Pakistan and Russia: Old foes New friends

By Arif Qureshi

On the occasion when Pakistan and Russia are marking 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations, former cold war era foes and rivals are heading smoothly and steadily towards new commitments in the region. In a new regional alignment both eye in their respective areas of cooperation, as Pakistan saw opportunities for bilateral cooperation in war against terrorism, military equipments and banking sectors. And Russians wanted to seek Pakistan’s cooperation against Islamic State (IS) which Moscow consider a threat not only to Russia but rest of central Asia. Indo-US nuclear deal, New Delhi’s continued embrace of Washington and  trust deficit between Pakistan and United States paved the way to enhance already existing relations between Pakistan and Russia.

Russians are also very desperate to enhance relations with Pakistan in defense and energy sectors, Last month Russian Army Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Oleg Salyukov in talks with Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, clearly indicated that Russians have set a target, Gen Oleg Salyukov said that we have good opportunities in security, defense, trade and economic cooperation.

The continued high-level interactions between the leadership of Pakistan and Russia explored these relations, meetings between the Prime Minister of Pakistan Mian Nawaz Sharif and the President of the Russian Federation  Vladimir Putin in Ufa in July 2015 and Astana in June 2017, and dialogue between the Prime Ministers Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev during 16th Meeting of the Council of the Heads of Government (CHG) of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at Sochi, Russia played a vital role to expand these relations.

Earlier a high level delegation of Deputy Secretary of National Security Council of Russian Federation Mikhail Popov was in Pakistan where he separately held meetings with National Security Adviser (NSA) Lt  (retd) Naseer Khan Janjua and Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua.  Mikhail Popov lauded the Pakistan’s sacrifices in the fight against terrorism, saying Kremlin is committed to enhanced security, defense, intelligence as well as economic cooperation with Islamabad.

Nasser Khan Janjua highlighted connectivity potential of Pakistan and how the whole region and the world could gain from it. He said Pakistan was a country which held great future potential. “Only the world needs to recognize and capitalize on it by the way of cooperation, not confrontation. Seeking economic prosperity and investing in the peace will enable the world to reap the benefits which Pakistan can offer.” He stressed the importance of increasing cooperation among the regional countries and suggested that collective efforts were required to seek peace and stability for the region. He also applauded the cooperative outlook of Russia in different areas. The present tour of Deputy Secretary of National Security Council of Russian Federation Mikhail Popov is a follow up of Pakistan foreign minister Khawja Asif in February.

Pak- Russia growing military relations

In the last tour of Pakistani foreign minister Khawja Asif to Moscow both countries had decided to form a commission for military cooperation, a step forward in already growing military relations. in 2014, Russia lifted a long-standing arms embargo and signed a landmark military cooperation agreement with Pakistan.

Since then armed forces of Pak-Russian so far have made two joint anti terrorism exercises in Pakistan and Russia. Around 200 military personnel of both countries participated in the two-week exercises, from 24 Sep to 10 Oct 2016. 70 mountain infantry troops of Russia participated in the exercise, the opening ceremony of drill was held at the “Pakistan Army’s High Altitude School in Rattu, Gilgit-Baltistan” and latter excecise held in special services Group (SSG) head quarter Cherat,  in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

latter in 2017, Pakistani and Russian military commandos launched joint counterterrorism drills in the mountains and forests of Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia. The two-week-long exercise dubbed as “Friendship 2017” involves more than 200 mostly special forces from both countries who will conduct joint “hostage rescue” and “cordon-and-search” operations.

But most impressive development were handing over of four Mi-35M combat and cargo helicopters to Pakistan by Russia, Since then, reports have suggested that Pakistan is interested in acquiring more military gear from Russia, including Su-35 combat jets.

Common goals, Islamic State (IS), Peace talks with Taliban,

Defense analysts  believed emergence of the so called Islamic State (IS), or Daesh, in the region is seen as a big threat in both capitals Islamabad and Moscow. There is a consensus among the Pakistan and Russian to handle jointly against the threats of Islamic State, especially its activities in northern parts of Afghanistan, is a matter of serious concern for Russia as the group could create problems for the Central Asian states as well as Russia.

