Revisiting "The Economist's" case for Pakistan being considered "Russia-leaning"

Earlier this month, “The Economist” decided to mark the world map into sets of countries based on their leanings, support and historic allegiances with Russia and the West amidst the Russia-Ukraine crisis. A recent report published by Economist’s Intelligence Unit (EIU) mapped government’s responses from across the world to categorise each as – Russia condemning, Russia supporting, West-leaning, Russia-leaning and neutral. While for countries on which they lacked sufficient data, they decided to code them as such.

Given the categorisation, EIU illustrated Pakistan and its government’s response to the conflict as “Russia-leaning”, showing it neither fully supported the Russian invasion nor actively condemned the attack on Ukrainian sovereignty. However, by doing so, they (read: Western news media) have once again skewed Pakistan into the proverbial “grey list” of countries that are neither fully endorsed by the status quo nor entirely rejected. Instead, they are left to hang in limbo. To conveniently ignore the writings on the wall is art in the trade of deception. But, to refuse to acknowledge the proceedings of affairs to draw conclusions based on limited facts is rather more concerning and, dare I say, incompetent.

While exploring EIU’s case for marking Pakistan as “Russia-leaning”, there are certain formal indicators that the organisation claims to have taken into account. By those standards, the EIU must have observed Pakistan’s United Nations (UN) voting patterns, its imposition of sanctions on Russia, its official statements, the historic economic and political ties between both countries and most importantly, if Pakistan has avoided calling the war as an invasion. However indicative these standards appear, they are surely not comprehensive enough to gauge the sensitivity of affairs at its core.

Perhaps it’s the presence of the former premier that made EIU imagine Pakistan to be “Russia-leaning” however, what has been sidelined is the nature of the bilateral summit that Pakistan and Russia have been working on since 2020.

Pakistan has been adamant about the peaceful resolution of conflict since its outbreak and has repeatedly expressed its regret for the failure of diplomacy. In fact, by using his diplomatic prerogatives, Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN, Ambassador Munir Akram, put forward a three-point formula that advocated for the end of war via – ceasefire, negotiation, and implementation of the previous agreements. By reiterating Pakistan’s national interest, he furthered the position of neutrality that the former prime minister Imran Khan had already established before and during the invasion when he met President Putin.

Perhaps it’s the presence of the former premier that made EIU imagine Pakistan to be “Russia-leaning” however, what has been sidelined is the nature of the bilateral summit that Pakistan and Russia have been working on since 2020. In his interview with “RT” before the formal invasion and his visit to Moscow, the former prime minister was mindful of western concerns and therefore categorically commented that “This (Ukraine crisis) does not concern us. We have bilateral relationship with Russia and we really want to strengthen it.” Pakistan’s emphasis on developing bilateral ties and advancing its national interest has been on the top agenda, even before the summit. Adequate official and press statements were released for western observers who misinterpret actions for words and vice versa. In the post-event press release, Pakistan’s foreign office again highlighted prime minister Imran Khan’s regret on the latest situation between Ukraine and Russia and his concern for developing countries that are hit the hardest economically due to such conflicts.

Moreover,  in his address at the Islamabad Security Dialogue this year, the Pakistan army chief also went on to plainly condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine while maintaining Pakistan’s principled position of neutrality. Despite the official records, formal statements, and Pakistan foreign office’s press releases – organisations such as EIU did not give them due consideration. On the contrary, India was labelled as the torchbearer of neutral countries. Regardless of New Delhi’s continuous discounted gas deals with Russia, even at the moment of writing, western governments have chosen to acknowledge their diplomatic and strategic neutrality for the sake of their national interest.

While exploring the UN voting patterns of Pakistan regarding the Ukrainian conflict, it has neither cast a vote against nor in favour of Russia. Instead, like many other countries, including India and China, Pakistan abstained from casting its vote. In doing so, Pakistan’s foreign office claims to have extended its good office for negotiations, sustainable dialogues and continuous diplomacy between both states. All of which would have been in jeopardy in case Pakistan picked a side or chose a bloc.

The EIU report is indicative of the impolitic aspirations of western states, in sync with the imprudent, undiplomatic demand of European high commissioners in Islamabad for calling out Russia as an invader. Such aspirations previously divided the world into blocs and built walls between some of the most inclusive communities in the world. Perhaps it is time to correct the methods of manoeuvring, starting from letting post-colonial states dictate their own foreign policy based on their own national interests. In a rules-based international system, with recognition of mutual sovereignties, there ought to be no space for external dictations.

Mahnoor Saleem

Mahnoor Saleem is currently pursuing International Relations at the National Defence University, Islamabad. Her areas of interest include theories of international relations, psychological operations and information warfare.

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