Emerging Russo-Pakistan ties
-Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal
Controlled directly by the USA, Pakistan does not have enough freedom to pursue independent policies or advance its genuine national interests. For everything Islamabad does or wants to do, it needs to secure the permission or endorsement of Washington directly or through US embassy in Islamabad. This kind of predicament is common for all semi sovereign nations.
Pakistan is only an example.
That Washington has misused its strategic partner Pakistan to weaken and destabilize it into a semi-sovereign nation indeed hurts many Pakistanis at home and abroad. However, they are helpless and even weak, unable to protest.
Although Pakistan seeks friendly and economic ties with all nations for it’s healthy over all development it has been unable to do so, obviously because of constant interference from Washington which, by citing its covert occupation of Pakistan and Afghanistan for strategic reasons, almost claims ownership of Islamabad.
And, Pakistani regime, looking to USA for regular flow of free weapons as service charges, therefore, u is hesitant to forge fruitful bilateral ties with Russia. Russo-Pak ties thus have moved very slowly and cautiously, fearing the monstrous US reaction in its own ways.
USA wants to keep Russia out of its major plans , especially the energy routes. The American push to set up energy transit corridors from Central Asia to India such as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline has created a situation of Russia-Pakistan commonality. Russia has for some time expressed an interest in joining the TAPI project and is now pushing decisively for it even while proposing new oil pipelines next to it. Russia is also eager to partner in the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project, opposed by the Americans
Yet, Americans claim to be the largest democracy just because they also conduct polls by corrupt means.
Also, neighbor India does not want its strategic ally Russia, which supplies for decades the arms to New Delhi, to make any serious business relations with Islamabad. India uses USA to restrain Pakistan as well as Russia, but Russia, former super power, can afford to ignore USA. .
Pakistan often complains that USA still refuses to bestow upon Islamabad the strategic favors it has conceded to India to woo Indian multinationals.
The decades old formula has been Russia for India and America for Pakistan as they have been the traditional partners and deal with each other. India has plenty of cash but Pakistan, struggling to exist under US-NATO attacks, does not enjoy that privilege.
India secretly admits that both competition and cooperation the heady rhetoric of “strategic partnership” means little and it is the transactional content in huge sums that weighs on any relationship with USA.
The Russia-Pakistan dialogue for regional integration has been underway for some time now and beyond security cooperation, it is more fundamentally driven by Moscow’s push towards ‘southern” markets and Pakistan’s need for a capable yet politically “manageable” strategic sector trade and investment partner.
It is argued that it was actually America’s entry into the region a decade ago that ultimately accentuated the circumstances that impel Russia and Pakistan closer to each other.
Pakistani military understands that there can be no Pakistan without a viable economy. While in uniform, General Kayani made a couple of visits to Russia and today the Russians are being wooed as a source for investment in Pakistan’s flagship Thar Coal Project as well as a strategic partner for upgrading the South Asian country’s moribund steel industry.
While much is being made of the Mi-35 sale, the fact is the Pakistanis seem set to rely on Russian engines for a majority of their fleet in the coming decades. When seen along with the fact that Russia supplied IL-78 MP refueling tankers to Pakistan between 2009 and 2012, it is clear that comfort levels on both sides have been growing for quite a while now.
Russia is moving forward. Russia’s decision to go ahead with the sale of Mi-35 attack helicopters to Pakistan, even in the face of official Indian concerns, is being seen as evidence of a “major” regional re-alignment in the wake of the American drawdown in Afghanistan. The Mi-35 sale reflects the fact that the geo-economic stakes for both sides are now high enough for them to make a concerted push towards a long term compartmentalized working relationship.
At the moment Pakistan is using AH-1 Cobra Gunships that were obtained from America for use against Indian armored formations in the plains and are proving expensive to use in operations against the TTP. Pakistan may not wish to be saddled with too much expensive American equipment that it can’t afford without generous aid.
As the tempo of internal stability operations has increased, Pakistan is keen to diversify away from America for certain classes of weaponry to a source that can supply cheaper and more rugged alternatives with a much smaller political price on the domestic front. The Mi-35 fits that bill. Russia until recently was reluctant to transfer equipment that could be labeled as offensive in nature such as the Mi-35, and was holding back probably with an eye on a number of Indian military procurement tenders such as the multi-billion dollar medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA) competition
Russia, as USA has profitably done it, has used the usual rhetoric “cooperation in counter-terrorism” to strike the military deal with Pakistan. That suits even the USA.
For Russia the benefits of succeeding in Pakistan are worth the risk, since it could leverage influence over Af-Pak to reach Indian shores. Indeed, even Pakistan’s Gwadar port, much touted as a Chinese “pearl” could actually host a LNG liquefaction facility that could send cheaper gas supplies than Qatar to import terminals in South India. However, both Russia and Pakistan will have to work quicker to remove long-standing trade disputes for a more conducive environment.
In fact, China says as freedom activities in Xingjian increase and Pakistan’s internal security situation worsens, and the Chinese have been rather selective in their Pakistani investments. For instance, Pakistan’s decrepit railways have actually had to turn to India for help and are looking to lease up to 50 diesel engines as rolling stock.
India will of course watch closely to see whether the Russians are indeed able to use the dependencies they are creating in Pakistan for closer regional energy integration. That the Russians are increasing strategic options for their neighbor when even the Saudis are handing over Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists will obviously be of concern to New Delhi. That is especially so since the Pakistanis themselves are masters at selective counterterrorism in the US company.
While Indian industry has been making overtures to Nawaz Sharif’s government to open up to cross border investment, the Pakistani military is still looking to a politically less sensitive prospect to shore up the flagging core sectors of the Pakistani economy clearly in need of reliable foreign capital.
Russia’s decision to go ahead with the sale of Mi-35 attack helicopters to Pakistan reveals a major shift in the concept of strategic partnership as this step would help in creating a basic change in regional re-alignment in South Asia.
Russia is now willing to supply tactical equipment, withheld for too long, to Pakistan, especially in categories such as attack helicopters, where India either has domestic projects or may buy American. In many of these categories, though Pakistani spending ability given relatively cheaper Russian equipment is not insignificant, the pull for the Russians also comes from securing greater Pakistani willingness to help the Russians maintain security over energy infrastructure transiting areas like Eastern Afghanistan.
The opening of Russia as another source for weapons, greatly increase Pakistan’s leg room vis-à-vis American pressure at the strategic level. Moreover while Pakistan is also certainly eager to get involved in trilateral military projects with Russia and China like the JF-17 (which may now even be exported to Myanmar), direct Russian weapon sales are also coveted since the Pakistani military does not want to field only Chinese weapons either. Of course, besides military supplies, Russia can also offer Pakistan a lot of useful intelligence in the latter’s fight against the TTP.
Pakistan believes Russia could prove a politically acceptable partner for meeting an energy crisis ridden Pakistan’s requirements in quite a few sectors.
Far more than cooperation in counter-terrorism, Russia and Pakistan will have to move forward quickly on Putin’s commitment to invest in the latter’s energy and metallurgy sectors for their relationship to be meaningful.
Russo-Pakistan relations are meant to grow faster and meaningfully.