Skip to content Skip to footer

Pakistan Defence Review: Updates

Pakistan and Russia Conduct Inaugural High-Level Defence Meeting

On 06 and 07 of August, the respective defence ministries of Pakistan and Russia had completed their first bilateral meeting under the Russian-Pakistan Military Advisory Committee on Defence and Security.[1] Also termed the “Russia-Pakistan Joint Military Consultative Committee (JMCC),” the meeting is regarded as the “highest forum of defence collaboration” between Russia and Pakistan.[2]

The JMCC was held in Pakistan and involved one of Russia’s Deputy Ministers of Defence – Colonel-General Alexander Fomin – alongside Pakistani Defence Secretary Lt. Gen. (retired) Zamirul Hassan Shah. The main outcome of the meeting was the finalization and signing of the “Contract on Admission of Service Members of Pakistan in Russian Federation Training Institutes.”[3] In addition, the JMCC had conducted “in-depth discussions on avenues of future cooperation.”[4]

It appears that the JMCC is an evolution of sorts in Pakistan’s bilateral defence ties with Russia, which had kicked-off in 2014 when Moscow lifted its arms embargo on Pakistan and, in turn, inked an agreement for military cooperation. In addition to Russia, Pakistan holds high-level meetings of this nature with its other bilateral defence partners, notably Turkey (Pakistan-Turkey High Level Military Dialogue Group) and Italy (Pakistan-Italy Joint Committee on Defence Systems).

Seeing the current depth of Pakistan’s defence ties with Turkey and Italy, there is a sense that the JMCC with Russia could potentially spur comparable gains, most notably in terms of big-ticket procurement. But as it stands today, there appears to be limited, if any, substantive momentum on that front by either the Russian or Pakistani side. However, some quarters of Russia’s intelligentsia have urged that Moscow take steps to change the situation by actively promoting marquee systems, such as the Su-35, to Pakistan.

Thus far, Pakistan has only procured four Russian Helicopters Mi-35M assault helicopters. Otherwise, the balance of the relationship has largely been devoted to exercises, such as “Friendship” – i.e. a drill focused on counterinsurgency (COIN) and counterterrorism operations (CT). Delivering on COIN and CT interests, Russia’s primary defence export-import agency – Rosoboronexport – and its parent, Rostec, used the 2016 International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS) in Karachi, Pakistan to promote armoured vehicles, small-arms and other systems of value in asymmetrical operations.[5]

However, the prospect of Pakistan procuring marquee big-ticket items – such as fighter aircraft, tanks and air defence systems – from Russia is currently limited, but overall ties (e.g. training) are expanding. Interestingly, the Russian defence ministry’s mention of discussion regarding “military-technical fields” had initiated discussion in Russia of the potential of big-ticket sales to Pakistan. Statements in favour of such outcomes from Pakistani officials are not new, but there has not been any detail past that to indicate interest and evaluations, let alone contractual discussions. In fact, Rosoboronexport itself stated in clear terms (in 2016) that it was not holding any contractual discussions with Pakistan regarding the Su-35.[6]

However, there is a significant bridge between stating interest and actively negotiating, one where there would be setting-up a bid, technical evaluations and selecting a configuration. In contrast to a number of Pakistan’s other defence programs, such as its evaluation (and selection) of attack helicopters, corvettes, main battle tanks (MBT), self-propelled howitzers (SPH) and assault rifles, there was an active process. No such process (with the lone exception of the AK-103) was reported of any major Russian armaments.

In response to the first JMCC meeting, the Russian news publisher Kommersant probed its sources in order to understand why neither Pakistan or Russia pursued matters further. The short of it is that is “Pakistan’s complex relations with India,” among Russia’s leading defence customers.[7] However, with India steering most of its current procurement outlay towards the United States and Europe, one could argue that the Kremlin’s reluctance to deal with Pakistan will loosen, if only to stave-off potential competitors.[8]

Regarding Pakistan, none of the country’s three leading service arms – i.e. Army, Navy and Air Force – had officially remarked on the issue of Russian armaments. Thus far, most of what is known (i.e. the apparent interest) is communicated through either Pakistan’s government officials or the media. Although this does not alter the situation in this regard, Kommersant’s report may offer insight into Pakistan’s actual interests in regards to Russia, at least in terms of off-the-shelf purchases.

Kommersant, citing unnamed sources, claims:

“In recent years the Pakistani military has touched upon possible purchases of 6 to 12 Su-35 fighters, 8 more Mi-35M helicopters, several Mi-26T transport helicopters, as well as small-arms to equip the internal troops and [some] army units. However, not a single contract was prepared.”

Granted, the details are unverified, but they align with several factors relevant to Pakistan. For example, an interest in six to twelve Su-35s would indicate a purchase with cash-on-hand and, much like the Army’s Mi-35M purchase, expand through subsequent, incrementally-sized batches. This mutes the need for a credit-line, though it runs the risk of maintaining a sunk-cost in terms of maintenance and logistics if the PAF is unable to expand the Su-35 fleet to its reported Air Staff Requirement of 30-40 tier-one aircraft.[9]

The Army’s purported push for a subsequent eight Mi-35M delivers on the idea of incremental batch purchases – IHS Jane’s reported that the Army was interested in having a total of 20 Mi-35M.[10] In regards to small arms, the head of a US-based original equipment manufacturer (OEM) claimed Pakistan opted for 140,000 AK-103.[11] The Mi-26T is a new factor, but it would not be surprising considering heavyweight utility helicopters are a staple to building effective rapid mobilization capabilities. In addition, the Mi-26T (or analogous solution) would bolster the Army and Air Force’s logistics chain in the Northern Areas (lift heavy cargo to inaccessible or under-developed areas, especially at high-altitude).

