How the times change: Russian military’s visit to FATA

russian military 2

(Image Source: Geo TV)

There was an unusual warmth in growing bilateral relations between Russia and Pakistan when a military delegation from Moscow visited the restive Waziristan region in FATA. According to a statement released by Pakistan military’s media wing, the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), a Russian military delegation headed by Deputy Chief of General Staff, Colonel General Israkov Sergi Yuryevich visited Miran Shah and Wana, headquarters of the North and South Waziristan Agencies respectively.

Ironically, it was roughly three decades ago that the region was an active training ground for anti-Soviet Jihad in Afghanistan, supported by the United States and Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia. The visit coincides with the growing Russian interest in the security landscape of Afghanistan. Also, General Yuryevich’s FATA visit is believed to be tactical in nature, with officials in Moscow analysing the current security situation on the Afghanistan Pakistan border. The Russian delegation also praised Pakistan’s counter-efforts along with the border management controls, and were also informed of various socio-economic projects introduced in FATA.

Moscow is also hosting a multi-lateral moot on Afghanistan on April 14, inviting representatives from 12 countries, including major regional stakeholders namely Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, China and the United States. Moscow’s peace talks initiatives have previously come under heavy criticism from Afghanistan and the United States for including Taliban in the peace process.

Moscow has constantly assured the Afghan government that any contact with the Taliban is only aimed at bringing peace in the Afghanistan, and not to undermine the authority of the government in Kabul. Thus, a visit by a high level Russian delegate to Pakistan, especially to a region infamous for the demise of the Soviet forces, shows growing concerns in Moscow regarding regional insecurity, and an intent to broker peace talks.

A major positive coming out of the April peace talks is participation of both Afghanistan and Pakistan, two neighbours whose relations have nosedived since a recent spate of terror attacks in Pakistan. Islamabad’s allegations of Kabul’s tacit support of anti-Pakistan militants and Kabul’s counter-allegations has further impaired the bilateral ties. The April Moscow moot thus – many believe – might help bring both the neighbours on talking terms.

Pakistan’s tiff with Afghanistan started when President Ghani opted to side with India, and boycotted the SAARC summit in Islamabad. Later, at the Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar, Ghani chided Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s foreign affairs adviser, by refusing a $500 million development donation from Pakistan and asking Aziz to use the fund towards counter-terrorism efforts in Pakistan. Ghani’s siding with Modi’s India was an effort to isolate Pakistan on the Global arena, a policy which failed when both Russia and China refused to acknowledge India’s criticism of Pakistan.

The recent upturn in Islamabad-Moscow ties has culminated after a series of confidence building measures between both the countries. Last year’s Pak-Russia joint military exercises laid a solid foundation for long-term military and strategic cooperation. Now that the distrust of the 1980’s era is slowly taking the backseat, both the countries are looking for pragmatic solutions to overcome the challenges of militancy in Afghanistan, especially with the rising influence of ISIS in the country. In that regard, Moscow is in talks with Pakistan to come up with solutions to nullify IS’s influence in Afghanistan. Both Russia and China are worried that if the threat of ISIS is not contained, it might trigger a spill over effect in both the countries.

Pakistan is already bearing the fruits of a decades’ long relationship with China. Russia’s inclusion in the Pak-China equation, with a foreseeable US retreat from Afghanistan, presents Pakistan with a unique opportunity. This opportunity requires Islamabad to carefully choose its regional and transnational allies and put an end to a never ending cycle of violence and instability in the country.

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