Russia's quiet rapprochement with Pakistan

Discussion in 'Pakistan' started by ajtr, Jun 8, 2012.

  1. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

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    Russia's quiet rapprochement with Pakistan
    By Stephen Blank

    Quietly and unobtrusively, a Russo-Pakistani rapprochement has been developing behind the scenes of world politics for the last two years. On Pakistan's side, the almost spectacular deterioration of relations with the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has led it to seek new friends, especially as the alliance accelerates its withdrawal from Afghanistan.

    Russia also fully understands that Pakistan is a crucial player in Afghanistan and that, as NATO withdraws, it becomes all the more urgent for Moscow to seek some sort of modus vivendi with Islamabad.

    Russia initiated four-party talks with Tajikistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan to discuss the future of the last of these. Furthermore, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari met six times





    with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev between 2008 to 2012, and President Vladimir Putin is set to visit the South Asian country in September.

    This modest, albeit real, rapprochement is, however, built upon a long-standing foundation of mistrust. Russian officials have long been concerned over the safety and security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons arsenal. Due to those concerns and Pakistan's record, foreign policy analysts like Alexei Arbatov observed that for Russia, Pakistan is a principal potential threat to non-proliferation.
    Other observers, like the former director of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service and Ambassador to India, Vyacheslav Trubnikov, view Pakistan, Iran and North Korea as destabilizing nuclear powers. Therefore, Russia wants Pakistan to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

    While this residual Russian suspicion remains, other factors have impelled Moscow to seek a rapprochement with Islamabad. The deteriorating Afghan situation, the realization that it must deal with Pakistan on its own merits - apart from the Indo-Pakistani connection - to help secure Afghanistan and Central Asia, and the opportunities provided by the erosion of the US-Pakistan alliance are too important for Moscow to avoid. Thus, Russia has now determined to deal with Pakistan independently and acknowledges that relations will be on a bilateral presidential level - as they are with India.

    Moscow has been alert to these possibilities for some time. Already, in 2009, Russian state television accused the US of trying to destabilize Pakistan to damage China, Pakistan's "all-weather" ally and friend.

    Since then, Moscow has also announced its support for Pakistan's efforts to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). While this latter move may be regarded as a concession to Beijing, which has long-supported Pakistan's entrance into the SCO, there is no sign that China is ready to welcome India, which Moscow has supported, into the SCO. But there is no doubt that Pakistan's membership in the SCO would strengthen the SCO's claim and perhaps its capacity to involve itself in Afghanistan after the departure of the International Security Assistance Force.

    There are tempting energy and economic objectives as well that could lead to advantageous geopolitical outcomes between the two countries. Russia's Gazprom has regularly hinted at its interest in investing in or helping to build the proposed but troubled Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline. Since that pipeline has been a potential showcase for US policy, Russian participation would not only enhance Moscow's ties and influence with all the players, it would also undermine US credibility and policy in Central Asia.

    Beyond the TAPI pipeline, Moscow clearly also has interests in expanding its energy profile throughout South Asia, for example in assisting Sri Lanka's oil exploration projects.

    As expected, the new rapprochement is also founded on trade. Russian exports to Pakistan rose to US$620 million in 2008 from $93 million in 2002, and both sides feel there is room for further growth. Then-prime minister Putin said in 2011 that Russia views Pakistan as a reliable and very important partner. Putin's remarks were indicative of how far Russian-Pakistani relations has progressed, despite Moscow's long-held suspicions of Islamabad's aims.

    Yet, perhaps the most striking aspect of this rapprochement is that it now may also encompass security cooperation. Discussions are already underway about expanding defense ties by holding joint military exercises, exchanging trainees and trainers, and selling Russian weapons to Pakistan. It remains to be seen if such cooperation will truly materialize and expand. But if it does, the reactions of India and China to these events will merit close scrutiny.

    To be sure, Moscow-Islamabad relations are not exclusively positive. Pakistan's support for terrorist groups, its fast-growing nuclear program, as well as its past history of international nuclear proliferation are surely not forgotten.

    But, as the Central and South Asian configuration of states now undergoes a new transformation, Russia needs to reach out to Pakistan and has the opportunity to exploit Washington's difficult relations with Islamabad. Therefore Putin's upcoming visit to Pakistan in September will be, for many reasons, a visit worth watching.
     
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  3. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

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    Pakistan baits Russia as no big ideas drive Delhi-Moscow ties:thumb::cool2:

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    If it happens this will definitely be a first for Pakistan and Russia. The buzz doing the rounds is a visit by President Putin to Islamabad sometime this September. The Pakistanis claim dates have been finalized although the Russians are yet to confirm. But the presence in Islamabad recently of Moscow's top envoy on Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov, suggests both sides are working towards a visit.

    Why now? The reach out is driven by a host of factors. Current thinking in Moscow may be seeing Pakistan as part of the Solution (as well as the Problem) to stabilizing Afghanistan. China has probably been pushing Moscow in that direction for some time. The downward graph in Islamabad's relations with Washington are another reason.

    But Moscow may not be willing to fund Pakistan in the manner Uncle Sam has been doing. There could be offers of some military aid, arms and ammunition, maybe not T-90 tanks but helicopters definitely. Moscow may also be willing to go along with China's transfer of military aircraft powered by Russian engines to Pakistan.

    But any outreach to Pakistan would have to be weighed very carefully against its possible impact on India, South Asia's heavyweight. New Delhi (along with China) remains a major customer for Russian military equipment. Indian orders have kept sectors of Russia's otherwise moribund defence industry in business. The Indian economy is bigger and more diversified than Russia's (which remains dependent on oil and gas), and India remains a key partner in the BRIC and RIC forums.

    Nevertheless, relations with India have stagnated. There are no big ideas driving the relationship, no fancy trade figures. Increasingly India is diversifying its arms purchases, and the civil nuclear programme faces uncertainties (although the Russians are the biggest beneficiaries so far). But as a sovereign nation India has every right to look at its interests, a position that is at odds with Moscow's perhaps paternalistic view of India.

    The two sides have to work through these issues. But Moscow (at least in the near term) may not want to go the whole hog in cultivating Pakistan. For one, don't expect Pakistan's early entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Considering the lack of any achievement so far, even China is known to be disinclined to admit its "all weather ally". So no Pakistan means no India (which is fair).

    One last point (which may well knock all that I've written above). The Russians will be paranaoid about security for Putin and given the situation in Islamabad (where even President Zardari is rarely known to be seen in public), one wonders if this visit could happen at all. Maybe Putin and Zardari could schedule a summit on neutral (more secure) ground?
     

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