GENERAL Raheel Sharif two weeks back concluded a three days visit to Russia where he had interaction with highest military leadership and chairman of the Russian parliament. Due to strategic re-alliances and evolving geo- strategic environment in the region, relations between the two Cold War rivals are gradually getting warmed up. Reciprocal visits by the Defence Ministers in November 14 and April this year have paved the way for strategic dialogue. Russia has lifted ban on sale of arms to Pakistan and both side have principally agreed to enhance existing economic, defence and cultural ties. Decision by the Russian political leadership to clear sale of MI 35 combat helicopters to Pakistan is just a beginning to offering more high technology defence equipment.
Of late, shifting of focus by United States to Asia Pacific and its strategic partnership with India against China , resultant heightening of tension in South China Sea and perceived increasing influence of China in the Indian Ocean through the “ String of Pearls” has further altered the geo-strategic equation in the region. China and Pakistan have recently concluded 46 billion US$ China Pakistan Economic Corridor project which will extend to backyard of Russia. USA is helping India to become a member of prestigious Nuclear Supplier Group. While, Russia’s immediate concern is the deteriorating situation in Eastern Ukraine and US led western rhetoric on Russian military support to Ukrainian rebels. Russia’s decision to supply S-300 air defence weapon system to Iran has created uproar amongst Israel, EU and USA. Israel has even threatened to supply arms to Ukraine if the deal with Iran is not stopped. In the meanwhile after gradual economic recovery, Russia has started showing its muscles by reinvesting in the high- tech defence production like T-50 fifth generation fighter aircraft and preparing to challenge the US led Unipolar world order.
In this backdrop, Russia is making new alignments and exploring new markets. India was the biggest importer of defence related equipment from Russia, however it’s focus has now shifted to EU and Israel. Due to increasing gap in the conventional weapons between the two nuclear armed rivals, Pakistan is eagerly looking forward to acquire high- tech air defence and anti armour equipment which the west has been denying to Pakistan on one pretext or the other and presently her only option is China. Opening up of Russian defence market to Pakistan is a welcome step and will be major factor in expanding the mutual ties between the two Cold War era rivals. PCEC could provide possible access to Russia to Indian Ocean through Gwadar Sea port. Russia is also willing to help Pakistan getting full member status in Shanghai CooperationOrganization which can ultimately lead to formation of a potent block in the region mitigating US-India manoeuvre.
Russia can also make huge investments in Pakistan in energy and infrastructure development sectors. The two sides could benefit from each other’s experience of fighting militancy and exchange training program. On the softer side, possibility of cultural exchange program can also be explored. Pakistan supports a multi polar world order for ensuring peace, stability and balance of power both in the region and across the globe.
US and west have been denying Pakistan to acquire military hardware even for defensive purpose. Opening up of Russia is therefore, a welcome step and Pakistan needs to capitalize on this opportunity by continuous engagement at diplomatic, political and military levels. Serious and viable agenda points leading to conclusion of both long and short term contracts need to negotiate at appropriate levels. Having finalized the workable options on possible areas of investment by Russian private and public sectors the level of interaction needs to be enhanced to highest political level paving way for impending visit of Russian president to Pakistan and possible conclusion of a strategic project on the lines of CPEC. Simultaneously, efforts to acquire high tech defence equipment from Russia should continue to be explored. Close interaction and improved relations between Russia and Pakistan are not only mutually beneficial but will also help in ensuring peace in the region.
— The author is defence analyst based in Islamabad.
Russia Is Opening up