— FO spokesperson says General Bajwa to visit Russia in October’s first week
ISLAMABAD: As the US-India embrace tightens, former Cold War foes – Pakistan and Russia – are warming up bilateral ties. In a major policy shift, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa will be visiting Russia in the first week of October.
This visit would be the first visit of Gen Bajwa as the army chief to Moscow. Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakaria confirmed the army chief’s visit at the weekly briefing here on Thursday, saying that his visit was scheduled in the first week of October 2017.
“Regular high-level exchanges between the two sides in the past few years have set the stage for translating political goodwill into a substantial partnership in particular, in the field of defence,” he said. The spokesperson said that last year, both the countries held joint military exercise in September-October.
The visit of Gen Bajwa comes on the heels of the recent diplomatic brawl between estranged partners i.e. Pakistan and the United States following the outburst against Islamabad by Donald Trump during his speech made on the eve of announcement of South Asia policy review. Pakistan responded harshly by putting off the visit of a US delegation led by acting representative of US on Afghanistan & Pakistan Alice Wells.
On the other hand, ice melting between Pakistan and Russia had started around five years back. While India’s defence arsenal remains overwhelmingly Russian in origin, Washington – over the past 10 years – has become New Delhi’s top defence supplier. On the other hand, Moscow decided to lift an arms embargo on Islamabad, which was keen on modernising its military and reducing its dependence on Washington.
Moscow feels betrayed as New Delhi, once a strategic partner of Russia, quietly fell into the lap of Washington DC back in 2008 with the civil-nuclear deal between the two. But the real factor which brought Islamabad and Moscow has been the changing economic profile of Pakistan following the launching of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which has transformed the image of the South Asian country.
Moreover, the military operations including Zarb-e-Azb and Raddul Fasad to wipe out terrorists from Pakistani soil have brought Pakistan among the few countries in the world who have successfully routed the surge of militancy. Former army chief General Raheel Sharif followed up on the breakthrough by visiting Moscow in the year 2015. The visit was so successful that it made waves in the diplomatic circles of the region and beyond.
Though it was Russian President Vladimir Putin who started cosying up to Islamabad back in the year 2010, there have been successive diplomatic overtures which have cemented trust building initiatives between the two states. While former army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had started warming up Moscow, General Raheel Sharif followed up on the initiative. Gen Bajwa has now decided to back up the effort which may pave the way for a major breakthrough.
In November 2014, Pakistan and Russia signed a landmark defence agreement which provided the base for further cementing of trust between the two nations. At the 8th BRICS Summit held at Goa in India, it was Russian delegation which along with China, made sure that the joint communique’ does not target Pakistan. Though India made utmost efforts to single out Pakistan in its resolution, Russian diplomats made sure that the communique was not targeted at a single country.
The first military exercise between Pakistan and Russia named Druzhba-2016 (Friendship-2016) in Pakistan was the real challenge which both the countries passed successfully despite several efforts by India to get those cancelled. The same year, Russia’s top diplomat Zamir Kabulov defended Pakistan at the Heart of Asia (HoA) conference held in Amritsar last year despite a joint attack by India and Afghanistan.
Iran and China made sure that Indian conspiracy is dealt with. “The allegations made against Pakistan by India and Afghanistan are totally baseless … let it be known that the allegations’ game needs to be stopped and that criticising Pakistan is wrong,” said Kabulov while addressing the ‘Heart of Asia’ conference. The Iranian foreign minister furthered support for Pakistan at the HoA, saying Iran was ready to mediate between the two dear friends, Pakistan and India.
This nailed the Indian narrative against Pakistan. Gen Bajwa’s visit is aimed at further boosting defence relations between the two neighbours. Other than common views and ideas on regional and international issues, counterterrorism alliance is a factor which has brought Islamabad and Moscow closer. The sudden emergence of the Islamic State in Afghanistan is a source of concern for Pakistan and Russia.
The threat has also pulled Iran, Turkey, China and the Central Asian states to form a new but regional alliance to defeat the scourge of terrorism. Pakistan Army’s successful operations against terrorists of all forms and colours have reinforced its importance among the regional and global players. Hence, this visit can prove to be a major breakthrough in relations between Pakistan and Russia.
Pakistan and Russia would also conduct joint military exercises for a second successive year soon.