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Few people would’ve noticed the irony in the PM going to the Moscow and the Credit Suisse expose, the ‘Suisse secrets’, featuring former ISI heavyweight General Akhtar Abdur Rahman in its long list of leaked secret accounts of money launderers, drug traffickers, intelligence officials, etc., appearing at the same time. General Rahman was the key architect of the anti-Soviet jihad that crippled the Soviet Union.

As Pakistan became the most important state in the most important event of that time, General Zia could not have asked for a better man to head the ISI. Gen Rahman exploited international fault lines exposed by that war to perfection.

In short, he put the nuts and bolts in place for the machine that would ultimately tilt the Great Game in the so-called free world’s favour and bankrupt the Soviet Union into the way to the dustbin of history forever.

Now Prime Minister Imran Khan will shake President Vladimir Putin’s hand not far in the Kremlin from where Mikhail Gorbachev addressed Gen Zia and foreign minister Yaqoob Khan, just after Konstantin Chernenko’s funeral in 1985, and threatened to “destroy Pakistan” if it didn’t end its support for the mujahideen.

But the fearless leader of the Fort of Islam “looked Gorbachev straight in the eye and insisted that his country was not involved. With that, the CIA’s key ally left Moscow for Makkah, where he prayed to Allah for courage to continue the jihad”. (Charlie Wilson’s War) General Rahman, suddenly sharing the headlines with Imran Khan, was the manifestation of that “courage”; the man whose plan beat the Soviet grandmasters at high-stakes, all-in, geopolitical chess.

It’s strange how time, Afghanistan and great games tend to draw Russia and Pakistan out at the same time. So it was, it can be argued since the subcontinent hadn’t yet been partitioned, in the Anglo-Afghan wars; so it definitely was during the Soviet invasion; and so it is now, after the humiliating US departure and the train wreck that Afghanistan has become.

But this time, for the first time in a long time, the energy surrounding the exchange is so positive that it gives a very strong impression of something much deeper cooking beneath the surface.

Yet the backdrop of old wounds and new beginnings is hardly the only thing PM Imran Khan will walk into when he lands in Moscow. The Russian bear has drawn a line around Nato’s expansion into eastern Europe and reignited the old Cold War.

Even before PM Imran Khan left, US President Joe Biden “revealed new sanctions on Russian elites and two banks as the west tries to stop an all-out invasion of Ukraine by punishing Moscow for ordering troops into two separatist regions it has recognized”, Reuters reported. All sorts of markets from stocks and bonds to oil and grain are rattling because of it.

Cozying up to the Russian Bear at this time will not go unnoticed in circles whose good graces dictate the flow, and cost, of bailout money to the state bank’s vaults. The security deals and gas pipelines are sure to come at a steep long-term price.

On the other hand, this could also be the moment that Pakistan finally begins to see the sense in taking its natural place in the wider Russia-China-Iran axis.

These countries are integrated enough to conduct regular non-dollar trade, even when it comes to sanctioned-to-the-eyeballs Iranian crude oil. But they’re also in Washington’s crosshairs, and going to them is sure to invoke Washington’s usual “with us or against us” threat. So far there’s been no chance of this simply because of our reliance on the US and our brotherly Islamic love for Saudi Arabia.

Hopefully, the PM’s not seriously thinking of waltzing into the Kremlin and offering to mediate between Russia and Nato. It’s strange enough that a day before his departure Pakistan’s ambassador in Kiev, Gen Noel Khokhar (retd), met the Ukrainians and underscored Pakistan’s support for their country’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

How could this shot have been fired by the foreign ministry, especially since Shah Mehmood is sure to accompany Imran Khan? If this reeks of wheels-within-wheels at any stage, then all bets could be off from all sides, including the Russians and the Americans.

Gen Rahman wouldn’t have thought of it, but his successors must have had a part to play in laying the groundwork for this historic visit. This thaw began with security-related engagements, after all, which resulted in the Pakistani army turning to the Russian army for training and exchange programs after former US President Trump’s new year “no more” tweet that ended, for the first time, programs with the Pentagon as well.

Once Russia triggered a fault line in Afghanistan that sucked Pakistan in and the world changed as a result. Then the Americans triggered the same fault line in the same country, which drew Pakistan in once again, and the whole world is changing once more. Now, as China’s and especially Russia’s standoff with the west upsets even deeper fault lines, Pakistan is drawn closer to Russia once again in part because of Afghanistan.

How many more nerves this turnaround in Pak-Russia embrace will touch, and how far, will become clear soon enough.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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