Assessing paradigm shift in Pak-Russia ties

Assessing paradigm shift in Pak-Russia ties

Baber Ali Bhatti,
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The increasing defence co-operation between Pakistan and Russia imply that the arrangement is essentially a paradigm shift in the defence policy framework of both countries.

Former army chief, General Raheel Sharif, visited Moscow in the year 2015. The visit was significant because Indo-Pak tensions were particularly high at that time. India and Pakistan were engaged in intermittent border skirmishes across the Line of Control. The visit proved to be fruitful and resulted in the first ever mutual miRussia is currently a rlitary venture between Pakistan and Russia.

The first military exercise, Druzhba-216 (Friendship-2016), was held between Pakistan and Russia in the year 2016. This military exercise lasted for two weeks that not only strengthened the Pakistan-Russia military ties but also provided an environment conducive for trust building.

The defence landscape has multiple avenues to be explored and worked on mutually. Therefore, the increasing defence cooperation is expected to be focusing on other defence avenues as well along with joint military drills.

Prior to General Raheel’s visit to the Moscow, former army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, also visited Russia.

Consequently, Russia and Pakistan signed a landmark defence agreement and Russia lifted an arm embargo on weapons exports to Pakistan in 2015. General Kayani’s initiative to visit Russia has further cemented the military relations between the two countries.

In this military to military cooperation, a recent deal is considerable to be discussed. Pakistan and Russia agreed to the $153 million helicopter deal during former army Chief General Raheel Sharif’s visit to Russia in June 2016.

A preliminary contract was concluded at the Pakistan Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi in August, 2015. The Pakistan Army Aviation Corps (PAAC) took delivery of four Russian-made Mi-35M attack helicopters which was confirmed by Pakistan’s Defence Export Promotion Organisation (DEPO) in a statement issued at International Military-Technical Forum (Army 2017), which took place in Moscow from 22 to 27 August, 2017.

It is a noteworthy point that in order to acquire Russian equipment, Pakistan would usually pass through China — a country which is not known for manufacturing heavy aircraft engines. However, after dropping China as a ‘middle man’, Pakistan struck the first deal of helicopters with Russia.

Besides, Russia has also expressed concerns over the emergence of Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan. Undoubtedly, IS in Afghanistan has major consequences for Central Asia and Russian territories with Muslim populations. In this regard, the Pakistan’s military has been extensively exposed to and gained experience in counter-terrorism. Pakistan army’s experience in countering guerrilla warfare in Pakistan’s mountainous areas adjacent to Afghanistan has enough importance to be shared with Russia.

Terrorism has become imminent threat for Russia. To counter the scourge of terrorism, mutual defence cooperation and mutual efforts are crucial. Pakistan army has widely operated against terrorism and can provide primary assistance and training to Russia.

Keeping in view the geographical status and Russian counter-terrorism concerns, a counter-terrorism alliance may also be one of the points of focus in defence cooperation. It is also noteworthy that the Russian Deputy Chief of General Staff visited Waziristan a few months ago with his military delegation and observed Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts.

In the regional scenario, both countries are expected to get mutual strategic benefits in the strengthening of ties. Russia is currently a regional and world power, a former superpower and permanent member of United Nations Security Council. These substantial credentials acutely demand that Pakistan needs to build stronger ties with Russia especially when the US supports Indian major roles in the region.

The US appears to be more inclined towards India regardless of the fact that Pakistan has been its front line ally in the so called ‘war on terror’ and suffered the loss of armed forces and civilians. Therefore, a paradigm shift in defence policy framework and defence cooperation of Pakistan is the need of time.

In the predictable future, Pakistan and Russia may find various grounds to carry out joint ventures. Recently, the US has surpassed Russia as the largest arms exporter to India. Surprisingly, Pakistan is still an untapped market for Russian arms and military equipment. Russia can utilise Pakistan’s markets for economic gains as Pakistan bought the helicopters worth millions of dollars. Keeping in view these points, defence cooperation between Russia and Pakistan seems imperative especially when the regional arrangements and security order support cooperation.

The writer is an Islamabad based lawyer.

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