Russia and Pakistan are inching closer to an anti-terrorist superpower alliance as they kicked off their joint military drills on Monday. The Russia-Pakistan drills are the continuation of the Friendship 2016 exercises, the first ever Russia-Pakistan joint drills, which heightened their military partnership to unprecedented levels last year.
Designated Friendship 2017, the drills are being held in the mountainous Caucasus area. The two-week long bilateral exercises, which will run through October 4, focus on counter-terrorism and hostage and rescue operations. The Russia-Pakistan drills (code-named DRUZBA 2017) are set to involve 200 personnel from both countries participating in over 20 mountain warfare drills.
The drills mark a new era of strategic partnership between Russia and Pakistan, which were Cold War-era rivals. The two nations have been cementing their military, economic and diplomatic ties since Russian President Vladimir Putin lifted the decades-long embargo on arms sales to Pakistan in 2014.
The opening ceremony of the Friendship 2017 was attended by senior military officials from the two nations. Pakistan Army Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa is scheduled to visit Russia in the first week of October.
Last week, India, Pakistan’s traditional enemy, filed a diplomatic plea with Moscow, its major defense ally, to cancel the joint Russia-Pakistan drills. Russia, which appears focused on strengthening its ties with Islamabad to the detriment of its relations with New Delhi, refused to cancel the bilateral exercises.
Russia and Pakistan are becoming anti-terrorist superpowers
The Russia-Pakistan drills come as tensions between Islamabad and the West show no signs of going away. Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled hisAfghan strategy, in which he criticized Pakistan for what he saw as providing “safe havens” to militants.
Trump’s speech has triggered tensions in U.S.-Pakistan relations, with Pakistani officials reportedly threatening to cut diplomatic ties with Washington. Experts have warned that the mounting pressure on Pakistan to step up its fight against terrorism could push the South Asian nation closer to Russia and China, its all-weather ally.
The rising tensions between Washington and Islamabad, which were close allies in the past, have prompted Pakistan to approach its allies in order to oppose Trump’s strategy. Russia was one of the first allies that came to Pakistan’s defense, warning the West that putting pressure on Islamabad could further destabilize the region.
Speaking in a personal capacity, Moscow-based political analyst Andrew Korybko told ValueWalk that the Russia-Pakistan drills and “the joint military collaboration between Russia and Pakistan can lead to the two countries becoming anti-terrorist superpowers and greatly enhancing Eurasian security.”
Mr. Korybko added that the military drills taking place in the North Caucasus region “have more than just a powerful symbolic value” to Moscow and Islamabad.
The political analyst explained, “It can be expected that the Pakistani Army will share its extensive experience waging mountainous anti-terrorist operations with their Russian hosts, while Russia will teach its Pakistani guests crucial anti-Daesh tactics.”
Mr. Korybko also said that both Russia and Pakistan can greatly benefit from the anti-terrorist drills, as the two have “different experiences fighting” terrorism.
“The two Great Powers have an important strategic complementarity with one another when it comes to the anti-terrorist front, because not only are they both threatened by this global scourge, but they each have different experiences fighting it,” said the analyst, who recently penned a comprehensive review of Russia-Pakistan relations for the Times of Islamabad.
Mr. Korybko explained that “the lessons that Russia learned in Syria against Daesh are relevant for Pakistan because of the recent presence of the group’s Khorasan ‘franchise’ in Afghanistan.” Pakistan, meanwhile, could share its “experience fighting against Afghan-based terrorist groups in the mountainous border region.” This “could come in handy for Russia if Daesh disperses from the Mideast deserts and some of its Russian-speaking members try to revive their failed ‘caliphate’ dreams in the Northern Caucasus,” the analyst concluded.
Why is Russia “flirting” with Pakistan?
Relations between Russia and Pakistan have steadily improved in recent years. The two nations have managed to put their Cold War-era difference behind them and re-start their relations with a clean slate in the wake of major geopolitical shifts. A senior Fellow at the Centre for Australian, New Zealand and Pacific Studies of Georgetown University in Washington D.C. explained to ValueWalk why Pakistan seems to be “flirting” with the Russians recently.
Dr. Claude Rakisits said that “Pakistan is keen to diversify its military relationship.” The strategic analyst interested in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Middle East explained that “until relatively recently Pakistan was heavily reliant on the U.S. in that regard; however, I suspect it wants to avoid now becoming over-reliant on China.”
“Hence, it’s now flirting with the Russians,” Dr. Rakisits concluded.
Dr. Rakisits elaborated on why Russia has approached Pakistan in recent years, saying that Moscow “wants to counter the isolation it’s feeling from the European sanctions by turning to Asian countries.”
The strategic analyst also added, “Moreover, if it can be a nuisance to the Americans in Pakistan and Afghanistan. That’s an added bonus!”
When asked about the ongoing Russia-Pakistan drills, Dr. Rakisits said, “Countries which engage in joint military drills can always learn from each other, adapting the other’s techniques to their own specific operational environment.” However, he added, “There will be limitations to these exchanges.”
As for the budding partnership between Moscow and Islamabad, the analyst explained that the two nations “have some common interests, especially with regard to Afghanistan.”
“Both support the Afghan Taliban and both have a difficult relationship with the U.S. with regard to finding a solution to Afghanistan,” Dr. Rakisits explained.
Value of Russia’s anti-terrorism experience to Pakistan has “limitations”
When asked about what Russia can teach Pakistan about anti-terrorism operations, the strategic analyst insisted that the Russian security forces can “pass on to Pakistan’s security forces a lot of direct experience in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations, having effectively defeated the Chechen rebels after fighting them in the 1990s and 2000s.”
However, Dr. Rakisits was quick to add that the value of Russia’s anti-terrorism experience to Pakistan has “limitations” due to differences in “the operational space.” The analyst explained that the operational space in Russia is “mainly urban,” while Pakistan has “mountains and rugged terrain.”
When asked about whether or not Islamabad can pass on to Russia any experience in fighting terrorism, Dr. Rakisits insisted, “Pakistan is still pretty new in the business of counter-terrorism compared to Russia.” That’s why “the exchange of information will be heavily from Russia to Pakistan,” the strategic analyst at Georgetown University concluded.
When asked how Islamabad could incorporate Moscow’s anti-terrorism experience into its own fight against terrorism, Dr. Rakisits warned that Pakistan “would want to avoid using the same heavy-handed Russian approach to counter-terrorist operations in fighting the TTP and other Pakistan-based terrorists.”
The analyst explained, “Russia’s ‘victory’ against the Chechens came at a very high human and financial cost for the people of Chechnya. When innocent people suffer, there are often unpredictable and costly consequences down the road,” Dr. Rakisits warned.
Pakistan is close to forming a bloc with Russia, China and Turkey
The Russia-Pakistan drills are expected to further strengthen defense ties between the two nations. Since 2015, Pakistan has been reportedly holding talks with the Russians to purchase some of their most advanced weaponry, including the S-400 missile system.
So far, Islamabad has acquired four Mil Mi-35M assault helicopters, which were reportedly delivered to the South Asian nation last month. Russia was one of the key Eurasian powers Pakistani Foreign Minister visited earlier this month in an apparent attempt to rally support against Trump’s Afghan strategy.
Other nations on Pakistani Foreign Minister Muhammad Asif’s Eurasian tour included China and Turkey. Asif’s tour around the three nations, whose positions on the Afghan war are aligned, triggered the theory that the nations could form a China-Russia-Turkey-Pakistan bloc. Mr. Korybko has previously told ValueWalk that such a bloc could open the door to achieving peace and stability in Afghanistan and “revolutionize” Eurasian geopolitics as a whole.