NEW DELHI: While increasing Russian engagement with Pakistan has been worrisome for India, Russian authorities assured India during foreign secretary Harsh Shringla’s Moscow visit this week that their exchanges with Pakistan have centred only around developments in Afghanistan and the role of Taliban in it. Moscow assured Shringla its relationship with Pakistan will not impinge at all on ties with India or be detrimental to India’s security interests, said official sources.
During the visit, Indian authorities pitched for Russian involvement in the Indo-Pacific as they made the point that the initiative wasn’t just about Quad that is seen by Moscow as China-centric.
Russia’s suspicions about the Indo-Pacific run deep as it continues to insist that the concept is aimed at containing China. Moscow refuses to even use the term Indo-Pacific officially saying the concept is divisive in nature. Shringla is learnt to have said that the work started by India and Russia on the Chennai-Vladivostok shipping line is already an example of cooperation in the Indo-Pacific in pursuit of progress and prosperity.
India has sought to allay some of Russia’s apprehensions about the Indo-Pacific by emphasising that it’s a free, open, transparent and inclusive initiative with ASEAN at its centre and that it doesn’t exclude any country. India and Japan recently managed to get Russia on board for a trilateral track II to work together for joint investment and development of projects in the region.
During his visit this week, Shringla had called on Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and held discussions with deputy foreign ministers Igor Morgulov and Sergey Ryabkov. Moscow’s assurance on Pakistan is important for India at a time ties between the 2 countries seem to be veering into the military domain. Russia has been carrying out military exercises with Pakistan regularly since 2016 and Pakistan navy chief Amjad Niazi was reported to have toured this week Russian warship Admiral Grigorovich which participated in Pakistan’s 45-nation naval exercise Aman 2021.
While the government is confident Russia will remain mindful of India’s interests, it’s also closely watching Moscow’s exchanges with Pakistan on developments in Afghanistan where Russia believes Pakistan has an important role to play. Significantly, Russia’s special envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov visited Pakistan Friday and held meetings with Pakistan army chief Qamar Bajwa and foreign minister Shah M Qureshi and sought their support in taking the stalled peace process forward.
While India has supported the latest Afghanistan peace process, it remains concerned about the role of Pakistan’s spy agency ISI and its influence over the Taliban. Shringla conveyed to the Russians that the peace process should not lead to any ungoverned space that can be used by terror groups to target countries in the region.
“The rise in violence and targeted killings of Afghan activists is not conducive to the ongoing peace process. We have advocated immediate and comprehensive ceasefire since talks and violence cannot go hand in hand,” said the foreign secretary in an address in Moscow, while reiterating India’s support for an inclusive Afghan-led, Afghan-controlled and Afghan-owned reconciliation in Afghanistan. He added the reconciliation should preserve the gains of the last 2 decades and ensure the welfare and well-being of Afghanistan and of other countries in the region.