In recent times, there has been growing interaction between Pakistan and Russia. The increased cooperation between the two states in military and economic matters such as the 2014 lifting of Russian arms embargo on Pakistan, the ensuing defence cooperation agreement in 2015 aimed at promoting security, growing counterterrorism efforts, the strengthening military collaboration such as joint military exercises, and the construction of North-South Gas pipeline.

The end of March 2017 saw Russia’s military delegation, headed by Deputy Chief of General Staff, visit to the Federally Administered Tribal Agency of North-Waziristan, a mountainous region in the North West of Pakistan that borders Afghanistan. This area was formerly militant infested and of recent has been cleared of the terrorist groups through an ongoing army operation termed ‘Zarb-e-Azb’. The attack on and subsequent disruption of Haqqani group in the area is also important owing to its militant activities disturbing peace talks and settlement in Afghanistan. The operation’s success has attracted world-wide attention and marked the army’s role in eliminating terrorism from the western belt of Pakistan.

Interestingly, this is the second trip to Pakistan in a short span of six months of Russian army personnel. Their objective was to gain an insight into Pakistani actions in combating militancy on its borders. Russia, too, has a militancy issue and it seeks to learn from the Pakistani experience in fighting militancy. Russia’s current economic and defence policy, after the annexation of Crimea, calls for better relations with other countries in the region. Choosing Pakistan in this context is evidence of Pakistan’s rising importance in the Russian perspective. Similarly, its recognition of Pakistan’s effort and sacrifices is of great importance as Russia is an important power. For Pakistan, Russian interest in the role played by Pakistan’s army in pacifying the Waziristan area essentially validates the Pakistani claim. It also shows Russia’s confidence in Pakistan’s abilities is in itself an achievement.

The increased military cooperation between the two states is essentially a signal to the world that Pakistan and Russia have developed good understanding with each other. To allow foreign military personnel in such a sensitive area is also indicative of trust between Pakistan and Russia. It shows that both the countries are learning to be reliable partners in counter-insurgency combat measures. In a formerly militancy ridden area such as Waziristan, intelligence sharing with another country can be risky; permitting and briefing foreign military or personnel can afford them an insight into the ground situation, tactics and maneuvers used to ward-off the militants and insurgents. Pakistan’s readiness to extend the cooperation implies that Pakistan takes Russia to be a reliable partner for the future.

This visit of the Russian team to Waziristan can also be viewed in the light of confidence building measures by both countries wherein information and intelligence sharing as well as and training together helps both the countries to trust each other more. That Russia finds Pakistan’s efforts in curtailing militancy significant, signals the improving image of Pakistani military and civil institutions in the world. A statement released by Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) noted, “The delegation acknowledged and appreciated Pakistan Army’s achievements in the fight against terrorism and efforts to bring stability in the region.” It also shows the level of commitment that Pakistan has shown despite its economic woes and manifold security issues. This success story of Pakistan will indeed have positive ramifications for the state in the future as it helps reinforce Pakistan’s claim apropos its determination to fight militancy, insurgency and terrorism within its borders.

The growing relationship between Pakistan and Russia may essentially be a key to striking a balance in South Asia. India’s closeness to the US, especially the Indo-US Nuclear deal, is a clear indicator of an advanced level of relations between the two countries. At such a time, Pakistan needs to look for new friends. Russia’s bitter relations with the West and cozying up to China which is already a strategic ally of Pakistan, essentially affords Pakistan an opportunity to include Russia into its security calculus. If Pakistan remains passive and allows India to control the chessboard in South Asia, the strategic balance will shift in India’s favor which Pakistan will find increasingly difficult to stabilize. Thus, the equilibrium in South Asia must remain geared for peace and stability.

It is equally important that peace prevails in Afghanistan. Pakistan, Russia and China are collaborating to quell the rise of Islamic State in Afghanistan. The rise of IS would have terrible implications for the whole region. Afghanistan is already volatile and with likely diminished international interest in the region, it is important for the immediate neighbors and stakeholders to secure Afghanistan against both internal and external insurgency and militancy. At a time like this, a closer relation between Pakistan and Russia is vital and is bound to have a positive impact on the regional and international security framework.

Pakistan’s readiness to extend the cooperation implies that Pakistan takes Russia to be a reliable partner for the future.