Pakistan Courts Both US and Russia on Defense

As Russia’s defense minister visits Pakistan, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff visits Washington.

Pakistan Courts Both US and Russia on Defense
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Pakistan for a day-long visit on Thursday. During his visit to Islamabad, Shoigu met Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the two addressed several issues related to security and defense cooperation between Russia and Pakistan. The two countries will sign an important memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation that will form the foundation of their growing defense partnership. Although Russia is a major arms exporter to Pakistan’s rival India, it is looking to shore up its involvement in Pakistan amid that country’s growing appetite for Russian hardware. Most recently, Pakistan concluded a deal to purchased MI-35 Hind helicopters from Russia.

According to Dawn, Russia’s decision to court Pakistan as a defense customer was in part spurred by growing ties between the United States and India. Although Russia has been major military supplier for India — providing up to 75 percent of Indian military hardware needs in certain years — the United States has been steadily growing its defense partnership with India. With a government less committed to Indian ideals of non-alignment in charge in New Delhi, India has grown closer to the United States on a series of defense matters. In 2014, India became the largest foreign buyer of U.S. weapons, importing $1.9 billion in military hardware from the United States. In August, reports emerged that the U.S. had overtaken Russia as India’s top arms supplier over the past three years. Sensing an opportunity on the other side of the security dilemma on the subcontinent, Russia has chosen to focus its efforts on courting Pakistan.

A factor limiting Russia-Pakistan cooperation on defense matters is Pakistan’s status as a U.S. ally. Although the U.S.-Pakistan alliance has grown increasingly dysfunctional, particularly since 2011, the two countries continue to cooperate on a range of security issues. Shoigu’s visit to Pakistan comes at time when Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif (no relation to the prime minister) is in the United States for a series of meetings with U.S. defense and national security officials. As the United States withdraws from Afghanistan, it values Pakistan’s cooperation. The success of Pakistan’s ongoing campaign — Operation Zarb-e-Azb — against militants in the country’s western tribal regions, on the Afghan border, will be an important determinant of Afghanistan’s security post-2014.

While in Washington, Gen. Sharif took the opportunity to clarify a statement made earlier by Pakistan’s Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz that Pakistan would ignore militant groups that do not “pose a threat to the state” — a statement that drew considerable criticism in the United States and political rivals in Pakistan. Gen. Sharif, serving as an ambassador for Pakistan’s defense establishment, told his interlocutors in Washington that the Pakistani military will not discriminate in its campaign against militants. “Zarb-e-Azb is not just a military offensive but is a concept to defeat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. The anti-terror campaign is not restricted to Waziristan and Khyber tribal areas but covers the whole country,” he said. Gen. Sharif added that he would not allow the emergence of anything like the Islamic State in Pakistan. Sharif, who took over as Chief of Army Staff in late 2013, specializes in counter-insurgency.