Well played in Moscow
Clearly a sensible, and sensitive, relationship is being developed with Moscow. It came to the attention of the press last year, when there was talk of buying the Hind helicopter from the Russians. That the chopper was custom made for the terrain where we are busy with our counterinsurgency is one thing. Russians arms are also cheaper and there is much less bureaucratic procedure involved than dealing with the Americans. So a double coincidence of wants was established, from where no doubt deeper military contacts were made. The agreement between Defence Minister Kh Asif and his Russian counterpart – regarding joint military drills – therefore seems the first of many interactions between two countries that were once at opposite ends in the waning years of the Cold War.
Interestingly, the two ministers agreed that conflicts must be resolved through diplomatic means. These are, of course, times when Pakistan is feeling Gulf heat because of its refusal to commit troops in Yemen. And let’s not forget how crucial Russia has been in the Syrian conflagration that has reset, in ways, the political calculus of the entire Middle East. Not long ago Moscow played the key role in keeping Washington from taking Gulf states’ bait and getting involved in the war to unseat the government in Damascus. Russia still keeps its deep water port in Tartus, not to mention its influence in the region, especially since American is no longer interested in bringing down the Assad regime. The stress on dialogue, therefore, must not have been missed in the Gulf.
Significantly, the Russian outreach coincides with groundbreaking progress with Afghanistan. To build on the recent military and diplomatic thaw, Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir travelled to Kabul the other day for what he called ‘enhanced economic engagement’. And interestingly, the Indians have once again voiced their desire to be part of the Afghan transit trade. That opens the door to a regional uplift effort based on enhanced trade and cooperation. All that is left is for India to make a formal request and agree to resolve outstanding issues that have been keeping just this kind of progress at bay. It seems Islamabad is at the centre of a pronounced diplomatic, trade and military reorientation of the region, which is welcome. Such steps will be necessary if we are to find a fitting place in an increasingly multi-polar world.