On Nov. 20, Russian Defense Minister Gen. Sergey Shoigu visited Islamabad along with dozens of other Russian officials and signed an unprecedented Russian-Pakistan defense cooperation agreement. While in Islamabad, Shoigu also engaged in wide-ranging discussions with his Pakistani counterpart, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, on Afghanistan, regional security, arms sales and other issues.
In so doing, Shoigu became the first Russian defense minister to visit Pakistan since 1969, when the Soviet government made an unsuccessful effort to mediate tensions between Pakistan and India. Since then, relations between Moscow and Islamabad have been atrocious, in part due to the close and enduring defense relationship between Moscow and New Delhi. Relations deteriorated in particular during the early 1980s, when Pakistan served as the West’s frontline ally in the fight against the Soviet military occupation of Afghanistan. Russian policymakers have in the past routinely described Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism, but also as a failed state where extremist groups adversely influence government policy, threaten to subvert other countries and risk gaining control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons for possible use against Russia.
Russia-Pakistan reconciliation began around 2009, when Western governments announced their intention to remove their troops from Afghanistan, which led both governments to engage more heavily in regional diplomacy regarding the war-torn country. During the next few years, then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev met half a dozen times with then-Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, and the two sides discussed various cooperative projects.