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Russian bear and the bee

Published Oct 04, 2012 12:20am


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ANYONE in Pakistan who missed seeing the famous Peter Sellers film — The Mouse that Roared — should have been forced to watch it the day the government ordered a national shutdown on Sept 21.

The film centred around a tiny European Duchy of Grand Fenwick that declares war on the United States, in the hope of being defeated so that it can be flooded with post-war aid. Its minuscule army crosses the Atlantic in a galleon and lands in New York to discover the whole city empty. An evacuation exercise had been ordered that day, and every New Yorker had gone underground.

The invaders stumble upon the US atomic arsenal and capture the dreaded world-destroying Q bomb. When the US government realises what has happened, it surrenders to the Grand Duchy and becomes its vassal state.

On Sept 21, in obedience to the government’s orders, the entire country shut down. All the streets in towns and cities from Khunjerab to Karachi emptied out. The nation was as vulnerable as the state of New York was in the film.

If there was anyone in Pakistan who questioned the sagacity of such a decision, his or her voice went unheard in the deafening silence. What one did see were civilian mercenaries pour through vacuous streets, tossing steel containers aside as if they were matchboxes, storm shops and offices, loot banks, and uproot ATM machines. The only PIN code they needed was violence.

It is a cruel truism that while other countries use any excuse to celebrate with festivals, parades, floats, or dancing in the streets, our displays of public unity are violent, daubed with blood and stained with tears.

Ironically, Pakistan is the only Grand Duchy in modern times that has nuclear capability. We are a nuclear power, but one that is all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Being a member of an exclusive if talkative club of nuclear powers, one would have imagined that Pakistan might have improved its relationships with fellow members. However, we have managed to run into arguments with all who matter. With the United States over Waziristan, with China over Gwadar, with India over almost everything, and now with Russia over President Putin’s abortive visit.

For the past 65 years, every Pakistani leader from Liaquat Ali Khan to Asif Zardari has learned that the Russians style of negotiations is to offer a velvet handshake in an iron glove. The first offer of a steel mill in the 1950s — spurned it is said by Liaquat Ali Khan on US instructions — created an atmosphere of suspicion and unmasked hostility that festered for decades, bursting open during the East Pakistan crisis in 1971.

Two years later, Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto laid the foundation stone of the present Pakistan Steel Mills (PASMIC). He knew more than anyone else that it was the price the USSR had exacted from Pakistan for the Simla Agreement.

The supply terms of PASMIC were as one-sided as the Treaty of Versailles of 1919. We selected a steel mill of Russia’s choice, we agreed to pay for it in instalments linked to the international price of gold, and we bound ourselves to using coal as its raw material, importing from countries as close as Australia. The USSR’s plan may have been to encourage exports of coal from India to Pakistan. India still relies on local coal for more than 50 per cent of its power generation. Economically, that would have made sense; politically, it was and remains a non-starter.

President Putin’s now cancelled visit to Pakistan on Oct 2 would have been the first by a Russian president since 1947. For it to have been included in his crowded calendar was a deliberate statement of intent by the Russian leadership that it seeks better relations with countries in its region. His offer of Russian support for PASMIC and strategic projects represented Russia’s keenness to permeate Pakistan’s economy, gradually sharing if not supplanting Chinese interests here.

His cancellation can only be interpreted as a rejection of Pakistan’s professed status as an ‘independent’ nuclear power. To the Russian bear, we are back to being a noisy, vexatious bee whose honey is not worth the effort.

Our response (or to be more accurate, the lack of a response) cannot augur well for Pak-Russian relations. The Russians endured the despotic czars; we pampered the benign Mughals. The Russians survived two world wars and a Cold War; we are still reeling from the effect of local conflicts. The Russians experimented with a communism that opposed and then imitated a crony-style capitalism; we have oscillated between a watery Islamic socialism and an anaemic free-market economy. The Russians drink vodka without soda; we drink soda without vodka.

Most importantly, the Russians have the vast undeveloped continent of Siberia, floating on an ocean of oil and gas; we have the recalcitrant province of Balochistan, spread over depleting gas fields and mineral reserves buried beyond the reach of politicians.

