The visit by Sergey Lavrov, the first by a Russian foreign minister in nearly a decade, is highly significant and could change regional dynamics. It could also pave the way for Russian President Putin’s first ever visit to Pakistan which would be a historic occasion.
Lavrov’s visit comes as Moscow seeks to increase its stature in the region, particularly in Afghanistan, where it seeks to inject itself as a key player in the ongoing peace process. The United States is reviewing the deal signed with Afghan Taliban and is hesitant on withdrawing troops before the May 1 deadline. The Russians have stepped up its involvement, hosting talks between Taliban and Afghan officials last month with another round soon. This has also increased cooperation between Russia and Pakistan in efforts to find a peaceful solution to the decades-old conflict.
Lavrov arrived from India, with which Moscow has a long and solid relationship. The apparent reset in relations with Pakistan, however, is a recent phenomenon. Pakistan was allied with the United States during the 1980s against the Soviets who had invaded Afghanistan. This is a rather unusual sight as Russians are mediating the conflict with Afghan Taliban on the same table while the US remains sidelined.
Moscow and Islamabad have agreed to boost ties in the fight against terrorism, with Russia providing unspecified military equipment to Pakistan and the two holding joint exercises. Russia is also building a gas pipeline between the Karachi and Lahore. Pakistan will also buy five million doses of the Russian-made COVID-19 Sputnik V vaccine and will get Russian expertise to modernise railways, bankrupt steel mills and energy sector.
The visit shows waning influence of the United States in the region particularly in Pakistan which is getting closer to China and Russia. This is not surprising particularly after the impeding withdrawal by American troops from Afghanistan as others would certainly fill the void. Pakistan is a key player in the Belt and Road Initiative while China has signed a 25-year deal with Iran. As the Americans depart, it is certain that the Russians and Chinese will seize control. The increasing cooperation between Pakistan and Russia should be viewed in the regional context. Both countries are forging a new relationship much to the detriment of India.