By Asia Maqsood
China’s dynamic leader, Xi Jinping has announced One Belt One Road Project “OBOR” initially in Astana, Kazakhstan in September, 2013, during his tour in Central Asia. He characterized this as an “Economic Belt” stressing that China’s investment could bring prosperity in the respective regions. Later on during Xi’s visit to Indonesia in October, 2014, he announced the will to build a “Maritime Silk Road” of the 21st Century. This maritime component of OBOR is expected to stretch across Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean.
The word “road” is an inappropriate term to describe a maritime corridor and emphasizes China’s claim of historical legacy in the region. Since then, the overland “ Economic Belt” and “Maritime Silk Road” are referred to as One Belt One Road and “ Belt and Road Initiative (B RI)” in official documents. The March, 2014 Government Work Report to the National People’s Congress and successive documents have stressed the importance of B & R as a priority of China’s external actions. On March, 2015, Foreign Minister Wang Yi indicated that the B & R would be the focus of China’s diplomacy in 2015 and would lead to the “rejuvenation of Eurasian continent”.
China has also established Silk Road Fund to finance all projects under BRI. These projects include construction of six major economic corridors (1) New Eurasian Land Bridge, (2) China–Mongolia–Russia, (3) China–Central Asia–Western Asia, (4) Indo-China Peninsula, (5) China–Pakistan Economic Corridor and (6) Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar. These corridors will be the sites of energy and industrial patterns and established through a wide range network of rail, roads, waterways, air and pipelines.
As far as CPEC is concerned, it would strengthen a trio of China-Pakistan and Russia under but also gives an opportunity to Russia to play a significant role in regional politics of South Asia. Pakistan has also realized with the passage of time that it cannot rely only on the US, instead it should seek other strategic partners to maintain the balance of power in South Asia.
Indo-US strengthened strategic partnership has also shifted the balance of power of this region in India’s favor. At present, thanks to CPEC which has strengthened China-Pakistan strategic partnership through external balancing factor, Pakistan would be able to counterbalance India’s hegemonic ambitions in South Asia. It is a better reality that South Asia is the least integrated region of the world because of the traditional rivalry between two nuclear rivals: India and Pakistan. Hence, CPEC has the capacity to integrate the regional states of South Asia.
As far as Russia is in this basket of allies, it possibly will be getting a golden opportunity of Pakistan-US strained relations. Russia is also investing its interest in China-Pakistan development project CPEC. It seems that realignments of regional actors of South Asia with extra-regional actors (CHINA, RUSSIA) would determine the fate of South Asia’s regional prosperity and security. Cold War alliances have been altered in the contemporary basket of the allies in South Asia. At present, India is closer to the US than Russia through its strategic partnership and US’ strained relations with Pakistan pushing the former to improve its relations with Russia and expand its orbit of strategic partners. Simultaneously China-Pakistan time tested friendship has been converted into their strong strategic partnership with the development of CPEC and Gwadar Port.
Under BRI, China has also signed bilateral cooperation agreements with multiple countries including Hungary, Mongolia, Russia, Tajikistan, and Turkey. There are other various projects which are underway such as (1) network of train linking eastern China and Iran that might be expanded to Europe and (2) new rail links with Laos and Thailand and high-speed-rail projects in Indonesia.
Russia is resurging and taking part in the global matters. The era of rapprochement between Pakistan and Russia’s bilateral relations has begun since 2014. Another contributory factor in bringing Russia closer to Pakistan may be India’s strong strategic ties with the US.
After the Soviet Union troop withdrawing the combatant troops from Communist Afghanistan, relations began to normalize with Pakistan. In the wake of fall of communism, Russian-Pakistan relations were warmed rapidly. They have signed a defense cooperation agreement in 2014 that led Russia to lift an arms embargo on Pakistan. Russia also finalized a sale of Mi-35 combat helicopters to Pakistan. Both countries held joint military exercises. Russian sold Russian engines to Pakistan Air Force for use in its JF-17 fighter jets. Russia and Pakistan signed a $2 billion deal in 2015 to develop a 1,100-kilometer gas pipeline from Karachi to Lahore which is the largest economic deal between the two countries since the Soviet Union built the Pakistan Steel Mills in the 1970s. A joint military exercise, Druzba 2017, between the Special Forces of the countries was also carried out.
For the first time, Pakistani soldiers will undergo training at Russian military institutes after the two countries signed an agreement on August 7, 2018. This agreement was signed at the conclusion of the first meeting of Russia-Pakistan Joint Military Consultative Committee (JMCC) – the highest forum of their defence collaboration, according to Pakistan’s defence ministry.
“Both countries signed the Contract on Admission of Service Members of Pakistan in RF’s (Russian Federation) Training Institutes.”
The Russian side was led by Deputy Defence Minister Col Gen. Alexander V Fomin who visited Pakistan from August 6-7 to attend the first session of Russia-Pakistan Joint Military Consultative Committee (JMCC).
Lt. Gen (retd) Zamir ul Hassan Shah, Secretary Defence, led the Pakistani delegation during the JMCC meeting.
During the inaugural session of the JMCC, both sides exchanged views on bilateral and major international issues including situation in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the ministry said.
To conclude, there are two factors which are relevant to discuss here: first is the recent developments- India and Pakistan’s membership in Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in June 2017, co-sponsored by China and Russia would pave the ways for Russia to play more significant role to solve interstate conflicts of SCO member states. Moreover, this would open more avenues of cooperation among these states in different fields of life. Verily, SCO has strong credentials to give the platform to adopt a comprehensive cooperative approach among China Russia India and Pakistan being on one stage (SCO).
Secondly, it seems that an economic bloc of Russia, China and Pakistan would emerge in the near future. This would secure the regional peace and security of South Asia. The context of the recent US-China trade war would also influence the global economy as well as India’s, China’s and Russia’s. All of these factors will heavily influence the geopolitics of South Asia.
Asia Maqsood has a degree of M. Phil in Defence and Strategic Studies from Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad. She has done Masters in International Relations from the same Institute. She frequently writes on China Pakistan affairs, CPEC, South Asia’s Regional and strategic issues Issues which have been published in various national, international blogs and newspapers. She can be reached at email@example.com. She has previously worked in Strategic Vision Islamabad.