Because the Russians own or control most of the non-Arab hydrocarbon resources in this part of the world, common sense and self-interest would dictate that we take Russia more seriously than we do. The visit by army chief Gen Kayani will be treated by the Kremlin as a courtesy, not an act of contrition. Throughout the history of our relations, the Russians have given us cause to remember that to exclude them is to forfeit their confidence. To ignore them is to invite retribution. Not today, not tomorrow, but at a time and place of Russia’s choosing. The Russians have long arms and even longer memories.

The writer is an author.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (16) Closed

NASAH (USA) Oct 04, 2012 12:11pm
But why suddenly Russia -- playing the Russian card against the Americans -- the cold war has long been over -- Pakistan would like to join the Russia, China, Venezuela, Iran, Syria camp? Another strategic slippery slope?
Steve Oct 04, 2012 11:21am
one sided analysis. through written well but missed many key points and not mentioned anything about Pakistani inclination towards UK and US upon Afghanistan and its impact on Russian moves etc...
sraz45 Oct 04, 2012 07:19am
Like always Fakiir Aijazuddin has written a brilliant article, the state of affairs of Pakistan foreign policy. People who craft policy in Pakistani think tanks should pay attention to what he is saying.
Sehr Sehrish Oct 04, 2012 04:37am
Excellent piece of writing...well done
Ali Fraz Bhatti Oct 04, 2012 07:29am
Nicely explained
ahsan Oct 04, 2012 07:21am
good analysis and a short lesson in history
BRR Oct 04, 2012 07:03am
Yet another narrative where Pakistan seeks help from yet another country only to mess it up.
Akram Oct 04, 2012 08:57pm
enmity works two ways, the author neglected Pakistan's major part on breaking the Russian bear's jaw in Afghanistan in the 1980's. Yes Russia can visit us with retribution but the reality is this works both ways. In such super power decisions, such fear commands respect. Russia fears the Muslims of southern Russia one day adopting their Muslim ideology over a Russian identity, much like the Chechen did. They also fear being left out of US-Indian relationship, a relationship they always thought they had a monopoly on. That is why they see getting Pakistan on their side as an insurance policy, much like the Chinese have done with the Uighur Muslims, insurance against an indian tilt to the US.
Syed Oct 04, 2012 08:48am
A very good piece of prose rendered by the writer fond of watching old movies, and likes to be carried away. Russians have long arms and even longer reach. Agreed, but what happened to them when they struck a rock (Afghanistan). Now that rock is as buffer between the two countries, and after seeing the conflict, we might adopt the same tactics, as employed by other humans, to trap the bear. Hopefully the animal wouldn't have evolved by much in the next millennium or so.
Abbas Syed Oct 04, 2012 04:54am
Brilliant analysis of Pakistan and Russia relation
Agha Ata (USA) Oct 04, 2012 02:45pm
We mostly need super powers for help in fighting some of our enemies. Supposing we do not have an enemy neighbor, and supposing we are on friendly terms with all countries around us, and just working to make our own people's life more prosperous and comfortable . . . .!
Sauron Oct 04, 2012 04:18pm
Realistically speaking, they didnt really 'strike a rock' in afghanistan. They would've overrun it, but for the US and Arab funded and US supplied war. Pakistan alone can't trap the bear.
Ashraf Oct 04, 2012 10:47am
Very well written article but if Pakistan will become any ally of Russia,it's not in the interests of Pakistan.When the wind is blowing towars north at the speed of 300km/hr you cannot move towards south.Remaining an allly of America is in the interests of Pakistan in Afghanistan because the main party to Afghan confilict is not Russia or Iran but America.Imagine if India and America will both sign a strategic pact on Afghanistan.Remember nothing is permanent in Politics,what matters are interests. Russia's choosing,this formula applies to Pakistan,not to India and America.
Syed Abbas Oct 04, 2012 10:51am
Poetic, thus true.
AmanK Oct 04, 2012 05:43pm
Very well written. Haven't we learned enough!
Ali Abbas Oct 04, 2012 11:09am
deservers to be liked