|Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani|
Pakistan Army’s Chief of the Army Staff, Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, will be visiting Moscow in the coming days, following which Russian President Vladimir Putin will make a two-day official visit to Pakistan starting October 2, during which Putin will meet his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari during talks that are part of a quadrilateral summit to be hosted by Pakistan on October 3 in which Afghanistan’s and Tajikistan’s Presidents will also take part. The credit for initiating high-level dialogues between Moscow and Islamabad goes to Pakistan’s former President-cum-COAS Gen Pervez Musharraf, following his state visit in February 2003. Next to visit Moscow was President Asif Ali Zardari, who paid a three-day official visit to between May 11 and 13 this year.
During this meeting, Islamabad had sought Russia’s financial-cum-diplomatic support for the Iran–Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline (for which Germany-based ILF has completed detailed engineering design and according to the interim feasibility report, the cost of the project is between $1.2 and $1.5 billion) after both the US and Saudi Arabia played spoilt-sports last March and forced the world’s largest ban–Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd (ICBC)—to roll back its plans for syndicating funds for the Pakistani side of the IP gas pipeline. Last year, Pakistan’s own state-owned National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) and Oil and Gas Development Company Ltd (OGDC) had walked away from the project last year fearing US sanctions. Faced with no other alternative, Islamabad has turned to Moscow for financial assistance for continuance of the IP gas pipeline project.
nterestingly, Moscow has signalled its readiness to warm up to Pakistan’s overtures with the proviso that Pakistan accommodates Russia’s concerns regarding the regional security scenario in Central Asia, given the fact that Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan/Khyber Pakhtunkhwa belt is separated from Tajikistan by Afghanistan’s narrow Wakhan Corridor, and that this belt of Pakistan also borders the Kashgar prefecture of China’s troubled Xinjiang province. To this end, Russia is reported to be willing to extend a sizeable quantum of security assistance to Pakistan, which is likely to include up to 12 new-build Mi-171 helicopters (to be built by the Ulan-Ude Aviation Plant) and hundreds of RPO-A Shmel (Bumblebee) shoulder-launched thermobaric rockets, items which the Pakistan Army urgently requires for its upcoming counter-insurgency campaign in North Waziristan.
While in Moscow, Gen Kayani is also likely to canvass for the Kremlin’s approval for three crucial projects: creation of an engine overhaul facility in Kamra for the 84.4kN-thrust Klimov RD-93, whuch powers the Pakistan Air Force’s (PAF) JF-17 ‘Thunder’ MRCA; another overhaul workshop for the 12 RD & PE Zvezda JSC-built UPAZ-1 aerial refuelling pods in service with the PAF’s four IL-78MKP MRTT transports; continued product-support for the four IL-78MKPs; and most importantly, the export approval for 132kN-thrust AL-31FN turbofans required for powering the initial 40 FC-20 (36-single-seat and four tandem-seat) M-MRCAs that the PAF wants to procure from China’s Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corp (which is also producing the JF-17).