Russia to boost ties with Pakistan, supply military gear

Sergey Lavrov, Shah Mahmood Qureshi

In this photo handout photo released by Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, bumps elbows with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi prior their meeting, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. Russia’s foreign minister is in Pakistan for a two-day visit expected to focus on efforts to bring peace to neighboring Afghanistan. Lavrov’s visit comes as a May 1 deadline for U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan in line with a deal Washington signed a year ago with the Taliban seems increasingly unlikely. (Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs via AP)

ISLAMABAD (AP) — 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.

In Pakistan on the final day of a two-day trip, Sergey Lavrov’s visit is the first by a Russian foreign minister in nine years, part of a warming in once frosty relations. It comes as Moscow seeks to increase its stature in the region, particularly in Afghanistan, where it has sought to inject itself as a key player in accelerated 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.

As Washington reviews an agreement it signed more than a year ago with the Taliban and rethinks a May 1 withdrawal of its soldiers, Moscow has stepped up its involvement in Afghanistan, emerging as a significant player. Last month it hosted talks between the Taliban and senior government officials and Lavrov suggested another high level meeting could again be held in Moscow.

Lavrov arrived in Pakistan on Tuesday from neighboring India, with whom Moscow has had a long and solid relationship. The apparent reset in Pakistani-Russian relations however is by contrast a recent phenomena.

In the 1980s Pakistan was a staging arena for anti-communist Afghan rebels who were aided by the U.S. to oust the former Soviet Union, which negotiated an end to a 10-year occupation in 1989.

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.

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, also noting 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.”

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