The historic first-ever Pak-Russia joint military exercise that started last week is a reason to celebrate. Despite Indian efforts to get it cancelled, Friendship-2016 is underway as planned. It’s uplifting indeed to see Pakistan and Russia leave the largely unwholesome baggage of history behind them and start marching together towards a promising future. We must now focus on deepening this friendship and expanding its scope without wasting any time. So is our government ready for that?

The growing military ties between the two countries are the most dynamic facet of Pak-Russia friendship for now, and perhaps the most important one in the given geo-political context as well. It is driven by the clarity about our national interest on part of the current military leadership and there are many indications that it will pick up speed in the coming days. Cooperation in a number of non-military spheres is also in our national interest but to expect such clarity from our oh-so-democratic government would be expecting too much.

For instance, a year has passed since it signed an inter-governmental agreement with Russia to build the North-South gas pipeline from Karachi to Lahore but it is yet to offer a tariff that is acceptable to Rostec. Is the government driven by the desire to get a better deal for Pakistan? If so, why does that desire evaporate when it comes to buying expensive LNG from Qatar? Why do such hurdles crop up only when it comes to countries like Russia and Iran that are on the hit-list of the empire?

I’m not an expert on tariffs but I smell a rat when our extravagant government gets all stingy. The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is a classic example. Even after Iran agreed to the unreasonable demands of our successive governments, the project has been held up on one pretext or another. The imperial hold on our political and bureaucratic elite is quite obvious. It is not about a couple of pipelines. It is an over-riding disability that is a major hurdle in building win-win cooperation with our natural partners.

Clearly, the life-saving realignment of Pakistan’s foreign policy is driven by the military leadership. Even the game-changing CPEC would not have taken off if General Raheel had not put all his weight behind it. The government has only contributed controversy to the project and done all it can to tamper it to suit its petty and corrupt partisan interests. All the nudging and pushing by the military leadership can’t make it change its spots.

At a time when the tectonic plates of geopolitics are shifting at an amazing pace and when the world is clearly at war, this refusal on part of our civilian elite to step out of the shadow of a crumbling empire is dangerous. The inability on its part to reimagine Pakistan as anything other than a debt-ridden vassal of the empire is bogging us down despite everything going in our favour, despite the tide of time conspiring in every possible way to help us rise as a dignified nation.

Who could have thought even a year ago that Russia would upset India and hold military drills with Pakistan in Gilgit-Baltistan, right on the border of Indian Occupied Kashmir and right after India made such a ruckus blaming Pakistan for the Uri attack and exporting terrorism as state policy? Who could have thought that India would throw away the strength of its strategic independence and reduce itself to an imperial vassal?

The US-India axis of evil has simplified the dynamics of win-win cooperation in the region, eliminating a big thorn in Pakistan’s side when it comes to relations with countries like Russia and Iran who have traditionally sported a soft-spot for India and were constrained to deal with Indian sensitivities when it came to building military and economic relations with Pakistan. After Modi transported India to the lap of Uncle Sam, they don’t have any reason to mollycoddle the mini-me hegemon with a visceral hatred for Pakistan.

Surely, it is the Pak-China friendship that forms the bedrock of our newfound freedom from the divide-and-rule empire and the chance to embark upon a new phase in our history. In the imperial scheme of things we are envisaged as a South-Asian satellite of India at best but preferably a failed and balkanised state, the next Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. In the multipolar world being shaped by the China-Russia nexus, we figure as an important ‘zipper of pan-Eurasian integration’.

When geopolitical analyst Andrew Korybko coined the term, India had not defected to the US-led unipolar camp and it was expected that Pakistan would zip together the regions of Middle East and West, Central and South Asia with China and Russia. Recent developments might have given an additional meaning to the term though. While building connectivity otherwise, vis-à-vis South Asia Pakistan’s role has become more like a zipper that blocks out the machinations of the US-India axis from interfering with multipolar integration within the neighbourhood.

It is China that extended a friendly hand towards us and welcomed Pakistan to the emerging paradigm of regional integration and win-win cooperation among equal sovereign states but that’s only the starting point. To play our important part in fostering a multipolar world order, we must reach out to other countries in the region with an open heart and open arms. We must focus on building comprehensive friendships with not only Russia and Iran but also the Central Asian states.

Together with our neighbours we must build an empire-free geographical expanse where donor-driven NGOs are not allowed to hijack the organic process of social development to neo-liberal destinations, where dollar doesn’t rule the roost, where countries trade and cooperate with each other for the common good of their people, where the violent divide-and-rule shadow of the evil empire has been decisively defeated.

Pak-Russia friendship is a force-multiplier for the multipolar world order. Military cooperation between the two countries will pave the way for driving away the terrorists and their masters from our region. We could learn to neutralise other imperial weapons like NGOs and GMOs from Russia as well.