Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 2

Pakistan has urged the world community to halt a far-reaching Russian-Indian arms accord, one that Islamabad says could further exacerbate tensions in the already volatile South Asia region. Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Tariq Altaf voiced the plea on December 24, only two days after Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov concluded a visit to India which yielded the Russian-Indian agreement. That accord extends for another ten years–until the year 2010–an earlier military cooperation program between the two countries.

According to Altaf, the latest agreement could result in India acquiring some US$16 billion worth of Russian arms and military technology over the next decade. The Pakistani diplomat warned that “such acquisition of sophisticated weapons would destroy the balance of power in an already precarious and highly volatile security environment.” He also said that the purchases would “certainly pose a threat to Pakistan’s security,” and warned that they would compel Islamabad to “appropriately augment its [own] defense capabilities by all available means.” He urged the major powers and the United Nations to take note of this “dangerous development” (Reuters, December 24; Asia Pulse via COMTEX, December 28).

The remarks by Altaf reprised complaints made public by the Pakistani Foreign Ministry in late November, in the run-up to Primakov’s visit to New Delhi. At that time, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmad expressed Islamabad’s “disappointment that Russia, despite being one of the G-8 countries… allegedly committed to nonproliferation, is now becoming party to an aggravation of the strategic balance in South Asia” (Xinhua, November 28; see the Monitor, December 2).

In his December 24 comments, Altaf also portrayed the Russian-Indian arms agreement as a violation of Russia’s self-proclaimed great power status. As one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Altaf said, Russia “must realize its responsibility for avoidance of actions which aggravate the tenuous security situation” in South Asia. The Russian-Indian military-technical cooperation program, he added, also “directly violates the letter and spirit” of a communique issued by the five permanent Security Council members at a meeting held in Geneva last June (Reuters, December 24). That meeting followed a series of nuclear tests by India and Pakistan and was aimed at easing tensions between the two countries and averting a nuclear arms race in the region.

Altaf’s remarks, not surprisingly, parallel criticisms the United States leveled against Russia for its nuclear cooperation with India. Despite international–including Russian–condemnations of India’s role as instigator of last spring’s nuclear tests, Moscow moved quickly in their aftermath to advance a US$3 billion agreement under which Russia is to construct a nuclear power plant at the Kudankulam site in southern India. That action led the United States to criticize Moscow for undermining international efforts to isolate India in the wake of New Delhi’s nuclear tests (see the Monitor, June 23, 1998).

Indian leaders were quick to recognize the import of those Russian actions, and were equally cognizant in the wake of Primakov’s December 20-22 visit to New Delhi. On December 24 Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes said that the Primakov visit had demonstrated anew the failure of U.S. efforts to isolate India and to discourage Indian-Russian ties. Indeed, Fernandes said that New Delhi and Moscow had made further progress in 1998 toward finalizing the Kudankulam nuclear reactor project (Itar-Tass, December 24).