Build­ing New Bridges

Pak­istan is mount­ing ef­forts to find big power pa­tron­age in its im­me­di­ate re­gion.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Taj M Khat­tak

The po­lit­i­cal re­la­tion­ship be­tween Pak­istan and what was then the Soviet Union dates back to 1948. Since then, re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries have been ‘ris­ing and fall­ing,’ as ex­pressed by one for­mer diplo­mat and they have re­mained in op­po­site camps in terms of global pol­i­tics. Bi­lat­eral re­la­tions ebbed to a low point in May 1960 when, dur­ing a speech in the UN in the wake of the U2 in­ci­dent, the for­mer Soviet Prime Min­is­ter Nikita Khrushchev threat­ened to wipe Peshawar off the face of the earth.

In the next decade or so, Pak­istan moved to al­le­vi­ate Soviet con­cerns in 1968 by serv­ing no­tice on the US gov­ern­ment, just days ahead of Premier Ni­co­lai Kosy­gin’s visit to Rawalpindi, for pre­ma­ture ter­mi­na­tion of lease of com­mu­ni­ca­tion fa­cil­i­ties in Bad­aber near Peshawar, which was due to ex­pire in July 1969. To some ex­tent, this helped in re­mov­ing the Soviet Union’s doubts about Pak­istan’s obli­ga­tions with re­spect to its mil­i­tary pacts with the west.

On its part, the Soviet Union soft­ened its stance on Kash­mir and, for the record, in 1964, it was the last time that it stated in the UN that Kash­mir was an in­te­gral part of In­dia. Since then it has re­frained from hold­ing this view in public pro­nounce­ments and com­mu­niqués. Even In­dia ad­mits that it can no longer rely on un­qual­i­fied Rus­sian sup­port in its dis­pute with Pak­istan.

But in 1971 the strate­gic Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friend­ship and Co­op­er­a­tion soured bi­lat­eral re­la­tions

be­tween Pak­istan and the Soviet Union, as the bal­ance of re­gional power tipped in fa­vor of In­dia when it suc­ceeded in dis­mem­ber­ing Pak­istan. The ac­ri­mony con­tin­ues to this day. In the 1980s, Pak­istan-Soviet Union re­la­tions fur­ther nose­dived fol­low­ing the Soviet in­va­sion of Afghanistan in 1979. Pak­istan ac­tively sup­ported the Afghan Mu­ja­hedeen and this led to a re­treat of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan a decade later. The dis­so­lu­tion of the Soviet Union for­mally came about in 1991

In 2003, Pak­istan Pres­i­dent Gen­eral Pervez Mushar­raf vis­ited Rus­sia at the in­vi­ta­tion of the Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, fol­lowed by Rus­sian Prime Min­is­ter Mikhail Frad­kov's re­cip­ro­cal visit to Pak­istan in 2007. These vis­its paved the way for im­prove­ment of bi­lat­eral re­la­tions through sign­ing of agree­ments for en­hanc­ing eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion and trade and for ed­u­ca­tional and sci­en­tific ex­changes.

In the wake of the US exit from Afghanistan in 2014, Pak­istan has made good use of the win­dow of op­por­tu­nity in mov­ing closer to Rus­sia. The move may have been pre­vi­ously fraught with dan­gers as it could jeop­ar­dize Pak­istan’s close ties with the US on which it had de­pended for mil­i­tary and eco­nomic aid for many decades.

The US has also leaned on Pak­istan for its suc­cess­ful exit from Afghanistan and this has cre­ated an en­vi­ron­ment in which Pak­istan can take ini­tia­tives to­wards es­tab­lish­ing a rel­a­tively strong eco­nomic and trade re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia as com­pared to the past when Pak­istan was con­sid­ered a hot zone by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. This re­la­tion­ship fur­ther deep­ened when Rus­sia gave its ap­proval to China for the ex­port of Rus­sian de­sign en­gines for Pak­istan’s Block-II JF-17 Thunders. This was cru­cial if Pak­istan were to meet its press­ing air power re­quire­ments as well as de­velop a po­ten­tial for un­hin­dered ex­port of the jets.

Rus­sia’s re­cent ‘po­lit­i­cal ap­proval’ for sale of Mi-35 ‘Hind E’ he­li­copters will fur­ther ce­ment these ties. Pak­istan had been in­ter­ested in this he­li­copter since 2009 be­cause of its proven bat­tle­field track, but the deal got a boost af­ter a re­cent visit of Pak­istan’s Chief of the Army Staff Gen­eral Ra­heel Sharif to Rus­sia where he had im­por­tant dis­cus­sions with the Rus­sian author­i­ties. There are other he­li­copters in this cat­e­gory like the South African Rooivalk, Euro­copter Tiger and the Apache from the US but they are ei­ther not bat­tle-tested, are too ex­pen­sive or are not avail­able for ac­qui­si­tion due to po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ency.

