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Q+A - Russian-Pakistan rivalry giving way to cooperation?

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov arrives in Islamabad for a two-day bilateral counter-terrorism summit starting on Monday, as Moscow seeks to deepen ties with Islamabad.

While the Russians and Pakistanis are being tight-lipped over the discussions, here are some questions and answers about the state of ties between the old Cold War foes, now facing a common threat from Islamist militancy.

WHAT ARE THE UPS AND DOWNS OF PAKISTAN-RUSSIA TIES?

Pakistan and Russia (formerly the Soviet Union) were on opposite sides during the Cold War, when Pakistan allied with the United States the Soviet Union backed Pakistan’s main rival, India.

The two were bitter enemies in the 1980s when Pakistan supported mujahideen guerrillas battling Soviet troops in Afghanistan. The Soviets were eventually forced to withdraw after 10-year occupation.

Moscow and Islamabad remained rivals during the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Russia, along with Iran and India, backed the then Northern Alliance against the Taliban, who were recognised only by Pakistan and two other Muslim countries.

But ties have warmed since a 2003 visit by Pakistan’s then military president, Pervez Musharraf -- the first by a Pakistani leader in 30 years. In recent years, Russia has pursued a more pragmatic foreign policy and sought closer ties with Pakistan.

But Moscow has been careful not to harm relations with Pakistan’s traditional foe India, a major arms client.

WHAT ARE RUSSIA’S INTERESTS IN PAKISTAN?

Russia is concerned about Pakistan as a source of Islamist militancy and potential nuclear proliferation. It suspects that Muslim extremists in Pakistani sanctuaries on the Afghan border have links with militants from the North Caucasus and other Muslim Russian regions. Pakistan, therefore, could be an important plank in any Russian strategy to stem a the spread of militancy into and across ex-Soviet Central Asia.

One of Russia’s specific concerns is the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an al Qaeda ally that has found sanctuary for years in Pakistan’s tribal regions. It is one of the leading Islamist militant groups in Central Asia.

Russia is also jockeying for more regional influence ahead of an eventual departure, or at least drawdown, of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan. It needs better relations with Pakistan, seen as an important player in any Afghan settlement, because of its influence over senior Taliban leaders.

Security talks with Pakistan would also likely include cooperation against drug-trafficking, originating in Afghanistan and routed through Pakistan and Iran and on to markets in the Balkans and Europe. An increasing flow of Afghan heroin has contributed to a rise in HIV cases in Russia.

IS PAKISTAN A MARKET FOR RUSSIAN WEAPONS?

No one has yet said anything about any weapons sales to Pakistan being under consideration at the summit, but Russia aggressively seeks to boost arms sales abroad and has participated in defence exhibitions in Pakistan in the past.

Pakistan has relied heavily on the United States and China for much of its defence needs, but would like to diversify its suppliers. Any arms sales would require delicate diplomacy, however. Russia is a big supplier of weapons and a key ally to rival India.

Pakistan and India have fought three full-scale wars since independence in 1947.

WHAT ABOUT ENERGY INTERESTS?

Russia is interested in participating in a proposed gas pipeline leading from ex-Soviet Turkmenistan to India via Afghanistan and Pakistan. Turkmenistan is trying to diversity export routes, long dominated by Russia, and has been cool to the idea of Russian involvement.

Moscow has in the past shown interest in a $7.6 billion gas pipeline project for export of Iranian natural gas to Pakistan, saying gas monopoly Gazprom was ready to help implement and finance the pipeline, expected to be completed by 2015.

Additional reporting by Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Alex Richardson

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