Pakistan and Russia are letting go of their Cold War-era grievances and actively strengthening their economic, military and diplomatic ties, while India – Pakistan’s top enemy – is becoming enraged over Pakistan’s friendship with Russia.
Amid the news of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s bizarre phone call with Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif, Cold War-era foes Islamabad and Moscow are melting the ice between them. On Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed that Russia will hold military drills with Pakistan next year, according to Radio Pakistan.
The military exercises between the two nations will mark their second-biggest joint military drills. Russian Ground Forces will hold the drills with Pakistani forces and Collective Security Treaty Organization countries next year. The aim of the upcoming drills is to improve combat readiness against terrorism and bolster mountain training. The news comes amid growing concerns about the spread of terrorism in the region.
Is Pakistan in or out of the U.S. camp?
It’s been less than two months since Moscow and Islamabad held their first-ever joint military drills. In a move which indicates that Russia is drifting away from its traditional South Asia ally, India, and cozying up to Pakistan, some 200 soldiers of the Russian army took part in the military drills in Pakistan from September 24 through October 10.
Amid growing tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors – Pakistan and India – geostrategic relations are rapidly changing in South Asia, with many nations picking sides. Islamabad has seen a significant improvement in bilateral ties with Russia and China lately. India, meanwhile, is getting the support from the U.S. and Japan. In fact, geostrategic relations in South Asia have been turned upside-down, as the U.S. and India were also Cold War foes. Despite this, Washington and New Delhi have been strengthening their military and trade ties amid concerns about China’s growing influence in the region.
However, it’s unclear if Trump will still favor New Delhi over Islamabad when he gets into office. It’s especially hard to tell after that notorious phone call, in which Trump supposedly praised the Pakistani PM and pledged to “play any role” to help Islamabad resolve its international issues. However, two different versions of that call are being circulated by the media.
But while it remains unclear if Trump is keen on taking Islamabad’s or New Delhi’s side when he enters the White House on January 20, Russia is actively strengthening its ties with both Pakistan and China.
Geostrategic relations in South Asia rapidly shifting
Russia’s growing warmth with both Islamabad and Beijing has given birth to theories about a potential China-Russia-Pakistan superpower triangle, which could become an intimidating force to be reckoned with.
Russia and China take huge interest in bringing down the global dominance of the U.S. So getting nuclear-powered Pakistan, once a close U.S. ally, into their camp certainly helps them build a bigger and more powerful alliance against Washington.
Pakistan’s relations with the U.S. took a turn for the worse when Washington killed al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011. Since then, Washington has been suspecting Islamabad of sheltering terrorists.
India has also taken diplomatic actions to turn Pakistan into a pariah state by accusing the nation of being responsible for the spread of terrorism and radicalism in the region. The tensions between the two nuclear-powered neighbors reignited in September when India accused Pakistan-based militants of killing 19 Indian soldiers.
Russia stepping up cooperation with Pakistan
Russia, meanwhile, is further deepening its bilateral ties with Pakistan. The revival of their cooperation began in 2014 when Moscow lifted its arms embargo against Islamabad. That same year, Moscow and Islamabad held a series of meetings and even signed a military cooperation pact. A year later, Moscow started making defense deals with Islamabad and even sold four Mi-35M helicopters to the South Asian nation.
Russia even welcomed Pakistan to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The SCO, founded in 2001, is a Eurasian political, economic and military bloc of five nations – China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Russia has also been supporting Pakistan diplomatically. Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin refused to endorse India’s position accusing Islamabad of sponsoring terrorism.
India “abandoned” Russia and joined U.S. camp
On Thursday, the Tribune reported that Moscow and Islamabad had agreed on a price for the $2 billion North-South pipeline. The project is set to pump imported liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Karachi to Lahore. While Russia and Pakistan have yet to sign a commercial contract for it, the North-South pipeline is said to be the first major Russian investment in Pakistan after decades of chilled relations between them.
According to an official cited by The Express Tribune, it was India who “abandoned” Russia and had “gone into the U.S. camp.” That, according to the insider, prompted Islamabad to seek closer ties with Moscow in order to gain “vital support” in the international sphere.
It’s not the first time Russia has expressed interest in Pakistan’s energy sector. Russia has also been helping Pakistan’s largest hydrocarbon explorer, Oil and Gas Development Company (OGDC), in its search for energy resources.
Russia and Pakistan actively enhancing ties in several fields
As part of bolstering bilateral ties, Islamabad and Moscow are also set to cooperate in the agriculture and energy sectors, according to the Tribune, which cites Russian Ambassador to Pakistan Alexey Yurievich Dedov. Dedov said as many as 50 Russian companies are “eager” to invest in Pakistan. The ambassador also noted that Pakistan-Russia business forum meetings have been taking place on an annual basis and have played a major role in improving bilateral trade activities between the two nations.
Dedov also pointed out that stable military and political relations between Moscow and Islamabad are crucial factors for strengthening the two nations’ economies. The ambassador also noted that Russia’s expertise in the sectors of research, energy and production was the top reason for its stability and promised that the Russians would expand their cooperation with the Pakistanis in these fields. He also echoed the Russian leadership’s sentiment to get Islamabad into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and added that China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a great opportunity for Islamabad to boost its economy.
Dedov’s comments come just days after it was reported that Russia formally requested to be part of the CPEC project, which is being co-developed by Pakistan and China. However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation later denied reports that Russia made such a request.