ISLAMABAD – Russia’s foreign minister on Wednesday said Moscow and Islamabad will boost ties in the fight against terrorism, with Russia providing unspecified military equipment to Pakistan and the two holding joint exercises at sea and in the mountains.
Sergey Lavrov spoke on the second day of a two-day trip to Pakistan. It’s the first visit by a Russian foreign minister in nine years, part of a warming of frosty relations. It comes as Moscow seeks to increase its stature in the region, particularly in Afghanistan, where it seeks to inject itself as a key player in efforts to find a peaceful end to decades of war.
“We stand ready to strengthen the anti-terrorist potential of Pakistan, including by supplying Pakistan with special military equipment,” Lavrov said, without going into detail about the equipment.
Washington is reviewing an agreement it signed more than a year ago with the Taliban as it rethinks a May 1 withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Moscow has stepped up its involvement there and hosted talks last month between the Taliban and senior Afghan government officials. Lavrov suggested another high-level meeting could again be held in Moscow.
Lavrov arrived in Pakistan on Tuesday from neighboring India, with which Moscow has had a long and solid relationship. The apparent reset in Pakistani-Russian relations, however, is by contrast a more recent phenomena.
Pakistan was a staging arena in the 1980s for anti-communist Afghan rebels aided by the U.S. to oust the Soviet Union, which in 1989 negotiated an end to its 10-year occupation of Afghanistan.
A statement from the Pakistani military after Lavrov's talks with Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, said they discussed “enhanced defense and security cooperation, regional security, particularly the Afghan peace process.”
Bajwa also reportedly told Lavrov that Pakistan wants regional cooperation, though he did not mention Pakistan's uneasy relationship with neighbor India. Earlier this year the nuclear-armed neighbors renewed their commitment to a cease- fire along their troubled border which separates the disputed Kashmir territory.
Meanwhile Russia is also building a gas pipeline between the southern port city of Karachi and eastern Lahore. Pakistan's Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Islamabad will also buy 5 million doses of the Russian made COVID-19 Sputnik V vaccine, and expressed a desire to eventually manufacture it in Pakistan. He said Pakistan also wanted Russian expertise to modernize its antiquated railway system as well as its energy sector.
Lavrov also held meetings with Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The visit underlines the waning influence of the United States in the region, while Russian and Chinese clout grows, says Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director of the Asia Program at the U.S.-based Wilson Center.
“There’s a good reason why this is the first Russian foreign minister visit to Islamabad for nearly a decade: Russia-Pakistan relations are on the ascent,” he said in an interview. He also noted a new 25-year development agreement between Iran and China.
Pakistan also is a key player in China's Belt and Road Initiative — a massive, cross-continental infrastructure development project aimed at expanding China’s commercial connections globally.
“America will soon be ceding important real estate to its top rivals,” said Kugelman. “That’s the cost of an impending U.S. withdrawal from the region. But with the U.S. intent on pulling back, it is seemingly a cost it is willing to bear."