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Russia’s bonhomie with Pakistan: An indication of changing geo-politics in South Asia?

Russia bonhomie with Pakistan

The geo-politics of South Asia is changing. South Asia has come to limelight due to spurt in terrorism, rise of regional powers China and India and flash points in the region between India and Pakistan and India and China. The nuclear scepter is also hanging on the region. We can see how China is making a mammoth $ 46 billion project in Pakistan after making deep sea Gwadar port and undertaking ambitious rail (Qinghai, Shigatse, Rasuwagadhi, Kathmandu, Pokhara and Lumbini) and hydroelectric projects (West Seti) in Nepal. Hambantota in Srilanka,Sittway in Myanmar and many power projects and bridges in Bangladesh are not seemingly economically feasible in short and medium terms. Therefore it seems that prime goal of China in the region is not economic benefits but increasing its sphere of influence in the region. The “string of Pearls” thesis believes that it is all aimed at encircling India. India on the other hand re-oriented its foreign policy to accommodate geo-political realities and drifted towards enhanced partnership with the USA. It has also showed willingness to engage more proactively with Israel. India has also showed its interest in buying defence equipment including fighter planes from the US. France and England are also wooing India to buy their fighter planes.

All these developments have pushed Russia, the largest defence supplier of India, to counterbalance the recent developments by showing increased interest in engaging with Pakistan. Russia recently conducted its first ever bilateral military exercise with Pakistan in Pakistani territory. Russia and Pakistan have carried out naval exercises in the past as well but they were strictly counter narcotic operation drills. The exercises dubbed Arabian Monsoon-2014 and Arabian Monsoon-2015 were led by the Federal Drug Control Service of Russia. However, these recent drills named Druzhba-2016 were proper military exercises with combat troops that engaged in combat and target elimination operations. All measures of advanced assault rifles, short range machine guns, sniper rifles, and other combat gear were used to train the Pakistani troops and Pakistani Air Force took some part in the concluding events at Cherat training range.

Historically, US had allied with Pakistan. Russia naturally leaned to India as a partner and the India-Russia relationship has been one of the longest standing international alliances between two major countries. The two superpowers–US and Russia–have changed their focus now as geopolitical scenarios and economic conditions change. Pakistan  was part of US-led military blocs, namely Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation and the Central Treaty Organisation. It was also a non-NATO ally of the US. Russia was the time tested friend of India and it still remains to be an important trading partner, but in recent times Russia has shown interest in Pakistan. In recent years ties between Russia and Pakistan have warmed as a counter measure to warming ties between India and the United States, the two countries carried out their first ever joint military drills in 2016 despite Indian requests to postpone due to Uri attack. Pakistan and Russia signed an agreement for the North-South gas pipeline from Lahore to Karachi, and reached a price accord by December 2016. Some reports suggest that Pakistan has granted Russia access to a warm water port in the Arabian sea Gwadar Port.

These incidents need to be seen in the light of India’s cosying up to the US and the American support to India’s fight against terrorism, entry into NSG and the UN Security Council, defence and economic cooperation and the fact that India-US partnership changes the power dynamic in Asia completely. US-Russia fallout has done little to pacify the situation.

There is no concrete evidence of complete alteration of the old relations. But the US has shown some aversion with Pakistan due to its involvement in the terror modules. On the other hand Russia is also uncomfortable with India’s drift towards western countries, especially the US. It is also to be seen how the policies of new US President of US affect the regional geo-politics.

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