Beneath the radar, a Russia-Pakistan entente takes shape

March 8, 2012

Russian PM Putin shakes hands with Pakistan's PM Gillani during their meeting in St.Petersburg

One of the early calls that Vladimir Putin took following his expected victory in the Russian presidential election last weekend was from Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. He congratulated Putin on his success and invited him to visit Islamabad in September which the Russian leader accepted, according to newspaper reports citing an official statement.

It would be the first visit by a Russian head of state to Pakistan which stood on the other side of the Cold War, peaking in its emergence as the staging ground for the U.S. campaign  to defeat the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan. It’s now again the frontline state in America’s war against Islamist militants in Afghanistan, but it is a far more conflicted partner than those days of war against the godless communists. So fraught and uncertain is the nature of the relationship with the United States that Pakistan has sought to deepen ties with long-time ally China, but also Russia, the other great power in a dangerously unstable neighbourhood.

Last year Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari made the first official visit to Russia by a Pakistani  head of state in 37 years after Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s trip to Moscow. The visit capped a series of  exchanges including on the sidelines of a four-way summit that Russia has promoted involving Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, besides Moscow, to discuss regional security. Zardari and outgoing President Dmitri Medvedev have met six times in the past three years, according to a count by an Indian security affairs expert, and last month Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was in  Moscow negotiating an  agreement to guide futue ties including Russian investment  in the Pakistani economy.

There is always a risk of reading too much into bilateral  exchanges that you would expect between two major countries, both nuclear powers with shared interests in the region. Visits alone don’t transform ties, and especially ones with a troubled history behind them. And then there is India to be factored in, both for Russia and Pakistan.  Moscow  has long stood in India’s corner from  the days of the Cold War to its role as a top weapons supplier to the Indian military, still ahead of the Israelis fast clawing their way into one of the world’s most lucrative arms markets.A nuclear-powered submarine has just sailed from Russia to be inducted into the Indian navy - a force-multiplier in the military with the sub’s ability to stay beneath waters long and deep and far from home.

And while Islamabad and Moscow are planning a first visit this year, India and Moscow have long held summits each year alternating in the two capitals. Indeed the Hindu quoted Putin as saying last month that Russia was engaging India “full thrust” when a questioner said Russia must engage powers such as India, China and Iran to advance its interests.

But the stepped up Russia-Pakistan diplomacy suggests a thawing of ties at the very least. And at another level, by raising the quality and quantity of these exchanges, is Russia signalling it will pursue a multi-vectored policy in a fast changing South Asia ? Tanvir Ahmad Khan, a former Pakistani foreign secretary who was also once the country’s ambassador to Moscow, says the two countries are on the verge of ending a “long history of estrangement” and that two factors have led to this landmark development. One is that there is now a national consensus in Pakistan to engage Russia earnestly. And two, “Vladimir Putin’s Russia has read the regional and global scene afresh and recognised Pakistan role as a factor of peace and stability.”

Both Pakistan and India, the two big actors in South Asia,  look a lot different today. Pakistan’s ties with the United States have soured so much that it can longer be considered be an ally, ready to do its bidding as in the proxy war against the Red Army in Afghanistan. And India’s ties with the United States, on the other hand, have been transformed, with Washington virtually legitimising it as the world’s sixth nuclear weapon state, something that even Russia never went as far to support during all the years as close allies.

And if India and the United States are holding ever so advanced  joint military exercises (there is one going on now in the Rajasthan desert which has a border with Pakistan) and considering multi-billion dollar defence deals as part of a new booming strategic relationship, Russia and Pakistan are also looking at launching  military exchanges. Last year the commander of the Russian ground forces , Col-Gen Alexander Postinov, was in Pakistan and according to Pakistani newspapers discussed with Army Chief Genera Ashfaq Parvez Kayani the possibility of expanding defence ties by holding joint military exercises, exchanging trainees and trainers and selling and buying weapons, although it seems these were to be confined to counter-terrorism equipment.

It’s not clear whether the two sides have followed up on those decisions but  the 50 JF-17 Thunder fghter planes that China is supplying to Pakistan use a Russian engine, and it’s likely that Russia gave the green signal for China to go ahead. New Delhi was probably not impressed, but it has kept its silence.

On a broader front, during Pakistan Foreign Minister Khar’s visit last month, Russia indicated its willingness to get involved in the 1,640 km TAPI project bringing piped gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan  and into energy-starved Pakistan and India, a project that has been hanging fire for years. Russian investors were  also interested in the Thar coal project which involves developing  a large energy complex in Sindh province to produce 6,000 MW of coal-based power and introduce to the country the concept of gasification and production of liquid fuel from coal.

Former ambassador Khan says there is now a basic strategic understanding between the two countries on where to take ties. “If the relationship was clouded by perpetual mistrust, there is now a chance for this dark cloud to lift.”

