Vladimir Putin heads for Pakistan, India watchful - The Times of India NEW DELHI: Russia, India's strongest international partner, is trying its hand at engaging Pakistan, an exercise that will be watched carefully in New Delhi. Vladimir Putin, Russian president, will be in Islamabad on September 26 for a "quadrilateral" meeting with Tajikistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan on the future of Afghanistan. Putin will also have a first-ever bilateral summit in Islamabad along with the quadrilateral. The "quadrilateral" last met in Dushanbe in 2011. India and the US recently started a trilateral dialogue with Afghanistan to continue assisting Afghan development after the Nato withdrawal in 2014. Indian analysts believe this visit could be the beginning of a deeper strategic realignment that brings together various intersecting interests. Prabhat Shukla, former envoy to Russia, says, "The Russian policy of opening up to Pakistan is a well-settled response to a perceived opening up by India towards the US. We saw it in the late 1960s, again a decade later, and are seeing it being repeated now. If it ever made strategic sense in the 1960s, or even in the late 1970s, it certainly does not now." Russia, though, is returning to what it calls its "near abroad". Primary is Russia's increasing interest in the stability of the Central Asian countries, many of whom are threatened by Islamic terrorism that has its roots in the terror groups inside Pakistan. Moscow might see a greater engagement with Islamabad as a way to understand Pakistan's actions. Russia's Pakistani initiative comes as Islamabad's relationship with its principal backer, the US, is determinedly heading south. Ronen Sen, former envoy to Moscow and Washington, said, "This is a sign of the re-alignments in anticipation of the Afghanistan withdrawal." Russia remains engaged with the US on Afghanistan â€” Moscow and Washington are in the process of working out a deal to ship a significant amount of Nato equipment out of Afghanistan through the Northern Distribution Network (NDW), which is being used more intensively after Pakistan denied permission for Nato trucks to go through its territory. New Delhi will look out for an opening of the arms sales spigot by Russia for Pakistan. Russia, until now, has been the only power to keep Pakistan on its negative list for arms sales. However, in recent years, Russia weighed in with Ukraine to sell tanks to Pakistan. Indians expect to see a beginning in the supply of these spares to Pakistan. "Their ultimate interest would be to sell weapons. We have to watch that carefully," says Rana Banerji, a Pakistan expert and formerly with RAW. India has diversified significantly from Russian weapons in recent years. Like the US, Russia fell by the wayside in the MMRCA deal. The nuclear deal with the US and the NSG waiver put India in the US basket, while Russia has been understandably miffed with India's clumsy handling of the nuclear protests at Kudankulam. For its part, India is convinced the Chinese fighter jet carried "leaked" engine designs of the Su fighter that India sourced from Russia. Shukla says, "It would be a loss for India too, if there were to be any diminution of trust or dynamism in the Indo-Russian relationship. It is a trusted relationship, and irreplaceable." Russia is moving inexorably into China's power orbit, which could also explain its interest in Pakistan. For Pakistan, an opening with Russia, when the US and other Western countries are turning away from it, is huge. As a way of thumbing its nose at India, the Putin visit will be invaluable.