Home Global Village Despite daunting past, Pakistan and Russia draw closer amid geopolitical changes

Despite daunting past, Pakistan and Russia draw closer amid geopolitical changes

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Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal |

Shifts in the global political landscape have pushed the United States and Pakistan further apart, drawing Russia and Pakistan closer as Islamabad turns to Moscow for military imports. Russia was the second largest arms exporter between 2013-2017, according to a recent report by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

This makes Moscow an attractive option for Pakistan to procure its military hardware such as aircraft, armored vehicles, drones, radar systems, and ships designed for military use. Pakistan was the 9th largest importer of major weapons in the world, reported SIPRI.

Although Islamabad “purchased 2.8 percent of all weapons sold in the world between 2013-2017”, its arms imports from the US dropped by 76 percent during that period, compared with 2008–2012, the report noted. In comparison, India’s arms imports from the US rose by 557 percent between 2008–2012 and 2013–2017.

Islamabad will need to act intelligently in order to continue strengthening relations with Moscow without irritating the United States and to maximize gains and minimize challenges in the current regional and global political landscape.

India, Pakistan’s arch-rival, is today the world’s largest importer of major arms, accounting for 12 percent of the world’s arms imports between 2013–2017. This further widens the conventional arms gap between India and Pakistan. While Islamabad has been turning to Moscow for arms imports, building mutual trust is a daunting task for both sides due to their past experiences and India’s continued arms imports from Russia.

Nevertheless, Islamabad is determined to strengthen its diplomatic and military ties with Moscow. Pakistan acted as a frontline state of the United States during the Cold War and played a decisive role in the defeat of the Russians in Afghanistan during the 1980s.

Read more: Deterrence and missile defense systems

Cold War experiences and Indo-Russians’ decades of military and nuclear cooperation have fostered skepticism about the continuity of current diplomatic understanding between Islamabad and Moscow. Islamabad approached Russia to purchase military hardware after the end of the Cold War, and Moscow agreed to sell fighter jets to the Pakistan Air Force, but the deal was scuttled due to India’s opposition.

Nevertheless, the quashing of the deal did not completely end Pakistan’s interest in Russian military hardware. In 2002, then-president General Pervez Musharraf visited Russia at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin, ending the Cold War grievances and laying the groundwork for productive economic, military and diplomatic ties.

India, Pakistan’s arch-rival, is today the world’s largest importer of major arms, accounting for 12 percent of the world’s arms imports between 2013–2017. This further widens the conventional arms gap between India and Pakistan.

In a sign of warming ties, both countries have held the Joint Working Group (JWG) on Counter Terrorism for years. Other working groups on Strategic Stability and Intergovernmental Joint Commission have also been established. The regular JWG meetings and trips by the chiefs of the Pakistan Army and Air Force to Moscow have also facilitated constructive dialogue for trade in defense equipment between their respective armed forces.

Since the United States drawdown plan from Afghanistan in 2014, Russian involvement in neighboring Pakistan has increased. The increasing presence of Daesh fighters in Afghanistan is of grave concern for Moscow due to their linkages with radicalized militant groups in Russia and Central Asia.

Read more: Pakistan builds case for full membership of NSG

Against this political backdrop, Russia has agreed to transfer military hardware to Pakistan — despite India’s considerable opposition — and lifted its arms embargo against Islamabad in June 2014. Consequently, Pakistan and Russia signed a defense cooperation agreement in 2014 and a military-technical cooperation accord the next year.

In June 2016, Pakistan concluded a $153 million helicopter deal with Russia and the latter transferred four Mi-35M combat and cargo helicopters to Islamabad the following year. Pakistan reportedly plans to buy 20 more Mi 35 M helicopters, as well as Su-35 and Su-37 fighter jets from Russia.

Cold War experiences and Indo-Russians’ decades of military and nuclear cooperation have fostered skepticism about the continuity of current diplomatic understanding between Islamabad and Moscow.

At a joint conference with his Pakistani counterpart in February this year, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov announced: “We are forming a military cooperation commission in line with our inter-governmental agreement in this area.” Perhaps, the commission will facilitate Pakistani armed forces to purchase sophisticated military hardware from Russia.

Russian consent to assist Pakistani armed forces will substantially contribute to Islamabad’s policy of diversifying its military hardware purchases. Russian Mi-17 helicopters currently form the backbone of the Pakistan Army’s logistics/troop lift capability and some of these could be upgraded to armed versions with Russia’s assistance. Pakistan and China have also jointly produced JF17 Thunder fighter jet that is powered by a Russian engine at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex Kamra.

Read more: Babur-III tested; Pakistan becomes a Nuclear Triad

It is in the interest of Pakistan that Kamra is developed as a hub for Pakistan-China-Russia joint production of fighter aircraft. Therefore, Pakistan has been persuading Russia to transfer relevant material and technology to Islamabad. Islamabad will need to act intelligently in order to continue strengthening relations with Moscow without irritating the United States and to maximize gains and minimize challenges in the current regional and global political landscape.

Indeed, Pakistan’s cozier relationship with Russia will help pave the way for its armed forces to import sophisticated Russian military hardware.

Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. He is also an advisor on Non-Proliferation to SASSI, London and a course coordinator at Foreign Services Academy for the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Email: jaspal_99@hotmail.com. This piece was first published in Arab News. It has been republished with permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.


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