To the global community, momentarily, on the 23rd and 24th of June, the ghost of something that can be likened to the events of February 1917 seemed in the offing when a man in charge of a private army publicly clenched his fists against the Kremlin.
The general atmosphere on social media in the West was that of thrill and anticipation in stark contrast to those dwelling in Moscow and St Petersburg, for whom it was business as usual.
Just like the Great War in the 20th century, Russia this time was also involved in another. However, on a smaller scale, a war of attrition and speculations quickly circulated about a possible end to Putin’s government. It was another failure of the Western community to gauge the psyche of the Russian people. Later images went afloat of people taking animated selfies with Wagner tanks and troops in the city of Rostov-on-Don, which was too much of the Westerners ‘under siege’ by Prigozhin’s forces. The Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, an aide to Czar Nicholas II, once remarked, ‘I have never met anyone who understood the Russians.’
The government of Pakistan refrained from issuing any formal statement on the event, which was the most viable option for a country marred in political and economic crises trying to strike a balance in its foreign policy between the West and its rivals.
For Pakistan’s geopolitical interests, a working relationship with Russia is indispensable while honoring the territorial integrity of Ukraine chartered under international law.
With the Western sanctions entirely in place, Russia is looking for alternative markets for its exports which Pakistan could capitalize from, meeting its rising grain and energy demands. Much has been deliberated about the prospects of economic cooperation between the two countries, which both can profit from. Still, other avenues are yet to be explored which can build a lasting relationship. on the people-to-people level.
Churchill described Russia as a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Millions of Pakistani youth have left the country searching for degrees and livelihood in various parts of the world. The Pakistani diaspora in Russia amounts to 1200, according to figures available on the Pakistan Mission to Moscow website. This figure is the lowest amongst Pakistanis living in other major countries. Historically, due to the Soviet’s controlled economic system, the Pakistani workforce rarely turned to the cold and mysterious landmass towards the north. Also, because of its relatively lower living standards and the Afghan war, the Soviet Union seemed less appealing than the West or the newly oil-wealthy middle eastern economies.
Today the USSR is no more, and the Russian economy is arguably at its strongest since 1991 despite the overwhelming number of sanctions. Compared to GCC countries where most of the Pakistani labor force is channeled, Russia offers similar, if not better monetary incentives and a possibility for permanent settlement. Especially with the onset of war in Ukraine, the Russian market desperately needs a young labor force for its large industrial hubs. With 12% of the Muslim population, Islamophobia is alien to the Russians.
A recent statement by Putin on the desecration of the Koran in Sweden declared it a punishable offense in Russia, which the international Muslim community welcomed.
Russian higher education system is very robust, and their universities have recently started offering a host of degrees in the English language. Russia is a leader in the world IT sector, So many young Pakistani professionals can benefit from their expertise and bring those acquired skills and knowledge back home. The cost of studying and living there is more or less equal to that of any private university in Pakistan. The Russian education ministry has plenty of scholarships and tuition waivers to give to international students in diverse disciplines ranging from natural sciences to philosophy.
In the 70s and 80s, when planeloads of Pakistanis went to work in the Gulf states, they brought back a strictly conservative and radical view of Islam, contributing to the rise of extremism and sectarian intolerance.
A good starting point would be establishing Russian cultural and language centers in Pakistani universities and educational exchange programs in collaboration with the Russian Embassy. Promoting cultural and educational interaction would facilitate trade markets in the longer run and stabilize G2G relations. As opposed to cultivating ties mainly in the defense sector, engaging in public diplomacy with Russia would also give Pakistan greater leeway in its dealings with the Western world.
The author is affiliated with Islamabad Policy Research Institute and holds a Masters in Modern History. He is an alumnus of the University of Glasgow and National University of Sciences and Technology. He can be reached at: email@example.com