However, Kommersant’s source noted that Pakistan and Russia did not proceed to contract negotiations on any of the aforementioned items, including the AK-103.[12] Overall, the constraint is India and Vladimir Putin’s forthcoming visit to India in October is poised to see India maintain it (via a new big-ticket deal).[13] But to suggest that India could readily sustain its leverage is disingenuous; not only is Washington actively contemplating its options to enforce its interests in India (i.e. push New Delhi to reduce its purchases from Moscow), but India also has a growing domestic industry that will reduce Russia’s long-term opportunities.

Washington Suspends Academy-Level Training Programs to Pakistani Officers

Of the areas where Pakistan and Russia did make substantive traction, training has become an interesting domain. In of itself, Russia’s approval of letting Pakistani military officers attend the former’s academies is a progressive sign of defence ties growing. However, Washington’s decision to remove Pakistan from the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program was conspicuous in terms of its timing.[14]

The announcement regarding Pakistan’s suspension from IMET came at the same as Pakistan and Russia announcing their program. It could be construed that Washington’s move was in alignment with its newly passed Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), but this notion is inaccurate. Rather, it appears that the White House’s move was in continuation of its widespread cuts of military aid to Pakistan, which it lowered to $150 million from the originally proposed amount of $750 million.[15]

However, the White House’s decision to cut Pakistan from IMET had reportedly caught many in the US by surprise. According to Reuters, US officials had banked on IMET as a means to build and continue linkages with Pakistani military personnel, arguing that the program was essential to the collaborative gains both sides had achieved to-date.[16] Akin Group’s Daniel F. Feldman, formerly the US’ special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP), stated that the decision was “very short-sighted and myopic.”[17] In fact, Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis was also reportedly against the move.[18]

Pakistan could aim to expand its reach to other countries as a means to build linkages and learn of other military education and training efforts. Be it Russia, China, Germany, the UK, Australia or others, there are a number of potential opportunities to supplant IMET. However, it would be surprising if Pakistan’s access to IMET is withheld beyond the short-term, especially with the US DoD reportedly pushing for Pakistan’s continued inclusion regardless of the military aid cuts.[19]

For Pakistan, the key issue in regards to Washington and Moscow would be whether it continues to view the US as an ally. As discussed in an earlier Quwa Premium article, an ally in the traditional sense is a state for whom one willingly provides military services and willingly absorbs the consequences of that support for the recipient state. To Pakistan, the US was the only country for whose interests it had fought and, in turn, sacrificed for (in the way of domestic blowback) through the decades.

On the other hand, China, Turkey and Russia are partners with whom there is an alignment of interests which could be furthered for mutual gain, but with no expectation of exchanging military services such as troops or combat operations. With Pakistan set to usher in a new government, it will be worth observing if Washington’s decisions in 2018 (e.g. to cut aid, put Pakistan on a watchlist for financing terrorism and preclude it from accessing IMET) will see a functional shift from it being viewed as an ‘ally’.

[1] Press Release. “The visit of the Deputy Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation Colonel-General Alexander Fomin to Pakistan ended.” Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation. 07 August 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 08 August 2018).

[2] Press Release. Press Information Department. Government of Pakistan. 07 August 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 08 August 2018).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Press Release. “Rosoboronexport to Debut at IDEAS-2016 in Pakistan.” Rostec. 22 November 2016. URL: (Last Accessed: 12 February 2018).

[6] “”Rosoboronexport” does not plan in the near future contracts with Pakistan.”” Rosoboronexport. 08 September 2016. URL: (Last Accessed: 09 August 2018).

[7] “With Pakistan are friends with an eye on India.” Kommersant. 08 August 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 09 August 2018).

[8] Maxim Kislyakov. “Weapons of Russia: sales growth or stagnation?” Army Standard. 01 August 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 06 August 2018).

[9] Farhan Bokhari. “Briefing: Defending the borders.” IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. 02 November 2016.

[10] Farhan Bokhari. “Pakistan buys initial batch of four Mi-35s.” IHS Jane’s 360. 23 August 2015. URL: (Last Accessed: 08 August 2018).

[11] John Kennedy. “General Staff Requirement (GSR) New Assault Rifle.” Soldier Systems. 16 July 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 06 August 2018).

[12] Kommersant. August 2018.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Idrees Ali, Phil Stewart. “Exclusive: As Trump cracks down on Pakistan, U.S. cuts military training programs.” Reuters. 10 August 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 11 August 2018).

[15] “US Senate passes defense bill with major aid cuts for Pakistan.” Bol News. 03 August 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 11 August 2018).

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

Show CommentsClose Comments

Leave a comment