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November 28, 2014

Growing Pak-Russia defence ties trouble India

 
November 28, 2014

ISLAMABAD: The mounting defence collaboration between Moscow and Islamabad, especially the lifting of the Russian embargo on arms supplies to Pakistan, has infuriated the Indian security establishment, which was opposing the sale of Mi-35 helicopters to Pakistan.
According to highly informed sources in the Pakistani security establishment, while setting aside the Indian opposition, the Putin administration had first lifted the embargo on Russian arms supplies to Pakistan in June this year. And now, in a major development, Moscow and Islamabad have moved forward by signing [on November 20, 2014] an ambitious agreement to expand defence and military ties, setting in motion a new era of teamwork between the former Cold War foes. The agreement was signed during an official visit by Russian Defence Minister General Sergey Shoygu with Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, who came down hard the other day on the US by describing it as an ‘untrustworthy friend’.
According to the Pak-Russia agreement, details of which are still being kept secret by both sides, Russia has agreed to supply 20 Mi-35 attack helicopters to Pakistan. The Mi-35 is the export version of the Mi-24 helicopter gunship. Weighing 12 tonnes, the helicopter gunship also has a cargo area that can hold up to eight people besides carrying rockets, missiles, bombs as well as an automatic cannon.
First produced in 2005 by the Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant, the multi-role helicopter is equipped with the latest navigation system, multifunction displays, target sights system that includes a thermal imager and TV channels, laser range finder and location finder. The Mi-35 helicopter boasts enhanced flight capabilities and can be operated even in the mountainous terrain of the Waziristan region where a military operation is on. Once formalised, the Mi-35 helicopter supply deal would be the biggest Russian military sale to Pakistan, with the latter also have shown interest in buying the Mi-28NE Havoc attack

helicopters, as well as surface-to-air missile systems. Officials from both countries are expected to meet up shortly to give final touches to their defence deal, while overlooking the Indian fury.
According to sources in the Pakistani security establishment, the Indian side had been making frantic efforts through diplomatic channels to stop Russia from lifting the embargo on its military supplies to Pakistan. The Indians started building up pressure on Moscow early this year when the Russians first hinted at the possibility of inking a defence deal with Pakistan. Russia has long been the largest supplier of arms to India, which is the world’s leading arms buyer. However, Russia finally announced in June this year to lift the ban on arms supplies to Pakistan which had been in force for almost two decades. The Russian move instantly strained relations with India, with New Delhi warning Moscow to review the decision if it wants to keep friendly ties with the South Asian nuclear power.
In their efforts to pressurise Moscow into scrapping its decision, the Indian diplomats had even reminded their Russian counterparts of a hard hitting statement made by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin on October 14, 2012 [during his official visit to India for talks with then-Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna]. Rogozin told the Indian media while answering a question: “You must understand that we do not deal with your enemies. We don’t deliver any arms to them. If you see otherwise, you may spit on my face. We never created problems for India on its frontiers as did by some other countries.”
However, the Russian approach towards Pakistan seems to be changing in the wake of the imminent withdrawal of US-led Allied Forces from Afghanistan. The Pakistani Foreign Office circles say the Russian decision indicates a paradigm shift in its foreign policy, a kind of move which one sees once in decades. According to them, when a state takes such a decision, it is not without considering the pros and cons of the matter — the strategic takeaways and the possible pitfalls. But, the compelling reason may be the key role Pakistan is set to play in the “post US-withdrawal Afghanistan”. Hence, keeping in view the declining US influence in the region, Russia is already making efforts for a Pakistan-China-Russia axis by reaching out to Pakistan and China in a bid to improve its economic ties and to secure its southern borders against the spread of rising Islamic fundamentalism.
The Foreign Office circles in Islamabad agree that Islamabad, Beijing and Moscow have a commonality of interest in a stable Afghanistan. According to them, while bearing in mind the looming withdrawal of the Nato forces from Afghanistan, Russia fears that state failure in Afghanistan could cause a spillover of the Islamic fundamentalism into Central Asia, which could reach up to the southern regions of Russia. And having already faced bloody secessionist movements in Chechnya and the South Caucasus, this is not a scenario that Moscow would welcome. Therefore, while realising that any successful resolution of the problems associated with Afghanistan must involve Pakistan, Moscow is keen on improving ties with Islamabad.
At the same time, Pakistan is already trying to diversify its foreign policy after decades of fighting the Russian policies at the behest of Americans. Islamabad’s excessive participation in the US-led war on terror led to noticeable shrinkage of the parameters of its foreign policy. The Foreign Office circles in Islamabad point out that the kind of assistance it received from the US since the 9/11 attacks did little good to its declining economy. Even on the military front, the Americans were non-cooperative. For instance, Pakistan has been seeking for almost a decade new helicopter gunships from the United States [rather than used stuff] as it wanted to replace the 35 American AH-1S and AH-1F gunships it already has. At least six of these helicopters have already been lost in the last few years in anti-terrorism operations in Pak-Afghan tribal belt where helicopter gunships are heavily used and frequently shot at. But the Americans refused to supply the required helicopters, thus forcing Pakistan to approach Russia for the purchase of Mi-35 helicopters which are equally good.
The decision makers, both in Islamabad and Moscow, seem to have learnt their lessons. Therefore, the two countries have finally decided not to remain hostage to how Washington and Delhi react to their warming of ties, which is a good omen not only for Pakistan and Russia but for the whole region.