The three-day state visit to Moscow by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (May 11-13) was the first visit by a Pakistani president to Russia since 1974.
During the Cold War, Moscow was a firm supporter of India, a country viewed as a key to influence in the Third World and later on as a counterweight to Moscow's rival within the international communist movement, China.
Pakistan received support from the United States as a member of the CENTO alliance and as part of the northern tier against the then-Soviet Union. Pakistan was also friendly with China and helped broker negotiations that led to the rapprochement between Washington and Beijing in the Nixon era .
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979,Pakistan served as a forward base for American assistance to the Afghan guerrillas who were fighting the Russians, and whose descendants are now fighting the Americans. It is therefore understandable that visits by Pakistani presidents to Moscow were few and far between.
Both sides have an interest in warming up the relationship. The Pakistanis, who have received billions of dollars in assistance from the United States, are sensing a cold wind from Washington in the aftermath of Osama bin Laden's killing. Congress wants answers to the question of who facilitated the arch terrorist's lengthy and visible stay in a Pakistani garrison town. Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, visited Pakistan this week calling for sober and serious discussions to resolve the rift and suspicions.
Pakistani leaders were thoroughly embarrassed by the US raid because the United States did not inform Pakistan beforehand. A further complication to the relationship is a trial of a Chicago businessman accused of providing financial support to the Pakistani group that carried out the 2008 attack in Mumbai. According to reports, the government witness is going to claim that the guerrillas were supported by the main Pakistani spy agency Inter-Service Intelligence or ISI.
If the Americans were to cut the purse strings, it would be necessary to have another major power in addition to China to provide aid. The Pakistani president signed agreements in Moscow to modernize Pakistani steel production facilities and receive Russian assistance in developing Pakistan's gas industry. A Pakistani newspaper Dawn editorialized on the visit
A `former` superpower it may be, Russia remains Eurasia`s most important country. With its vast territorial expanse, huge energy resources and a level of technology that enabled it to put the first man in space, Russia deserves greater attention from Pakistan at a time when the need for Islamabad to broaden its economic and political ties has never been greater as we head towards a post-Cold War, multipolar world.
Russia has its reasons as well for embracing friendlier relations with Pakistan. For one, it may serve as a useful reminder to India. Russia was once India's principal supplier of weaponry. Lately, New Delhi has preferred European and American weapons. Cozying up to Islamabad can make the Indians take notice.
Russia has to make provisions for the day that the Americans exit Afghanistan, leaving Pakistan to have a major say on what transpires in Afghanistan. Afghanistan poses the threat of terrorism and narcotics. The visit by the Pakistani president touched on both topics.
As opposed to the Cold War situation where Pakistan's close relations to China proved a hindrance, currently they provide a force of attraction, as Moscow and Beijing share an opposition to US and NATO interventionism. The two powers are building what they hope will be an alternative to NATO, called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, in which Pakistan, supported by China is pressing for full membership an upgrade from the current observer status. India has also applied for full membership to the organization. So has Iran.