Pakistan’s military-sale relationship with Russia serves an important purpose

Pakistan’s military-sale relationship with Russia serves an important purpose


Pakistan has always given special attention to the procurement of weapons and military equipment from abroad for its army, the navy and the air force. Its major weapons’ suppliers are the United States, China, the United Kingdom and France. Now, as Pakistan’s relations have improved with Russia, it seeks weapons and military hardware from there as well, which signals a major revival in Islamabad-Moscow dynamics. 

Traditionally, the Soviets (now Russians) supplied all variety of weapons to India and have made a significant contribution to building up India’s indigenous production of military hardware, including aircraft and army tanks. For years, Russia was India’s principal supplier of weapons and military equipment.  Pakistan, on the other hand, obtained most weaponry from the West, especially the US, and since early 1966, China emerged as another major weapons’ supplier. Beijing also helped Pakistan in setting up its local defense industry.

It is the increased cooperation in the security field that will ultimately go a long way to define Pakistan-Russia relations in the future.

Dr. Hasan Askari Rizvi

It was in 1954-55 that Pakistan joined US sponsored regional security pacts like the SEATO and the Baghdad Pact (later known as CENTO) and bilateral security arrangements that created the basis for the transfer of weapons and military equipment from the US to Pakistan.  During the next ten years, Washington became Pakistan’s major source of military hardware and training to military officers.  Pakistan’s participation in US sponsored alliances angered the then Soviet Union and it increased diplomatic support for India, which included supplying weapons and military equipment to Delhi from the early 60’s on a regular basis.

As Pakistan revised its policy of alignment with the West in the mid-1960s and adopted a somewhat independent posture, including an active relationship with China, the Soviet Union responded positively despite its close security and diplomatic interactions with India. There were high level diplomatic civilian and military exchanges between the Soviet Union and Pakistan, and in the late 60’s, the Soviet Union supplied small quantities of weapons and military equipment to Pakistan which included T 54/55 tanks, MI helicopters and their spares, guns, jeeps and trucks.

It was in the second decade of this century (after 2010), that the changed global and regional environment made it possible for Russia and Pakistan, once again, to work together on diplomatic interactions. 

Two factors contributed to this trend. First, Pakistan and Russia no longer diverged on regional security issues. Second, since 2005, Russia’s traditional ally in South Asia, India, expanded its ties with the US in economic, security and nuclear-technology fields, compelling Russia to review its South Asia policy of focusing mainly on India.   Pakistan was a natural option for expanding Russia’s diplomatic activity, and this coincided with Pakistan’s efforts to activate its relations with Russia.  

Pakistan has endorsed Russia’s interest in the peace and stability of Afghanistan since 2017, and Russia acknowledged Pakistan’s efforts to control terrorism within its borders since 2014 as well as its non-partisan role in encouraging a dialogue on Afghanistan during three rounds of talks in Moscow.

The much famed China-Pakistan joint project of the JF-17 Thunder multirole aircraft used a Russian RD-93 engine. As far as military equipment goes, it was in 2018 that Pakistan received six MI helicopters and their spares, reviving the military-sale relationship with Moscow that had broken five decades ago.

Pakistan is interested in obtaining MI-35 helicopters in larger quantities, tanks, transport and communication equipment and an air defense system. Pakistan would prefer to cultivate a regular relationship in this respect and will probably seek support for its defense production industry at a later time.

High level military exchanges have also been revived between the two countries. The Commander-in-Chief of Russia’s ground forces, General Oleg Salyukov, visited Islamabad in the first week of July 2019. Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa took a trip to Moscow in April last year.  For the first time, Pakistan participated in war games in Russia. Since 2016, special units of the Pakistan and Russian armies have held counter-terrorism exercises, code named “Druzhba”. So far, three exercises have taken place in 2016, 2017 and 2018.  

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan last month, on the sidelines of the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that has set the stage for Khan’s visit to Moscow later this year.

Pakistan is also seeking Russian investment in energy, transport, infrastructure development, oil and gas exploration and tourism. However, it is the increased cooperation in the security field that will ultimately go a long way to define Pakistan-Russia relations in the future. 

Russia’s cooperation in supplying weapons and military equipment, especially surveillance and communication systems, missile defense systems and land warfare equipment, will be viewed in Pakistan as credible evidence of strong Pakistan-Russia relations, and achieve an important goal: decrease Islamabad’s dependence on Western countries for weapons and military equipment in an increasingly precarious international relations landscape. 

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