Former Pakistan’s ambassador to Qatar and Counsel General in Afghanistan’s Mazar-e-Sharif Ayaz Wazir was of the opinion that Pakistan and Russia have similar objectives like peace and stability in Afghanistan and to promote political process and reconciliation. Ayaz Wazir said, I foresee the threat of Islamic State (IS) could further increase in Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Central Asia and cooperation between Pakistan and Russia is required to check the emerging threat.

Both Moscow and Islamabad have same approach about Afghan reconciliation, in December 2016, in a trilateral meeting in Moscow Russia and China the UN Security Council permanent members had confirmed their ‘flexible approach’ to delisting Afghan Taliban individuals from the UN sanctions lists as their contribution to the efforts aimed at launching peaceful dialogue between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban. In January, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson of Russia, Maria Zakharova offered to host the representatives of the Afghan Taliban and the Kabul administration as part of its peace initiative,

Russia eyes billion dollars energy sector of Pakistan

Besides military and political cooperation, Pakistan and Russia have increased economic relations, In October 2015, Pakistan and Russia had inked an agreement to build a 2 billion US dollar pipeline that will transport gas from the city of Karachi in southern Sindh to Lahore in the central Punjab, the project has held up because of U.S. sanctions against Russian state conglomerate Rostec, as well as a dispute over North-South pipeline transport fees.

In recent developments, confirmed by both Pakistani energy officials and Khawaja Asif, Russia and Pakistan are negotiating potential energy deals worth in excess of $10 billion, and there are four to five huge power projects “will cement our relationship further” said by Foreign minister.  In the latest move Pakistan facilitated Russia to appoint Mohammad Arsallah Khan, an honorary consul to Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. where Russian companies are in talks to build an oil refinery and a power station.

But the biggest deals focus on gas supply and infrastructure to Pakistan, one of the world’s fastest growing liquefied natural gas (LNG) import markets. In October 2017, Pakistan and Russia signed an inter-governmental agreement on energy, paving the way for Russian state giant Gazprom to enter negotiations to supply LNG to Pakistan.

New allies at regional and International forms, UN

Many analysts believed that Indo-US civil nuclear deal on July 18, 2005, was a turning point between Indo-Russia relations. President George W Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed the deal which lifted a three-decade U.S. moratorium on nuclear trade with India, latter The U.S. Congress on October 1, 2008, gave final approval to an agreement facilitating nuclear cooperation between the United States and India. Pakistan reacted with dismay to Indo-US nuclaer deal and demanded form US same sort of agreement with Pakistan which was rejected by Bush administration. Indian jump into the US camp forced Russian policy makers to rethink its strategic relations with India, but despite this Russia took almost a decade to lift ban form Pakistan to purchase military equipments and signed a deal in 2015.

Now it is no secret that the Moscow is uneasy about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s closer military relations with Washington, French and Israel, where as India also have deep reservations over  Moscow’s participation and alliance with China and Pakistan over Afghanistan and Central Asia. India showed dismay over growing Pak-Russia military ties, there was a huge tension between Pakistan and India after Uri attack by Kashmiri militants on a army camp in Jammu in sepetember,2016. But only after a week Russian infantry unit arrived in Pakistan for the first military exercise. India objected the exercise turned down by Russia. 

Pakistan remained abstain and not voted against a resolution at United Nations Security Council asking impose sanctions against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad if he does not end the use of heavy weapons, against its own countrymen in Syria despite Russia and China vetoed the UN Security Council resolution, some believe that the keep remain absent during the voting was to please the Russia. despite there is a debate going in Pakistan lower house National Assembly why its permanent Ambassador remained absent during the voting.

It is said that Russia has clearly announced without any hesitation that Pakistan features prominently on the list of Russia’s foreign policy priorities. In February before landing the Foreign minister of Pakistan in Moscow,  the Foreign Ministry Spokesperson of Russia, Maria Zakharova clearly said this year marks the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and Pakistan. Today, we can state that cooperation with Pakistan features prominently on the list of Russia’s foreign policy priorities. We maintain an intensive political dialogue with Islamabad, and maintain constructive interaction on international platforms, primarily, the UN. Additional opportunities for partnership opened up after Islamabad joined the SCO in 2017 as a full member.

The writer is an editor daily online thefortress.com.pk, he can be reached at arifqoreshi@gmai.com

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