Russia-Pakistan, Renewed Relationships

DUSHANBE, TAJIKISTAN (ET):  The presidents of Pakistan and Russia agreed to expand the bilateral relationship between the two countries, though there were no agreements signed between the two countries.

President Asif Ali Zardari met with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev on the sidelines of the multi-lateral Dushanbe Four summit in the Tajik capital on Saturday. Among the issues discussed were energy, counterterrorism and regional stability.

Briefing the media after the meeting, the president’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar said that the two presidents talked about tackling the rising threat of militancy in the region as well as drug-trafficking.

President Zardari reiterated his call to institutionalise a regular dialogue between the two countries by holding annual bilateral meetings at the foreign ministers’ level, alternatively in Islamabad and Moscow. He also called for increasing trade between the two countries from its current level of just under $300 million to $1 billion.

Russia has been interested in improving ties with Pakistan for some time now, a remarkable turnaround in a relationship that has historically been fraught with mutual suspicion and even outright hostility.

The former Soviet Union viewed Pakistan as a threat since Islamabad had decided very early on to ally itself with the United States in an anti-communist alliance.

Even after the collapse of communism, relations between Islamabad and Moscow did not improve, largely due to Pakistan’s recognition of and support for the Taliban. In April 2000, the Russian government implied that it might even consider airstrikes on Pakistani territory to take action against militants who were attacking Russian military check posts in Central Asia.

Far from acrimony, however, the current summit saw the presidents of Pakistan and Russia discuss cooperation in anti-terrorism and security issues. The Russian government offered to supply sophisticated anti-terrorism technologies to Pakistan, a fact President Zardari made it a point to appreciate.

While the security dimension appeared to feature prominently in the two presidents’ discussions over the weekend, the Russians also expressed interest in investing in transnational energy projects, such as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline. The Russian government, however, has not yet made any firm commitments and Russian state-owned energy companies have yet to formally express interest in the project.

Russian companies have expressed interest in investing in hydroelectric power projects, as well as developing the coal mines in Thar.

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