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Russia’s search for new ground in Pakistan

Russia is all set to rebuild its relations with Pakistan, a move that could be a game-changer for both Pakistan and South Asia. Given the dynamic strategic parameters in South Asia and a policy transition that might overcome the long drawn US-Russia Cold War rivalry that had also disconnected Russia from Pakistan, Moscow is now busy resetting the balance of power in South Asia. What induces this new attitude? Does the move lead to derail the Russian proximity with India? Is Moscow making a wrong choice?

The Russian experiment with Pakistan is purely a product of Moscow’s emerging strategic calculus. Moscow’s move could also be read as a sign of proscribing the growing rapprochement between Washington and New Delhi. Through this move, Kremlin seems to be signaling to India to reconsider its increasing camaraderie with the US and to re-tilt relations in Russia’s favour.

Moscow’s refusal to call off its first-ever bilateral military exercise with Pakistan on India’s request, following the terrorist attack on the military base in Uri in September 2016, revealed the change in Moscow’s psyche.

In another instance of this change, at the Heart of Asia conference held in Amritsar, India, on 3 and 4 December 2016, the Russian Envoy disapproved of branding Pakistan as a “terrorism-sponsoring state.” Similarly at the October 2016 BRICS Summit in Goa, India, Russian President Vladimir Putin made no mention of Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism which India had specifically emphasised upon at the meeting.

However, Moscow’s policy is also indicative of the vitality it associates to Islamabad’s cooperation in the efforts to stabilise Afghanistan. Kabul’s stability is an add-on to peace in Central Asia.

Russia’s hunt for sprawling markets in the region to sell Russian-manufactured goods is threatened by the political instability and the dangerous security situation in Afghanistan. While Pakistan will play an indispensable role in the Afghan peace process, Russia can also take Pakistan’s help to leverage its commercial linkages in the region in the long run.

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