By Mahendra Ved*
Two news items on a single day (September 10) in Pakistan’s newspapers need India’s attention for the growing cooperation between Pakistan and Russian Federation -one a hostile neighbor and the other, an old ally that remains, despite the rapidly changing scenario, the largest supplier of military hardware.
Russia is in talks with Pakistan to sell Su-35 aircraft, whose fifth generation version it is committed to jointly develop with India. Russia has already begun supplies to Pakistan Mi-35 ‘Hind’ helicopters that are in Indian inventories as well.
Another reported development is of a leading Russian petroleum company, JGC Rosgeologia (Rosgeo) on September 9 signing non-binding agreements with two public sector exploration and development companies for investment cooperation. Under the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Oil and Gas Company Ltd (KPOGCL), the joint-stock company Rosgeo from Moscow will extend long-term cooperation in KP’s exploration and production (E&P) sector. The two firms would jointly bid for fresh exploration and concession blocks in upcoming transactions and acquire shareholding from existing companies.
The KPOGCL was created after the 18th Constitutional Amendment to share with Pakistan’s federal government ownership of oil and gas rights. In 1961, Pakistan set up its largest E&P firm, the Oil and Gas Development Company Ltd (OGDCL), with the financial and technical support of Soviet technical experts.
The cooperation remained almost non-existent for decades due to diplomatic reasons. In effect, Russia now returns to Pakistan’s energy arena after over 50 years.
The joint venture would also carry out geological surveys within Pakistan, using the modern technologies and methods. The Russian company will be responsible for the technical planning and execution, arrangement of rigs and recorders, while KPOGCL will be responsible for security, logistics and transportation, gensets, earth moving equipment, cranes, tractors, camp facilities, local support manning, communication, local clearances, permits, licences, business development.
Russia wants to market to Pakistan the fourth generation of the Su-35 Super Flanker multirole fighter it is co-developing with India. But it also incorporates technology from fifth generation jets, according to details available on the Sukhoi Company’s website. It is also said to be more agile as compared to previous models.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has been quoted as saying that increasing military cooperation between Islamabad and Moscow would not negatively impact Russia’s ties with India. He pointed out that such cooperation was envisaged in the energy sector as well.
Should India take this assurance for what it is? What are the implications of Russia supplying similar, if not the same weapons systems that it shares with India in the event of a conflict? India has in the past restrained Russia from selling Pakistan any weapons system it has supplied to India. It had objected to even Ukraine selling Pakistan T-90 tanks that had Russian components.
Pakistan and Russia had signed a bilateral defence cooperation agreement aimed at strengthening military-to-military relations in November last year when Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu visited at the head of a 41-member delegation, the first in many years.
The agreement provides for exchange of information on politico-military issues; cooperation for promoting international security; intensification of counter-terrorism and arms control activities; strengthening collaboration in various military fields, including education, medicine, history, topography, hydrography and culture; and sharing experiences in peacekeeping operations.
Last November’s pacts are supposed to be followed by another ‘technical cooperation agreement’ to pave the way for sale of defence equipment to Pakistan. Although there is an element of hype in the September 10 reports, they indicate a move in that direction.
Not long ago, the India-Russia-China ‘axis’ was considered important for all three and for the region. The shift in geopolitics has rapidly changed this with India getting closer to the West and Russia seeking a new market for its military hardware and much else in Pakistan. And, all along, Pakistan and China are consolidating their ties that have a clear bearing on the South Asian region and, most significantly, on India. The Sino-Pak economic corridor allows the Chinese access to the Arabian Sea where Gwadar port has been developed.
These are developments too close, physically, not just strategically, to India. The moot point is whether the changes are being noted, and given the measure of importance they deserve.
*Mahendra Ved is a New Delhi-based commentator on strategic affairs. He can be contacted at [email protected]