The grow­ing ties with Rus­sia is a ma­jor break­through for Pak­istan which some years ago would have been con­sid­ered too far-etched. Rus­sia has over-ruled ob­jec­tions from In­dia in this re­spect. In­dia has been a ma­jor cus­tomer of Rus­sian mil­i­tary equip­ment for years and still oc­cu­pies an im­por­tant po­si­tion in the equa­tion in spite of the latest In­dian shift to­wards the US and other western sources for its am­bi­tious de­fense pro­cure­ment pro­gram.

The ex­act num­ber of Rus­sian he­li­copters to be ac­quired by Pak­istan is not known though HIS Jane’s has re­ported that up to 20 he­li­copters could be sold to Pak­istan, start­ing with de­liv­ery of the first batch of 4 ma­chines in the not too dis­tant fu­ture. The man­u­fac­tur­ing of Mi-35 ‘ Hind E’ started in 2005. It is a state-of-the -art at­tack he­li­copter in the in­ven­tory of the Rus­sian Air Force squadrons and is an im­por­tant weapons sys­tem. Other coun­tries that have pro­cured the he­li­copter in re­cent years are Venezuela, Brazil and Azer­bai­jan.

The Mi-35 ‘ Hind E’ is a com­pre­hen­sive and mod­ern­ized ver­sion of its pre­de­ces­sor Mi-24 Hind. To a large ex­tent, mod­i­fi­ca­tions in the Mi-35 ‘Hind E’ have ad­dressed those lim­i­ta­tions that were pre­vi­ously ex­pe­ri­enced in high al­ti­tude oper­a­tions or high am­bi­ent tem­per­a­tures en­vi­ron­ments in Afghanistan. Strength­en­ing of ar­mor around vul­ner­a­ble ar­eas such as en­gine bay, fuel tanks and cock­pit has given the chop­pers greater com­bat re­silience and im­proved the sur­viv­abil­ity fac­tor in in­tense bat­tle­field con­di­tions.

To as­sist the cock­pit crew in round the clock oper­a­tions, the M-35 ‘Hind E’ has an im­pres­sive ar­ray of aids like the latest nav­i­ga­tion and avionics suit. For ac­cu­rate or­di­nance de­liv­er­ies, it is equipped with a tar­get sight sys­tem which in­cludes a ther­mal imager and TV chan­nels, laser range fin­der and lo­ca­tion fin­der. The he­li­copter is rugged and can op­er­ate from un­pre­pared sur­faces or poorly equipped air­fields and is equally ef­fec­tive us­ing guided or un­guided weapons in reg­u­lar or chal­leng­ing cli­matic con­di­tions. The Pak­istan Army, which is the ma­jor op­er­a­tor of he­li­copters in the coun­try’s de­fense forces, has pre­vi­ously used Rus­sian he­li­copters, no­tably the Mi-8 and more re­cently Mi-17s and the army is sat­is­fied with the per­for­mance of these ma­chines.

The re­cent suc­cess against Tal­iban notwith­stand­ing, the coun­try’s counter-in­sur­gency oper­a­tions in the in­hos­pitable and dif­fi­cult moun­tain­ous ter­rain in the north could be stretched for years in which the Mi-35 ‘Hind E’ could play a very im­por­tant role. In­dia has two squadrons of Mi-24 Hind he­li­copters in its in­ven­tory which were used dur­ing the Kargil war. Pak­istan’s ac­qui­si­tion of around twenty of these he­li­copters will greatly help plug gaps in its de­fense against In­dia in any reg­u­lar war or mis­ad­ven­ture un­der the In­dian doc­trine of ‘Cold Start’.

The most im­por­tant in­di­ca­tor of Pak­istan-Rus­sian re­la­tions in the evolv­ing global geo-po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion is that in times of cri­sis, ‘friends’ in the neigh­bor­hood can be more help­ful than ‘dis­tant close friends’. The fluc­tu­ta­tion in Pak­istan-Rus­sia re­la­tions ap­pear to be on the rise again and it is hoped they will con­tinue to grow. Pak­istan’s new over­tures of friend­ship to­wards Rus­sia must be seen in that light and must be re­garded as the coun­try’s fresh ef­forts to­wards build­ing bridges of friend­ship in its own neigh­bour­hood rather than depend­ing on as­sis­tance from a power that is lo­cated con­ti­nents and oceans away.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.