The deal with the Russians had been cooking for a while now. The Taliban business, and the ‘wrapping up the war in Afghanistan’ business, not to mention its spillover into Chechnya and Xianyang, had led not just to increased cooperation with Beijing, but also fresh contact with Moscow. This was sometime in the PPP government, when the Russian president called off a meeting with President Zardari. But even as the governments looked for ways to enhance trade and commerce, the militaries found it a good time to steadily increase interaction. First there were some meetings, then the Russians unfroze a decades-old arms exports freeze on us, then there were helicopter sales, and now the military exercises.
The timing is just about right. The so-called Soviet jihad is a distant memory. Russia works closely with two of our biggest neighbours – China and Iran. If we play this right in the long term, we can be part of a formidable regional alliance that extends well beyond. This is also good for Pakistan’s deepening international isolation. It will, finally, have something more than the China card to play with all the time.
But a deal with the Russians will not be a straight forward affair. Iron Man Putin is known for his alliance building and proactive political leadership. He has just proved his international calibre by taking decisive control over the rotting Syrian civil war, and finally bombing ISIS on to the defensive. The Russians, arguably, have finally brought some direction to the international war against terrorism. Unfortunately, much of the international community still views Pakistan with skepticism regarding this terror war business. And our reputation has been done little good by constant diplomatic bombardment from India, Afghanistan and America. So if the Russian handshake can squeeze some direction out of our decision-makers – something the Americans could not do – this alliance would be good not just for diversity (and better pricing) in arms imports, but also win us some diplomatic points.