After recently ending its arms embargo against Pakistan, Moscow seems set to go through with a deal to sell MI-35 attack helicopters to the South Asian nation, ostensibly to assist it in its war against Islamist militants.This sale has little precedent; Pakistan and India’s Cold War alliances, with the U.S. and Russia respectively, have largely endured to this day. After 9/11 especially, Pakistan was a major recipient of American aid and military equipment, while India maintained its strategic relationship with Russia by continuing to be its biggest weapons buyer.Recently, though, things have gotten more complicated. In recent months, Pakistan has begun to look elsewhere for its energy, and with this newest deal, military needs as well—and in both cases, its gaze has settled on Russia. The Diplomat explains:
It could be argued that it was actually America’s entry into the region a decade ago that ultimately accentuated the circumstances that impel Russia and Pakistan closer to each other. Pakistan’s counter-terrorism cooperation with America salved with military aid has been toxic for domestic stability, as the situation in FATA and Waziristan reveal. As the tempo of internal stability operations has increased, Pakistan is keen to diversify away from America for certain classes of weaponry to a source that can supply cheaper and more rugged alternatives with a much smaller political price on the domestic front.
India, a long time buyer of Russian arms, is also diversifying its strategic partners. In trying to compete with China militarily, India has become the world’s largest importer of weapons. But India needs more, and more advanced military hardware, to have a chance to catch up. To that purpose, India’s been building military ties with Israel, France, and the U.S., while also trying to stimulate a domestic industry. The threat to greater military cooperation with India may also have compelled Russia to look to Pakistan.The sale also may also simply come down to money. Russia’s MI-35s are cheaper than the American AH-1 Cobras the Pakistani military is currently deploying against the Taliban.
The Russia-Pakistan arms deal is only the latest reminder that up is down in foreign affairs nowadays. From the Sunni nations tacitly rooting for Israel to subdue Hamas, to Turkey grudgingly lending the Kurds a hand, geopolitical sands are shifting all over the world.