August 26, 2015

Pakistan weighing strategic options amid rising tension with US: WSJ

Report says Russia has agreed to sell military helicopters to Pakistan and is poised to build a $2b gas pipeline as Islamabad turns towards a former adversary, and away from US Islamabad is weighing its strategic options amid rising tension with Washington, which views Pakistan as an unreliable ally in combating militants in the region, including neighbouring Afghanistan American newspaper The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported.

It added Russia has agreed to sell military helicopters to Pakistan and is poised to build a $2 billion natural-gas pipeline in the South Asian country, its biggest investment there in decades, as Islamabad turns toward a former adversary and away from the US, its longtime ally.

The report said Pakistan said it would buy four Russian Mi-35 attack helicopters for an undisclosed price, after a spate of high-level visits between the two countries.
In the Russian city of Ufa last month, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met Russian President Vladimir Putin and declared that he wanted a “multidimensional relationship” encompassing defence, commerce and energy, the report added.

Report says that represents a major shift for both countries, in response to a changing geopolitical dynamic. Pakistan worked alongside the US to defeat Soviet forces that occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s, while Russia built close ties with India, Pakistan’s estranged neighbor and rival.

The report said the US is increasingly embracing India as a counterweight to a rising China, which it views as a strategic competitor. That has encouraged erstwhile enemies Russia and Pakistan to mend fences.

Quoting the officials, the newspaper said the biggest marker of this new relationship is a proposed 1,100-kilometer (684-mile) pipeline, to be built by Russian state-owned industrial conglomerate Rostec. The two countries are expected to sign an agreement to move ahead within the next month. The pipeline would carry imported natural gas from the port city of Karachi to Lahore in the east, helping the country deal with crippling energy shortages. Rostec, run by a close friend of Putin’s, would finance, own and operate the pipeline for 25 years, the report added.

Despite Islamabad’s outreach to Russia, experts said it is likely to seek continued close ties to the US, which is Pakistan’s biggest supplier of military aid and equipment; since 2002, the US has provided Pakistan with $31 billion in civilian and military aid and reimbursements, according to the Congressional Research Service, the report added.

“Pakistan recently signed a nearly $1 billion deal to purchase 15 American AH-1Z Viper helicopters, as well as 1,000 Hellfire missiles and other equipment.”

WSJ said the Russian pipeline would represent Moscow’s first major project in Pakistan since the early 1970s, when the Soviet Union helped build a steel mill in Karachi during a brief warming of relations that followed the election of a left-leaning leader in Islamabad. The two countries are now discussing ways that Russia can upgrade the mill, the newspaper said quoting Pakistani officials.


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