations, leads to a better understanding of the cultures of two states.

Read more: Pakistan-Russia counter terrorism co-operation

This truly speeds up political and economic cooperation and lays strategic foundations for cooperation many years in advance. We can suppose, that in the near future, relations between Pakistan and the United States will cool, which is also related to the change in course of the Indian government towards more fruitful cooperation with Washington and New Delhi’s refusal to buy Russian products – a move which, on the other hand, presents Russia with an opportunity to cooperate more closely with Pakistan.

The process of the unification of efforts in the Eurasian space is not just related to formal membership in the EAEU but also with the creation of a free-trade zone. I believe that these questions must also be discussed with the Pakistani side. We have recently signed a corresponding agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran; a similar agreement must be signed with Pakistan.

Leonid Savin is Director of the Foundation for monitoring and forecasting of development of the cultural territorial spaces; Editor-in-Chief of the “Geopoliticа.ru” internet portal; Senior Expert of the Center of Geopolitical Research (Russian think-tank established in 2000); Head of Administration of the International social movement “Eurasian Movement”, editor-in-chief of the “Journal of Eurasian Affairs” magazine issued by this NGO; Expert of the Strategic Culture Foundation. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.


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