Nearly two months after President Trump announced the termination of security aid to Pakistan amid allegations of Pakistan aiding and abetting terrorists, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced on Tuesday that Russia will continue to work with Pakistan on their counterterrorism efforts.
The announcement came during a press conference after a Tuesday meeting held in Moscow between Lavrov and his Pakistani counterpart, Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif. The two ministers announced that for the first time ever, Russia and Pakistan will form a joint military commission to address some of the military and security concerns shared by the two countries. They also expressed that they were eager to increase bilateral cooperation across all sectors of mutual interest to the two nations.
Lavrov said during the press conference, “We have confirmed Russia’s readiness to continue boosting Pakistan’s counterterrorism capacity, which is in the entire region’s interests.”
The meeting is being hailed in Pakistan as “a new chapter in Pakistan-Russia relations.”
Amid security concerns, the two ministers also discussed the situation in Afghanistan, agreeing that there is no military solution. They asserted that the only way to cultivate peace in Afghanistan is through a peace process led and owned by Afghanistan, not foreign entities.
Focusing on terrorism, Asif pointed towards the proliferation of the Islamic State into Afghanistan as a spot for concern shared between Pakistan, Russia, and the Central Asian nations. According to Asif, the Islamic State militants in Afghanistan now outnumber the Taliban.
The Pakistani Foreign Minister couldn’t resist a dig at the US, claiming that both the US and Afghanistan continue to focus on the Taliban and ignore the reality of the situation. Asif told the press, “There is absolutely no real acknowledgement by Kabul and Washington of such a large presence or proliferation of Daesh in Afghanistan… the Daesh presence is definitely alarming for us because they are not a party to negotiations in Afghanistan.”
US Cuts Aid
The US cut aid to Pakistan at the beginning of the year. The security aid was estimated to be worth more than $1 billion. President Donald Trump tweeted his explanation:
The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!
The President’s tweet led to further accusations from the US (and India) that Pakistan had failed to do enough to prevent terrorists from seeking safe haven in Pakistan where they could then organize themselves and plot attacks on Afghan and American forces stationed in Afghanistan. Many within the US also accused Pakistan of financially benefiting from the US supply networks that cut through the country, while others have found it hard to forget that public enemy #1, Osama bin Laden, was found hiding out in Pakistan, just one mile from Pakistan’s main military training academy.
President Trump’s decision was not without its critics, who insisted the end of US security aid to Pakistan would only push Pakistan closer to China and Russia.
Pakistan, of course, rejected the accusations. Asif took the joint press conference with Lavrov as an opportunity to again highlight Pakistan’s indignation. Asif said, “We remain committed to fighting the menace of terrorism in cooperation with the international community, including Russia, despite our heavy human and material losses.” The Pakistani Foreign Minister also pointed out that Pakistan has lost some 70,000 lives in the fight against terrorism.
Lavrov responded by saying that Russia “deeply appreciated Pakistan’s efforts and sacrifices in the fight against terrorism.” Both Foreign Ministers agreed to coordinate their activities related to the conflict in Afghanistan.
Blaming the US
The Foreign Ministers for Pakistan and Russia were able to agree that an Afghan-led peace was needed, part of their new Afghan strategy seemed to be to blame the US and NATO.
Where Asif made the accusation that the US and Afghanistan have not properly addressed the growing threat of an Islamic State presence in Afghanistan, the Russian FO was careful to position Russia as the opposite of the US, saying, “We are very preoccupied by what is happening in Afghanistan and by the expansion of IS influence.” Lavrov acknowledged the seriousness of the threat, pointing out that there are already 1,000 ISIS militants in Afghanistan. The militants are mostly located in Eastern and Northern Afghanistan.
Lavrov echoed the allegations of his Pakistani counterpart, accusing the US of ignoring the growing ISIS threat in Afghanistan, “We are alarmed as unfortunately, the US and NATO military in Afghanistan makes every effort to silence and deny [the Daesh group’s presence in Afghanistan].” The Russian Minister also said that Moscow holds “very serious suspicions” about the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan and the efforts being made to diminish the threat.
Both Russia and Iran have been accusing the US of causing the growth of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, claiming that ISIS has been able find safe haven in the war torn country and pointing out that despite 16 years of involvement in Afghanistan the US has been unable to secure a lasting peace or cultivate any stability for the Afghan people. Russia also claims that they have documented unmarked helicopters flying into insurgent hotbeds in Afghanistan, virtually unchecked by the US or NATO-led forces.
Lavrov also explained how ISIS functioning in Afghanistan is a unique threat to Russia, “This is right on the borders of our Central Asian neighbors. It increases the risk of terrorists entering Central Asia, from where it’s not difficult for them to get to Russia, and further.”
Joint military training between Pakistan and Russia began in 2016. The Foreign Ministers said the trainings will continue as a part of the new Pakistan-Russia commission.
During the press conference, Lavrov reinforced that security concerns, namely terrorism, is one of the priorities of the Russia-Pak cooperation, but also pointed to the opportunity for economic cooperation between the two countries as well. Lavrov particularly highlighted potential collaboration in the energy sector, where Pakistan has been notoriously weak, although various CPEC projects aim at increasing Pakistan’s energy production.