PAKISTANIS have an imperfect knowledge of the four Rs — Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic, and Russia. To master the first three requires education. To open one’s mind about Russia requires a different set of intellectual pliers.
Winston Churchill once defined Russia as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”. Churchill was alive in 1913 when czarist Russia celebrated 300 years of Romanov rule, and in 1918 when the October Revolution overthrew the monarchy. He saw the rise of Lenin and the crimson permeation of Soviet communism. He negotiated with Joseph Stalin first as an ally and then as an adversary, admiring (he confessed) Stalin’s “deep, cool wisdom and a complete absence of illusions of any kind”.
From 1918 until the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, Russia hid behind an iron curtain, as xenophobic as Tibet once was. It was not always so secretive. Peter the Great visited England in 1697 to learn about shipbuilding. Nicholas II (as czarevich) in 1890-91 travelled eastwards to India, Sri Lanka and Japan. He visited Lahore in December 1890 and might have enjoyed it more, but for the un-seasonally hot weather and the ubiquitous British redcoats.