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Saturday, January 28, 2023
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PM Imran Khan’s visit to Russia in perspective

PM Khan represents perhaps the most advanced thinking on Pakistan’s foreign policy. Amidst a domestic intellectual climate of skepticism, fear, and concern over the issue of the diversification of Pakistan’s foreign policy, the national leadership has consistently sought multilateral cooperation and new bilateral understanding with different types of major powers.

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PM Khan’s visit to Moscow has transpired at a momentous conjuncture in contemporary Eurasian geopolitics when the Ukraine crisis has entered the hot phase. This conflict has grown out of the irreconcilability of the post-Cold War American, European, and Russian perceptions of European security and stability. Unfortunately, Ukraine has had to bear the brunt of the failure of a few great powers to harmonize their notions of what makes for a secure and stable Europe.

Amidst this snowballing Eurasian imbroglio in which certain great powers, yoked to retrogressive views of interstate competition, are legatees of the positions taken by their successive generations of strategists and policymakers, PM Khan’s visit to Russia is a confident and sincere affirmation of the capacity of leaders to break from traditional geopolitical anchors that hold back bilateral and multilateral progress in the current emerging multipolar era. It shows that it is possible to escape the path dependence of foreign policy and strike in a new direction. Doing so can help resolve avoidable differences and put mutual suspicions at rest.

Read more: Russia attacks Ukraine: Now what’s next?

Was this a good time to visit Russia?

While different major powers, mainly those which have been unsettled by the passing of the bipolar and unipolar phases of the current interstate system, are scrambling today to build new blocs and partnerships in service of old strategic compulsions, Pakistan is modestly but steadily putting in place a foreign policy and diplomacy that are responsive to the urgent global need for decisively non-confrontational relations among countries. The Pakistani leader has effectively demonstrated that peace, as much as war, is a choice heavily inflected by leaders’ actions. Leaders shape events as much as they are shaped by them. Adducing structural causes to excuse the disinclination of leaders to prevent conflict is simply self-deceiving chop logic.

Where it has not been possible for major powers like the U.S. and Russia to patch things up, partly due to U.S.’s security commitments as part of NATO, partly because of the hangover of superiority the U.S. continues to feel by virtue of its erstwhile victory in the Cold War and its ensuing global preponderance, and partly because of Russia’s apprehensions at the prospect of NATO’s ceaseless eastward expansion, Pakistan, as a key regional power, has successfully shaken off strategic habits acquired in the past in order to meet the radically different demands of peace, stability, and progress in the 21st century.

In this regard, PM Khan represents perhaps the most advanced thinking on Pakistan’s foreign policy. Amidst a domestic intellectual climate of skepticism, fear, and concern over the issue of the diversification of Pakistan’s foreign policy, the national leadership has consistently sought multilateral cooperation and new bilateral understanding with different types of major powers. This consistency is inspired by the realization that omnidirectional foreign policy and diplomacy agree with the objective status of Pakistan in the current interstate system as a special type of regional power, which may, in the coming years, match its economic strength to its significant strategic capabilities, and thus become a South Asian great power.

Concerns over the timing of the visit appear to be a circuitous way of showing consternation at the ongoing transformation of Pakistan’s foreign policy. It also exhibits frisson naturally felt at the prospect of a new journey. In this regard, there is a need to explore and ponder such concerns frankly and deeply, because our concerns reveal our deeply held, but often furtive, convictions as well as our fears, which are also a negative way by which our preferences come to be reinforced and sustained. Fear is often an untested assumption in support of our beliefs that has not been confronted squarely. If not overcome, it can only hamper necessary action for gaining experience that increases our chances for individual and collective survival and success.

Read more: Biden condemns Putin’s actions in Ukraine

Without the much-needed diversification of its foreign policy, Pakistan would haplessly remain stuck in the rut, vulnerable to a range of internal and external risks, which would rob it of its potential to grow into a major Eurasian power. Any attempt to see this visit as the abandonment by Pakistan of one great power in favor of another is getting the wrong end of the stick.

In this regard, domestic skepticism has revealed itself in the pained critique of the timing of the visit. If anything, this visit could not have come at a more opportune time, at least from the standpoint of serving as a powerful example for countries of how to outgrow their narrow persuasions for higher ends like regional and global peace and progress.

Is this move going to make Pakistan closer to Russia?

The visit also exposes the uselessness of the demonization of nations and leaders, based on our biases and prejudices. It should encourage the world to consider that Russia’s actions need to be seen as part of the greater geopolitical mosaic of Eurasia combined with the actions of other great and regional powers like NATO countries. If President Putin, at the helm of a great power like Russia, could reach a rapprochement with Prime Minister Khan, the leader of a regional power like Pakistan, which was once a strategic rival of Russia, then the question needs to be asked, what were the factors that prevented Russia from developing normal relations with another regional power next door like Ukraine.

Here, it is important to distinguish between two types of regional powers __ those which learn to act autonomously in the course of their histories like Pakistan, and those which, not having learned the value of geostrategic autonomy yet, yield to offshore balancing. Where the former type of regional power will promote regional stability, the latter type will serve to increase regional instability.

Read more: Turkey’s UN envoy calls for restraint amid Ukraine crisis

What PM’s Khan’s visit to Russia instantiates in the ultimate analysis is that durable peace in Eastern Europe will be achieved in the same manner in which peace in South Asia, or anywhere else for that matter, will be achieved, that is, when leaders give up the arrogance of hard power and coercive diplomacy and sit down together to resolve their differences through sustained and committed dialogue.

 

The writer is a Head of Research at NUST Institute of Policy Studies. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.