The warming up of the relations between Russia and Pakistan started only recently A visible tilt could be witnessed in the foreign policy of Russia towards Pakistan for some time now where Russia has been focusing to build its long term economic, military and political relations with Pakistan. Pakistan is recognized by Russia as instrumental for political and peaceful settlement of Afghanistan issue and pivotal in linking the Eurasian Economic Union with South Asia, Indian Ocean, and beyond.
Relations between both the states are gradually being developed on the basis of mutual benefits and convergence of interests. This is reflective of clear shift in the foreign policy of Russia towards Pakistan. Pakistan provides a potential market for Russian arms which is an incentive for Russia as Russian economy heavily depends on its arms exports. Pakistan is the seventh largest arms importer of the world. The two countries have also been conducting regular joint military exercises such as the ones in 2016 and 2017. Such measures would definitely address the problem of trust deficit and would pave way for more dependable relation.
Security is the most important concern for Russia as it is not immune to the menace of terrorism, drug trafficking and instability specifically originating from Afghanistan the impact of which could proliferate into Russia via Central Asian states. Recently, Russia has emerged on the scene having a strong dedication to overcome security threats prevailing in the South Asian region which pose real threat not just for Pakistan or the region, but for Russia as well.
Russian and Pakistani diplomats along with multiple other organizations and the UN are undertaking collaborative ventures to overcome the threats of terrorism in the region. Recently Russia has made agreements with Pakistan to uplift arms embargo, sold Mi-35 attack helicopters, and has negotiated a deal with Pakistan for SU-35 and SU-37 fighter jets. These trends show that Pakistan is acknowledged as an important player by Russia that could bring peace to the South Asian region mainly Afghanistan. But the decades old foe of Pakistan i.e. India, has been quite concerned about Russia-Pakistan cozying up to each other. Nonetheless, despite the warming up trend between Pakistan and Russia, the much anticipated visit by President Putin to Pakistan could not see light of the day since 2012. There is a serious need to open active diplomatic channels and mutual grounds for collaboration should be identified for the high level visits to happen between the two states. Russia should re-arrange the President’s visit to Pakistan as Islamabad is also trying to broaden its agenda to exchange its views and dialogues with Russian federation.
It is not to be overlooked that Russia is still quite cautious in its action when it comes to dealing with both Pakistan and India. It is trying to develop and strengthen military and strategic relations with both the states. Keeping in view the new positive trend in diplomatic ties, in the last two years, one can witness that both Russia and Pakistan have organized regular exercises of naval and ground forces on Russian and Pakistani territories as well as tactical and military exercises to strengthen their ties with general staffs on both sides. The two countries have a general consensus on undertaking counter terrorism and extremism operations in Pakistan.
In this regard Pakistan recently introduced Regional Anti Terrorist Structure(RATS) in Shanghai Cooperation Organization which was wholeheartedly appreciated by as an effective measure to fight against drug trafficking which is one of the main sources of funding to terrorists. The Russian and Pakistani military leadership has managed to engage with each other by regularly participating in the conferences held annually by defense ministry of Russia to contemplate on the matters concerning regional and international security.
The IPI and TAPI pipelines are the potential areas for Russia and Pakistan to collaborate however, these projects couldn’t take off mainly because of the external pressure from the US and India which refrain and dissuade Russia from enhancing ties with Pakistan. Russia also signed agreement with Pakistan for the investment of 2 billion USD in North-South gas pipeline for the supply of Liquefied Natural Gas from Karachi to Lahore which was to be completed by the end of 2017 but unfortunately the work on this project has not yet been started.
The economic interdependence between Russia and Pakistan can be established by the consolidation of Eurasian Economic Union via CPEC to South Asia and to Indian Ocean and beyond. Pakistan should take steps to diversify its arms production, mainly its military hardware by strengthening its military ties with Russia moreover Pakistan also needs investment in its energy sector which would be provided by Russia. Hence both can be considered as mutually beneficial partners for each other.
*Venita Christopher, Researcher at Strategic Vision Institute