14 comments

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A very wise and timely step by Pakistan to engage Russia at very critical time. Russia is a major oil exporter and supplies gas to western Europe. st. Petersburg is as much a European city, and my visit there late last year came as a pleasant surprise. People to people contact should be increased so that long-held outdated perceptions can be redefined in public. Russia is not what it once was and has greatly moved on, with western brands visible all over. It has tremendous potential, though Mr. Putin faces increasing opposition from a resurgent media, emerging middle class and civil society there. With all its problems, Mr. Putin could still do well to curtail corruption. As Russia is now part of WTO and despite its concerns over NATO expansion, Russia is a bridge between Europe and Asia.
For Pakistan, the goal is simple, rapidly expand its ties with Russia in all fields. from economics to trade, agriculture to defense. Who knows maybe Pakistan can buy fighter jets too. Most importantly, diplomatic ties must be increased to a new level. Only then both nations, which have much in common in today’s dynamic geopolitical environment can gain from each other. Mr. Putin welcome to Pakistan.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive

@Umair

Valadimir Putin is an ex KGB man! Russian foreign policy is definitely going to change and very radically. Russia under Putin is going to reaasert its new economic and former military might. Too bad for Mr Obama or the next evangelist or the mormon incumbents.

Pakistan needs to put their house in order first; they cannot remain an ally of America, indifferent towards Iran, special trade relations with India and keeping its miliary occupied in suppressing its citizens along its soft border with Afghanistan and Iran.

Rex Minor

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

Rex
I am wondering what will Russia do about Nato missile defense shield in Europe, also it has openly challenged any unilateral steps by US in Europe which Russia considers its neighbourhood. You already know Russia is a key energy supplier to western Europe. And as I mentioned, Pakistan needs to expand ties with Russia, at the same time involve Iran in gas pipeline projects etc. About Afghanistan, yes everyone agrees it should be left to itself with no foreign occupation.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive

Afpak Now

It is mid winter in Kabul and parties to the conflict are already feeling the heat of coming summer. It is 2012 but it the war number 11 that has an ominous feel to it. So what is the status of pacification project in Afpak? There are many parties to who have interest in shape of things to come. Turks offered their good offices but they could not deliver for Uncle Sam. Germany tried their hand but the effort was still born. Where are the special Afpak representatives? Seems like everything is frozen but winter ends in two and there is hope for spring cheer.

NATO has not been sitting on its hands. They have been working diligently on project Mediterranean better known as Arab spring. The drive broke down on road to Damascus. Assad is in no mood to budge while his army holds. Russia and China have suffered losses and they are in no mood to give more. Also note that bomb Iran train is also in reverse gear. Meanwhile PIGS economies keep on sinking.

Afghanistan’s neighbors and near neighbors keep on waiting. It is in their interest that there be a political settlement within the country. American don’t know how to get there. Local allies are already jumping ship moving to safer locations. Read Kabul local news.Taliban have an option i.e. wait out the foreign troops.

Even if all parties agree to form a government, there still are issues. To stand up the army will take $10 billion every year and there is the question sustaining the government and for that one needs about $5 billion. Is there any money for reconstruction. You are talking about 25 billion a year. Western countries are in deep financial trouble, rather than funding such amounts, they rather slip out in the dead of night.

Now we can talk about Putin and he would like to be on the winning side and stick it NATO for all the humiliation Russians suffered during last 30 years. He would make a cash deal with Pakistan to help heal Russian bruised ego. This time he won’t care for Indian civilizational links.

KPS. Why is that everybody wants to play their terror games in India? Also brief me on when Pakistan is becoming a failed state.

Posted by Matrixx | Report as abusive

“Why is that everybody wants to play their terror games in India?”

Why don’t you ask your fellow countrymen? There are plenty out there walking around on your streets, sometimes blowing up your own rear ends.

“Also brief me on when Pakistan is becoming a failed state.”

Who said it is becoming one? Pakistan is a failed state. There is only one thing left in that region – a rag tag bunch of lunatics, land lords and a mercenary military cartel with nukes. That does not form a state.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

@umair
As I said, Russia is ready to reassert! The missile shield will be matched by a missile shield of Russia; targeting European countries. Russia and China together have already put a stop to the American, UK and French intrusions in middle eastern countries. The American ship is sinking and there are plans to cut down on the 900 overseas military bases, and build on the drones, and cyber techniques with use of special forces. Afghan Pashtuns are always at peace when they are at war. The Yanks are going to hand over the Bagram Base to Afghan Army, which most probably will become the HQ of Mullah Omar, the new Amir of Afghanistan. Pakistan military is the weak link in the chain, still siding with the yanks to support Drone Operations, the planes continue to take off from Pakistan bases. It is now structured with a military Governor for each province, officialy named as corps Commanders of Peshawar, Karachi and so on.
They apparently fear the backlash from its own citizens for the atricities which were committed by them during Mr Musharaf rule?
Iran is currently facing pressure from the Americans and its clients in the middle East, on their supposedly Nuclear mlitary program. The rag tag armada is also at hand on its last voyage to reinforce the pressure.
Pakistan leaders have been under pressure for a long time not to open links with Iran for oil supplies!

