The visit of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif to Russia is an effort to open up a new chapter in relations. Historically, the former Soviet Union always took initiatives to pursue friendly ties with Pakistan, but the latter failed to come up to its expectations and relations remained estranged during the Cold War. Since the signing of a bilateral defence cooperation agreement between Pakistan and Russia in November 2014, there have been efforts on both sides to bring the historical antipathy to an end. A deal for the purchase of Mi-35 ‘Hind E’ attack helicopters by Pakistan is in the final stages. The striking of arms deals is one aspect of renewed interest in boosting ties between the two states. During the years of sour relations and despite estrangement, Pakistan had a barter trade system with the Soviet Union. The setting up of the Pakistan Steel Mills was a testament to cooperation between Pakistan and the Soviet Union. Over the years, Pakistan’s growing mistrust of the US has forced it to look for other partners in the region. Pakistan has a bad experience regarding the purchase of F-16 aircraft from the US that has always played the role of a fair-weather friend. Since the end of the Cold War after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it was believed that the world would become unipolar, with US hegemony firmly established as the only remaining superpower, but this expectation was negated by three factors. First, China’s rise as one of the strongest economies and increasingly bolstered by military might. Second, the massive natural resources and the inherently strong educated and skilled workforce of Russia provided the foundation for its relatively quick revival under President Putin from the ashes of the Soviet Union. Third, other countries such as Brazil, China, India and South Africa with their robust economies are increasingly staking their claim to attention on the world stage.
In the emerging scenario, states are changing their priorities and realignments are in progress in the region. After the US pullout from Afghanistan, the vacuum can only be filled by regional powers such as Russia and China to maintain regional stability. With its strong friendly relations with China, Pakistan needs to join hands with Russia in this new era, the latter having reiterated its support to Pakistan against terrorism. The COAS’s visit could be a turning point. It is in the interests of Pakistan to reach trade and technology transfer deals with Russia to enhance its defence capability and strengthen its local arms production. The proactive diplomacy of the COAS needs to be taken forward by the civilian leadership in the larger national interest.
Ties with Russia