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Photo from Nov 20, 2014, shows Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (R) with Russian Defence Minister General Sergey Kuzhugetovich Shoy (L).—AFP
Photo from Nov 20, 2014, shows Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (R) with Russian Defence Minister General Sergey Kuzhugetovich Shoy (L).—AFP

Analysts were quick to note a new friendship which appears to be blossoming between Pakistan and Russia. The Russian Deputy Chief of General Staff Colonel General Israkov Sergi Yuryevich was hosted by Peshawar Corps Commander Lt-Gen Nazir Ahmed Butt on a visit to North and South Waziristan just a few days ago.

But is it too soon to draw any conclusions about the relations between the two states, especially given the complicated history?

"This is an interesting and unusual development. The military relations between the countries are growing rapidly but we cannot be so forward as to call it an alliance yet," Pakistan's former military attaché to Afghanistan Brigadier (retd) Saad Muhammad said during a talk show on Dunya News.

A handout photograph of the visiting Russian delegation.  — ISPR
A handout photograph of the visiting Russian delegation. — ISPR

Brig Saad reminded viewers about the proxy war the two nations were fighting in Afghanistan in the 1980s. He the relationship only started to mend in 2014 when Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu visited Pakistan in November 2014 "and signed a defence cooperation contract with us."

See also: Ardeshir Cowasjee's recap of Soviet-Pakistan relations

He elaborated on the growing military cooperation between the two countries, saying, "Last year's military exercise is an example of the countries' conjoined interests, apart from that the naval forces of both countries participated in 'Arabian Monsoon' exercises in 2014 and again in 2015."

He was referring to September 2016, when around 200 military personnel of both countries participated in the drills. The special operations drills codenamed ‘Druzhbha-2016’ — a Russian word meaning “friendship” — saw Russian troops and Pakistani special forces working in close cooperation.

Russian ground forces arrive in Pakistan in September 2016. ─ Photo courtesy DG ISPR Twitter
Russian ground forces arrive in Pakistan in September 2016. ─ Photo courtesy DG ISPR Twitter

Russian Navy’s largest anti-submarine warfare ship Severmorsk arrived in Pakistan for participation in the Aman 2017 international naval exercises in February 2017. While Pakistan also confirmed purchase of Mi-35 ground attack helicopters in 2015.

Read more: As Russian submarine ship docks in Pakistan, India calls it normal

Brig Saad pointed out, however, that an alliance between Pakistan and Russia would not be without China, a mutual friend, "The prospect of an alliance between Pakistan and Russia will not be possible without their mutual friend — China," he said and did not stop there but went on to say that Turkey too is interested in such an alliance.

"Turkey is also interested to be part of the group and I know for a fact that President Erdogan has shown his willingness in the matter," Brig Saad added.

"So this will be a four-way alliance between China, Turkey Russia and Pakistan and there is a lot of restlessness in the US regarding this prospective alliance and we cannot rule the US factor out as they are sitting in Afghanistan right now," Brig Saad cautioned, but also said, "The game is on."

Hinting that the ongoing tug-of-war between the US and Russia in the region may be a reason for Russia's developing interest in Pakistan, Brig Saad said, "We should not forget that there was a time when there was a Quadrilateral Coordination Group consisting of China, Pakistan, US and Afghanistan to discuss reconciliation in Afghanistan in 2016," Brig Saad said and added, "This threatened Russia and it entered into separate talks with China and Pakistan regarding Afghanistan."

Also read: Afghan reconciliation process: Sartaj kicks off four-nation meeting with four guiding points

"So Russia wants to bring Afghanistan under its influence as much as the US does, and Pakistan has prior experience dealing with Afghan Taliban," Brig Saad said. In conclusion, reiterated his point and said, "Our history with Afghanistan and the Taliban and our friendship with China are the two reasons for this interest."