Pakistan is strengthening its relationship with Russia while facing increasing tension with the United States in connection with their efforts to fight the Islamist militants in the region. Washington views Islamabad as an undependable partner in combating terrorist groups.
The Pakistani government purchased four Russian Mi-35 attack helicopters. The country did not disclose the acquisition price for the helicopters. Pakistan and Russia have been negotiating a deal over the past year.
Last year, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Pakistan and discussed bilateral defense cooperation with the leaders of the South Asian country.
In June, Pakistani Army Chief of Staff General Raheel Sharif visited Russia. He visited Russia’s arms expo, which features Russia’s advanced weapons and military equipment. After his visit, Moscow sent a draft contract for the delivery of four attack helicopters to Pakistan.
Currently, Islamabad has several Mi-17 helicopters, which were delivered by the United States. The Pakistani government is using these helicopters to help combat the Islamist militants in the region.
Zafar Hilaly, a former senior Pakistani diplomat, commented, “Pakistan has decided it is no longer an American client state. The government “decided that although America will remain important, it must have other alternatives.”
During the Shanghai Cooperation (SCO) summit in the City of Ufa, Russia last month, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He expressed his desire for his country to have a “multidimensional relationship,” which include commerce, defense, and energy. Pakistan is now a member of SCO.
Pakistan-Russia pipeline deal
Earlier this month, Russia approved the draft of the intergovernmental agreement with Pakistan regarding the construction of the North-South gas pipeline from the city of Karachi to Lahore.
RT Global Resources, a subsidiary of Rostec, a Russian state corporation, will handle the construction of oil and liquefied natural gas pipelines and terminals in the South Asian country. The estimated cost of the project is $3 billion, according to Rostec.
Pakistan and Russia are expected to sign an agreement to begin the pipeline project next month, according to officials from both countries.The pipeline is expected to be completed by 2018, and it could transport 2 billion cubic feet of gas per day.
Changing geopolitical dynamics
Political observers noted that the strengthening relationship between Pakistan and Russia was a major shift for both countries amid the changing geopolitical dynamics. During the 1980s, Pakistan fought alongside with the United States to defeat the Soviet forces that occupied Afghanistan. On the other hand, Russia established a strong relationship India, Pakistan’s neighbor, and long-time rival.
Vladimir Sotnikov, a senior research associate at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Eastern Studies, commented the Russia’s agreement with Pakistan is “very important from a geopolitical point of view.” He added, “Russia is trying to enter this market and compete with China and the US.”
Currently, the United States is establishing a good relationship with India as a counterbalance to China. Washington considers Beijing a strategic competitor, which encouraged Russia and Pakistan to improve their relations.
China and Russia are investing in South Asian country to promote economic development. Both countries also want to protect their southern underbellies against the entry of extremist groups from Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Last week, China and Pakistan signed 20 cooperation agreements worth 10.35 billion yuan or $1.6 billion to strengthen their relationships. Both governments also released the Karamay Manifesto for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
CPEC is a major development project that would connect the Gwadar Port in southwestern Pakistan and Xinjiang, the northwestern autonomous region of China through a network of highways, railways, and pipelines to transport oil.
Pakistan expected to maintain its close ties with the United States
Political experts believed that Pakistan would maintain its close relationship with the United States despite its decision to improve its relations with Russia.
They emphasized that the United States is the biggest supplier of military aid and equipment to Pakistan. Washington already provided $31 billion worth of civilian and military aid as well as reimbursements to Islamabad since 2002, according ti the Congressional Research Services.