By Sarfraz Ahmed Rana.
In December last year, representatives of Russia, China and Pakistan gathered around amidst the frosty nights of Moscow to discuss the heated issue of exacerbating security situations in Afghanistan and the growing network of Islamic State. Many countries felt a great deal of dismay including Afghanistan, a country on negotiation table itself was not invited for the consultation. Interestingly, it’s the first time Russia held such talks inclusive of Pakistan even the most sanguine voices view Russia-Pakistan relationship turning Competitive to cooperative since the cold war era. A new millennium of blossoming diplomatic relations between Moscow and Islamabad validates the motion which asserts “in realpolitik Today’s enemy can be a tomorrow’s friend and can be a best friend”. An increasing improvement in the relationship between two countries that in the past remained extremely hostile and did not trust each other is the most important geopolitical issue of South Asia.
“Reinforce the good of the past and bury the bad” an impression executed in former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf’s reign, at present restoring the momentum of cooperation and pursuit of active diplomacy which can overtly be seen in the diplomatic body language of the both governments. In 2015, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov referred Pakistan as “Russia’s closest partner” perceived as unprecedented development in the history of Russia-Pakistan relations.
In the recent past, a frequent exchange of high-level political and military delegations between Russia and Pakistan culminated into the Russian landmark decision of lifting up the years-long arm embargo will not only reckon substantial amount of increment to Pakistan defense industry but also transform its foreign policy position as well. Russian monumental decision of lifting up an arm embargo yielded an immediate deal of the special kind supplying MI-35 attack helicopters to its cold war rival, latterly dispatching contingent of ground forces for first ever joint military drills during the strange time of simmering Indo-Pak political environment even situations at the Line Of Control (LOC) was experiencing the massing of troops on either side of the border followed the Uri attack in Indian Held Kashmir, Hence, it annoyed New Delhi, a strategic partner and one of the key arm importer of Russia.
This much needed renewed engagement between the two cold war competitors further disappointed Indian rhetoric of Russia as “a strong and reliable friend” just after Russia surprisingly extended its support for recently launched Chinese multi-billion project China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which India sees as an existential challenge to its regional interests and supremacy more particularly Indian strategic layout to become pre-eminent Indian Ocean Power. Contrary to Indian interests, Russia also desires to be part of the project in the future crumbled Indian ominous propaganda against CPEC which experts claim would be a game changer for Pakistan.
During the BRICKS summit last year at Shimla, Russia had not paid enough heed to the Indian efforts of labeling Pakistan a “Mothership of Terrorism” even Indian efforts have gone wasted amidst Heart of Asia conference held at Amritsar when the Russian envoy Zamir Kabulov snubbed the irresponsible Indian attitude to use platform to level baseless allegations against Pakistan instead to discuss regional security issues signaled a palpable change in Russian policy.
The critical question arises in the wake of startling geopolitical change is that what preferences and priorities impelled Moscow to make immediate reconstruction of its regional policy vis-à-vis Pakistan?
Many argue the growing bromance between the New Delhi and Washington since Bush to Obama administration resulted into Russia-Pakistan reconcilement. Yet Russian strategic gamble goes beyond this rhetoric to increase its mutual overtures with Islamabad setting the early bid for long-term strategic gains. The most notable feature that Russia has seriously taken into consideration is Pakistan’s geostrategic location which has potential to connect massive economies of the Europe and Asia through “Eurasian Union Integration” a region accounting for over 60% of the global GDP and about three-fourths of the planet’s population. Beyond doubt, this dream of “Eurasian Union” could not be served with its genuine soul without the purposeful participation of Pakistan. Moscow – a country under severe American punitive economic sanctions finally has realised Pakistan’s geopolitical importance in Eurasian region as the South Asian gatekeeper, not as the backwards land of terrorism and poverty.
In addition to, CPEC which becomes a catching phrase around the world considers as the pilot project of the Chinese grand initiative of the twenty-first century Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) widely known as the One Belt One Road (OBOR), interestingly, Russian experts regard Russian participation in the SREB as desirable in which Russia could have a stronger position.
One after the other strategic objectives “generally accomplished” in Ukraine and Syria by knocking down the U.S. diplomatically gives Russia a tenacity to manifest its power in Afghanistan – seemingly another front kick-started with the formation of Russia-China-Pakistan axis. All three countries agreed upon recently at Moscow talks to adopt a “flexible approach to remove certain figures of Taliban from sanctions lists, as part of efforts to foster a peaceful dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban”. Apparently, Kremlin keeping three factors in view while advancing its strategic nature relations toward Pakistan with regard to execute its strategy in Afghanistan;
First Pakistan’s relative influence over Afghan Taliban could certainly be a great use of bringing Taliban down on negotiation table to discuss the viable and pragmatic approach to prevent the growing networks of Daesh which becomes a shared threat for the security and economic progress of the region. Russia’s recent sympathetic conduct with Taliban is in the background of setting a bulwark force of Taliban whose focus should remain to fight against Daesh in Afghanistan.
Secondly, Russia wants Pakistan to practice its extensive experience of fighting against terrorism as a Major Non-NATO Ally with the collaboration of Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (RAT SCO) to curb “three evils” separatism, extremism, and terrorism which pose a real threat to security.
Thirdly the recent attempt by Russia to reach out to Pakistan and form a strategic alliance during the time when relations between Pakistan and the U.S have reached the lowest level to gain a strong foothold in the region with the prime motive to weaken American influence in Central Asia and Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, the convergence of interest of two countries has made the “Worthy Alliance” inevitable and it is in the greater interests of both Russia and Pakistan to give a new impetus to cooperation.
The writer is the columnist and International Relations Research Scholar.