Russia said on Wednesday it was ready to supply “special military equipment” to strengthen Pakistan’s counterterrorism abilities as the former Cold-War rivals agreed to conduct joint drills both on the mountains and at the sea.
This was the outcome of what was seen as a significant two-day visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Islamabad, where he held wide-ranging talks with Pakistani civil and military authorities on Wednesday.
At the Foreign Office, Foreign Minister Lavrov led his side at the formal talks with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. He separately met Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
This was the first visit by a Russian foreign minister in almost a decade and came at a crucial juncture when the region is undergoing transformation with new alignments putting the stability at risk.
Speaking at a joint news conference, Moscow’s top diplomat said Russia wanted to deepen ties with Pakistan in all fields. “We stand ready to strengthen the anti-terrorist potential of Pakistan, including by supplying Pakistan with special military equipment,” he said, without providing specifics details.
Lavrov also announced that the two sides agreed to hold further joint anti-terrorism exercises both on the mountain and at sea.
Pakistan and Russia have already been holding joint military exercises since 2016, suggesting the two countries have long buried their bitter past, when they were in the opposite camps in the 1980s during the height of Cold War and the “Afghan Jihad.”
Russia’s willingness to supply military equipment to Pakistan also signifies that its policy is no longer dictated by New Delhi’s concerns. Moscow and New Delhi have remained long-term allies with Russia once the number-one arms supplier to India.
But in recent years the US and Israel replaced Russia as New Delhi is increasingly getting close to Washington. The close proximity of the US and India was aimed at countering the rise of China. Both were part of the four-nation alliance called the ‘Quad’ that also includes Australia and Japan.
Without directly mentioning the Quad, Lavrov took a jibe at the US for following “divisive” policies. “Here we see uncertain processes that happened because the US promotes the divisive strategies that change everything and stability of the region,” Lavrov warned.
“We are categorically against the new division lines. Instead we promote the preservation of those structures that have been here, including the key role of ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations],” he added.
The announcement by the Russian foreign minister – who flew in directly from New Delhi to Islamabad on Tuesday – about supplying military equipment to Pakistan and his opposition to the ‘Quad’ may not go down well with India.
Lavrov welcomed the start of talks between Pakistan and India. “In the course of the talks we also touched upon the fact that India and Pakistan started talks on the normalisation of relationship, we welcome that,” the Russian foreign minister said.
His remarks raised certain eyebrows as neither Islamabad nor New Delhi had publically admitted they were holding formal talks. Nevertheless, Foreign Minister Qureshi said he briefed his Russian counterpart on the regional situation, including the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. He termed the recent ceasefire agreement between Pakistan and India as “positive development”.
The two sides earlier held detailed talks covering the bilateral relationship, particularly trade ties, as well as cooperation in the energy sector. Qureshi said Pakistan was keen to build a strong multidimensional relationship with Russia.
“It’s priority for us. There is a new approach, a new mind set for Russia and this is a significant statement, I am making,” Qureshi remarked at a time when the US was not giving positive signals to Pakistan’s push for reset in ties.
The visit by the Russian foreign minister and the remarks made by Qureshi would be closely followed by the US, which is not in favour of Islamabad tilting too close to countries such as China and Russia.
Both sides also discussed the Afghan situation and stressed the need for a political solution to the problem. The Russian foreign minister voiced concerns over the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and the threat posed by groups such as Daesh and other terrorist outfits.
As the deadline of May 1 approaches fast, Russia is planning to host a meeting under “Moscow format” as part of efforts to evolve consensus among the regional and international players on the Afghan endgame.
The two sides also discussed the prospects of further enhancing cooperation in trade and energy sectors. Lavrov said Russia was ready to start work on the North-South gas pipeline. Qureshi said the impediments in the way of the proposed pipeline to be laid by the Russian company from Karachi to Lahore had been overcome.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran while speaking to the Foreign Minister Lavrov shared Pakistan’s perspective on the issues of peace and security in South Asia, including the need for peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.
Imran extended an invitation to President Vladimir Putin to visit Pakistan at his earliest convenience. According to Qureshi, President Putin was keen to visit Pakistan as soon as the Covid-19 pandemic was over.
Speaking about Pakistan’s ongoing Covid-19 inoculation campaign, Qureshi said Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine was being used and “getting good results”. “We are interested in the commercial purchase of 5 million doses from Russia,” Qureshi said.
“Depending on availability in your production levels, and keeping our population in view, I think there are opportunities for local production and joint ventures and there are interested parties who would want to examine this,” he added. Lavrov noted that Russia had provided 50,000 vaccine doses to Pakistan and said it intended to provide 150,000 more.
Meanwhile, during a meeting between the Russian Foreign Minister and the army chief, matters of mutual interest including enhanced defence and security cooperation, regional security, particularly Afghan peace process were discussed.
“The visiting dignitary acknowledged Pakistan’s achievements in war against terrorism and contributions for regional peace and stability especially Pakistan’s sincere efforts in the Afghan Peace Process,” said a statement issued by the military’s media wing.
Lavrov expressed that Pak-Russia relations were on a positive trajectory and will continue to develop in multiple domains. The army chief said that Pakistan values its relations with Russia and reciprocates the desire for enhanced bilateral military cooperation.
“Pakistan welcomes all initiatives which can bring peace and stability in Afghanistan as the whole region will benefit from it,” the COAS emphasised. “We have no hostile designs towards any country and will keep on working towards a cooperative regional framework based on sovereign equality and mutual progress,” the army Chief concluded.