Rex Minor

Posted by forbirds | Report as abusive

@Umair

Russia under putin is going to reassert its new economic and old mlitary might against the USA, UK and France. they have already announced a missile shield targeting European countries, in case the Amrican missile shield project goes ahead. No more willy nilly interventions in arab countries. Russia is the largest producer of oil in the world, and has the potential to expand its manufacturing of cars, helicopters, heavy trucks, pipelines and aircraft industry for export. Russia is also building a pipeline for supplies of Gas to Germany direct and to europe, bypassing Ukrain and Poland.

Pakistan strategic partnership with the USA and its future relations wih India are not very clear. Remember, India and Pakistan are technicaly still on war, having no peace treaty. india china relations are also on similar basis…to be contd.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

@Matrix
A Nation which has no morals or ethics is a dead functional State, a land of zombies. India today is not the India of Gandhi, the great Mahatma who inspired the world for non violence resistance against the occupiers; today it has occupied a vast land which can only be maintained by violation of human rights, military occupation and millions of slave labour( bonded labour as the India labour minister calls it) compelling its citizens to seek employment or assylum in all corners of the world.

Once the so called Talibans get rid rid of the yanks, they are no longer to return to their bunkers, but as I forecasted before, they are going to march through to Baluchistan and seek direct access to the warm waters. No military, neithe Pakistan nor Inian military is going to stop them from retaking the Kashmir, which they once intrude but then the Pakistan military blew it up. The USA is currently preparng the Bagram palace for the arrival of First Amir of Afghan Talibans! Let India prove hat it is mor functional than Pakistan? Pakistan military has already appoited the military Governors for eac Province, naming them as Corps Commanders of Peshawar, Karachi etc., building up cantonments around major cities, reliving the colonial days.

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

This actually makes sense. The Pakistanis do need all the help they can get. That said, they should remember who actually pays the bills: the Americans. Neither the Russians or the Chinese, will in the end, actually put their money where their mouths are.

As for the Russians, I suspect this is just a ruse to make the Indians more nervous. Are they really ready to take up with a Pakistan that has absolutely nothing to offer them economically, and not all that much geopolitically either (other than a training ground for Chechen rebels)?

Posted by True.North | Report as abusive

Dear Mr Putin,
You are welcome in the arena of the world but please don,t forget the problems of the world which were created by the evil oppressors , we the nation of the fatherland Jammu Kashmir need your true help in regard of the world peace & stability & I wish you good luck with your fatherland Russia
|No to Evil Pakis No to Evil Indians| Proud being son of the fatherland Jammu Kashmir
Regards

Posted by Jammu | Report as abusive

I jst want to ask that is pakistan itself reponsibe for its current situation of are the forign powers responsible???

Posted by pak1991 | Report as abusive

Mr. KPSingh01

Response to you and the readers; Facts are always mentioned in the history.
1- India with the help of Muslims got the freedom from British.
2.In history Only one country who was involve with states terrorism-only India.
3. Humans rights- murderers of woman & children’s in Kashmir,on their lands. one woman and three husbands.
4. double face policy kicked out Russian and grabs American Master with deference pacts- against who????Human-rights,bloodshed in southeast.
5. Collection of fighters jets, submarine, planes bigger than 130 for carpet bombing.
6. a rag tag bunch of lunatics, land lords(regional) and a mercenary military cartel with nukes. That does not form a states as India.
7. Give a chance to establish Pakistan, there would be silk farm for the world and India would be in the corner,being demolish devil.
8. Indian history people Hindu’s who killed their on father nation. Bapu Gandhi
0. You mother/sister killer Nehru’s sister- Indra…one of the terrorist woman…peace hater, pscho..was humiliated by yours brother. This the history of India.
10.being Hatred and hurdle will not break the China Wall. The China wall will extended via Pakistan to east Europe and Asia.
Have a happy dream…….with pets of fighter jets & sub.

Posted by 7Winds | Report as abusive

also kindly note the facts-
1)Indian gandhara country gone to Muslim conversion forceful now Afghanistan.2)Punjab 3/4 lost to Pakistan by forceful conversion to Islam in middle age3)3/4 Bengal gone to than Pakistan by forceful conversion of islam4)Burma now an independent country earlier part of india5)Kashmir nearly lost due to Islam forceful conversion/in one time they say there were only 11 Hindu families left in Kashmir all pundits were put to sword.6)
Pakistan converts were made up of earlier low cast Hindus converting forcefully to Islam by swore.7)India is trying to match up with china in its size where as Pakistan is like monkey trying to pull its tail down 8)Pakistan as Islamic hoarders try to see them as rulers of continent.——– India has woken up to the fact that it is fastest growing economy and Pakistan a terror state which islamazises its neighbor by terror attacks.
that is the truth i want to share to all world audience.
woke up India to beat china leave Pakistan it will die its own making as hatred state.

Posted by singham | Report as abusive