Pakistan is stepping up its game with Russia and China, making the China-Russia-Pakistan superpower triangle a reality. Pakistan has just announced it will receive four Mi-35M attack helicopters from Russia in 2017. The announcement comes just days before Islamabad, Moscow and Beijing are set to hold trilateral meetings in the Russian capital.

Pakistan China
Pakistan / Pixabay

Pakistani Minister for Defense Production Rana Tanveer Hussain announced on Monday that the Russian-made Mi-35M attack jets will arrive in Pakistan next year. The purchase of the new attack helicopters, which cost Islamabad $153 million, will replace Pakistan’s fleet of obsolete U.S.-made AH-1 Cobra attack jets.

Purchasing Russia’s advanced attack jets is another indication that Pakistan is abandoning its military ties with the U.S. and making a shift toward Russia. Islamabad said it’s set to purchase a total of 20 Mi-35Ms over the next years. Such plans indicate that Pakistan is serious about boosting its military might with the help of military equipment from Russia and China. Considering the high cost of building the Mi-35M logistics and maintenance infrastructure, Islamabad is apparently financially ready to purchase 20 Mi-35Ms from Russia.

Why is Russia abandoning India and turning to Pakistan?

Pakistan and Russia have been making lucrative defense deals since June 2014 when Moscow officially lifted the arms embargo against Islamabad. The arms ban had been around for decades, since the Soviet-Afghan War. Lifting the arms embargo was a direct signal to India, which has been boosting its strategic partnership with the U.S. in recent years, that Russia can easily find new allies in South Asia.

It was then that Moscow started slowly turning away from India, its long-time ally and its key weapons importer. A year later, in June 2015 in a historic visit to Moscow, Pakistani defense officials agreed to the attack helicopter deal. Although the deal was signed more than a year ago, it’s being finalized only now. India has been furious about the growing partnership between Russia and Pakistan, which were Cold War-era rivals.

But it was India’s growing inclination toward the U.S. that prompted Russia to seek close ties with Pakistan. It’s fair to conclude that by becoming closer to Washington, New Delhi unconsciously gave grounds for the China-Russia-Pakistan superpower triangle.

Pakistan stepping up military game with China and Russia

Islamabad is trying to boost its close air support capabilities, and both Russia and China have agreed to help. In addition to the purchase of the Mi-35Ms from Moscow, Islamabad is also considering buying China’s Z-10 helicopter gunship. Islamabad is also mulling over the purchase of the T-129 attack helicopter from Turkey. In addition to strengthening their military ties, Russia and Pakistan have also ramped up their relations in the diplomatic sphere.

Last week, Islamabad and Moscow held their first-ever consultations, in which they discussed deepening economic cooperation and connectivity. According to a statement by Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs, the two sides discussed “important global and regional developments.”

Islamabad added that it will hold the second round of consultations with Moscow in 2017. Russia’s growing military cooperation with Pakistan is seen as a major policy shift amid the increasing strategic partnership between India and the U.S.

Why did Pakistan abandon the U.S.?

The Russian-Pakistani partnership in the area of defense doesn’t end with the purchase of the Mi-35Ms. Islamabad is also importing Russian-made Klimov RD-93 engines for its JF-17 multi-role fighters, which Pakistan co-produces and co-develops with China.

In a move that further enraged India, Russia and Pakistan held their first-ever joint military drills in Pakistan in September. Despite India’s requests to cancel the drills following the Uri attack that killed 19 Indian soldiers on Sept. 18, Moscow and Islamabad went ahead with the drills.

The joint drill named Druzhba (Friendship) is seen as a major shift in Russia’s South Asia policies. Islamabad and Moscow, which were rivals for decades during the Cold War, also agreed to hold joint drills in 2017.

Pakistan, for its part, started abandoning its decades-long strategic partnership with the U.S. after two incidents. The first was the killing of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in a secret military operation by Washington in Abbottabad in 2011. After the incident, U.S. officials started accusing Islamabad of sheltering terrorists.

That incident was followed by another that prompted Islamabad to turn away from Washington. In 2011, NATO airstrikes on a checkpoint along the Durand Line killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. After the two incidents, a joint session of the Pakistani parliament adopted new foreign policy guidelines which included seeking closer ties with Russia.

The South Asian game-changer

India, meanwhile, started warming up to the U.S. following the 2011 events. Such developments in New Delhi’s foreign policies enraged Russia. Basically, from Moscow’s perspective, it looked like this: one nation which had been its longtime ally started warming up to its biggest enemy, while another nation, which had been its adversary for decades, started reaching out for closer ties.

Naturally, Russia, remaining cautious about its choice, favored the latter. The bonus was that Islamabad is Beijing’s biggest ally in the region. Russia wants to step up its strategic partnership with China, which is why, through its cooperation with Islamabad, Moscow gets to enjoy closer regional cooperation with Beijing.

The recent foreign policy shifts in the region have been a major game-changer. On Thursday, Pakistan announced it would take part in a trilateral meeting with Russia and China on December 27 in Moscow. While achieving peace in Afghanistan will be on the top of the agenda, Moscow, Islamabad and Beijing are also set to discuss their cooperation on other key regional issues.

China-Russia-Pakistan superpower triangle becoming reality

The China-Russia-Pakistan superpower triangle is starting to make even more sense now. Beijing, Moscow and Islamabad are a perfect fit for one another. While Russia has enough advanced military tech to replace Western military equipment in both Pakistan and China, Moscow also has the outstanding reputation of being a reliable energy supplier for its allies.

China, for its part, is a major economic driver of the China-Russia-Pakistan superpower triangle. While Beijing remains more powerful in terms of economic factors compared to Islamabad and Moscow, its strategic partnership with Pakistan runs deep.

In addition to building nuclear reactors for Pakistan and their lucrative China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the two allies also enjoy close military ties. Islamabad remains the biggest importer of Chinese-made defense equipment.

Islamabad, meanwhile, has enough cash to buy military equipment from both China and Russia. In addition to buying defense equipment and energy supplies from Beijing and Moscow, Pakistan’s location in South Asia is attractive for both China and Russia to complete their longstanding policies in the region.