Russia is clearly interested in resetting ties with Pakistan
When Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin came here in July, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, had a request to make: Could Russian President Vladimir Putin put off his visit to Pakistan in October so that the optics of the India-Russia summit meeting scheduled in November could remain unimpaired?
Mr. Rogozin demurred. Privately his diplomats explained how that would be difficult. Russia was as concerned as India about terrorist activity with bases in Pakistan but Moscow could not be more antagonistic than New Delhi which too is trying to build bridges with Islamabad through a dialogue process.
“We should not dramatise an outdated situation. Even in India, which Indian leaders can say Pakistan is an enemy?’’ stated a Russian diplomat. Even otherwise, the Russian side communicated to New Delhi, Mr. Putin’s proposed first-ever visit to Pakistan was more to do with Afghanistan where any future settlement of the problem will depend on how its neighbours will act, they said.
To South Block’s relief, Mr. Putin did put off his visit to Pakistan. But in an indication that Russia is clearly interested in resetting ties with Pakistan, that was not the end of the Russia story involving India and Pakistan. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was to visit India on October 4, landed instead in Pakistan. His Cabinet colleague, Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov postponed his scheduled visit to India as Pakistan Army Chief Asfaq Parvez Kayani flew to Moscow.
After Mr. Putin cancelled his trip, Moscow offered to send Mr. Lavrov in his stead. Islamabad was initially reluctant. Like India which did not like the idea of Mr. Putin first going to Pakistan, Islamabad did not want to be offered a Foreign Minister instead of a Head of Government. But Islamabad relented two days before Mr. Lavrov landed.
Officials in South Block maintain Mr. Lavrov had offered to come here from Pakistan but External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna was unavailable. They also dismissed the suggestion that Mr. Serdyukov had put off his India visit to meet Gen. Kayani in Moscow. “If Mr. Serdyukov had come to India as planned earlier, he would have reached Moscow in time to meet the Pakistan army chief,’’ said one official.
But New Delhi knows only too well it no longer has exclusive rights over Moscow. Russia has sold helicopters for civilian purposes to Pakistan which can be converted to military use with minimal fuss. This trend was only to be expected after India shifted from direct purchases of defence equipment from Moscow to competitive bids in which Russian companies lost a number of orders to the U.S. and other western companies.
India diplomats concur with their Russian counterparts over the main reason for closer Russia-Pakistan engagement — economics and securing the Russian underbelly from religious extremism. “We are not sleeping over the developments. It is entirely in the context of Afghanistan,” the official said.
Growing Russia-Pakistan ties are a reality that India will have to live with as part of Moscow’s growing engagement with other countries in the region such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
“India could have been more loyal to Russia in the field of military and technical cooperation and saved it from the disagreeable situation in which Moscow on its own has to search for markets to sell military equipment meant for Delhi,” said another Russian diplomat. The consolation: even in the most optimistic scenario, the diplomat asserted, military cooperation between Russia and Pakistan would remain insignificant and would not alter the balance of power in the region.