Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 45

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin wound up two days of talks in Islamabad on March 4 — talks that included meetings with Pakistan’s prime minister and its foreign minister. Karasin suggested that the exchanges had been friendly and constructive, but there was little in his remarks to suggest that they had produced a breakthrough of any sort in relations between Russia and Pakistan. The two countries have clashed over political developments in Afghanistan. Karasin said, however, that they had agreed to "continue contacts" and to "expand channels of information" on that issue. The two sides also called for an increase in bilateral trade, which currently amounts to an anemic $75 million per year. According to Karasin, the two countries spent little time discussing the issue of nuclear nonproliferation. They did not raise the subject of arms sales at all. (Russian agencies, March 3, 5)

On March 4, the deputy speaker of the Russian parliament, Vasily Likhachev, suggested that Russia has an opportunity to improve relations with Pakistan and thus of enhancing its influence in Asia. Likhachev was heading a Russian parliamentary delegation that was also visiting Pakistan. According to the Russian lawmaker, Pakistani officials expressed a desire to restore the closer relations that existed between Pakistan and Moscow prior to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Likhachev proposed that the two countries increase their governmental, economic and cultural contacts. (Itar-Tass, March 4)

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s reported call for an upgrading of relations between Moscow and Islamabad (Xinhua, March 3) probably reflected both Pakistan’s current relative isolation and a recent resurgence of border tensions between Pakistan and India. Pakistan’s relations with the United States grew stronger during the latter years of the Cold War and the Soviet war in Afghanistan. But they have soured since 1990 and the implementation of sanctions by the United States on Pakistan over suspicions that Islamabad is developing nuclear weapons. That same issue has been an irritant in Russia’s relations with Pakistan. In September of last year, Moscow strongly criticized a statement by Sharif that Pakistan had a right to acquire nuclear weapons for its own defense. (AP, September 6; Itar-Tass, September 8)

But the primary obstacle to improved Russian-Pakistani ties is Moscow’s determination to safeguard its friendly relations with India, Pakistan’s arch-rival. Close ties to New Delhi constitute one of the pillars of Russian diplomacy in Asia. Those ties have also provided a lucrative market for Russian arms exporters. Russia has, for that reason, refused to sell arms to Pakistan, despite its urgent need for hard currency revenues from weapons sales and a general lack of discrimination in peddling its military wares.

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