Russia’s growing relationship with Pakistan, especially in the field of defence, is causing consternation in Indian circles

by Ashok Tuteja

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement earlier this week that Moscow would provide every possible support to Pakistan to make it a developed nation does not seem to have gone down well in New Delhi.

Lavrov also indicated that Russia would provide helicopters and other defence equipment to Pakistan to combat terrorism, fuelling concerns in New Delhi that Islamabad would use these weapons against India.

In July last year, Pakistan had received four MI-35M helicopters from Russia for anti-terror operations in the restive Balochistan province.

A source here said it was unfortunate that Russia had started supplying military equipment to Pakistan despite being fully aware of the fact that Pakistan has been for years aiding and abetting terrorism in India.

The source pointed out that Moscow was also apparently ignoring the fact that most of the defence equipment with the Indian armed forces was from Russia. Any move to sell the same kind of weaponry to Pakistan would obviously bring the age-old India-Russia defence partnership under intense strain.

The source acknowledged that Moscow was disappointed with New Delhi for its decision to diversify its defence purchases and explore the market in the US, Israel and France. ‘’But our intention is not only to buy the best defence equipment but also lay emphasis on our ‘Make in India’ initiative. We are buying from Russia too,’’ the source added.

Islamabad seems to have also started getting sympathy from Moscow over the issue of terrorism as was evident from a junior Russian minister’s reported statement in New Delhi earlier this week that Pakistan itself was a victim of the scourge.

Wrinkles started appearing in the age-old India-Russia relationship in September 2016 when Moscow conducted joint military drills with Pakistan days after Pakistan-based terrorists carried out an audacious attack on an Indian Army camp in camp in Uri, killing 18 jawans. India had at the time lodged a strong protest with Russia which subsequently promised not to hold military exercises with Pakistan again.

However, this was followed by Russia holding foreign office consultations with Pakistan for the first time in December 2016 and the then Pakistan Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif’s visit to Moscow.

The opinion gaining currency in New Delhi is that Russia is gradually toeing China’s line vis a vis Pakistan and frustrating India’s attempt to isolate Islamabad politically at the global level on the issue of terrorism.

India will now wait and watch what stance Moscow adopts at the coming plenary session of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in Paris next month when New Delhi, backed by Washington, is set to turn the heat on Pakistan over terror funding.