Alliances and coalitions form the core of international politics but more often come with a price. The norm of coalition with fellow states has deep roots in the political evolution of the world hence, till date this practice though much more complex, still serves as an important element in making friends and foes. Chaotic shifts in the tectonic plates of the political world have impacted leading world superpowers indicating the cracks within the twentieth century’s world order. Global politics in the twenty-first century or the “new world order” has many speculated contenders ready to replace the older powers. The P-5s of the world will be challenged by smaller but resourcefully powerful countries. Countries with the most pivotal geostrategic position, economic viability and military potential will score the highest marks in the test of international relations. Change in the world order will be resisted by the beneficiaries (the current P-5s) but will equally be ripped by the opportunists.
Formation of a newer coalition or alliance has multiple factors with the obvious being mutual interests. Defense and security is a prime focus for many due to the involvement of layers of proxy wars and rouge terrorist organizations which were a result of destabilizing and toppling governments in different counties. Pakistan’s relationship with the P-5s has juggled between United States and China for the greater part of history and too many eggs were placed in one basket, depriving Pakistan to develop its foreign front openly. Post Cold War, the invasion of Afghanistan, clouded Pakistan’s coalition preferences for decades causing harmful ramifications on Pakistan’s relationship with other players – particularly Russia making both countries shy of cooperating openly. Pakistan started to drift away from its American counterpart due to various reasons and the establishment realized the need to rekindle ties with other countries which it had been avoiding to appease the U.S. Although significant normalization in the bitter relationship with Russia had developed behind the curtains, highest state to state meeting took place in 2007 when Kremlin sent Prime Minister Mikhail on a three day visit to Pakistan. With smooth sailing of bilateral talks between Russia and Pakistan defense related deals saw a break through.
Recently, a 70-member contingent of the Russian Army landed in Pakistan to partake in a two week-long tactical exercise in the mountainous regions of the country. The exercise is aimed at sharing and honing combat skills which are of great value in counterterrorism operations; a skill Pakistani military has acquired in a short span of time in its own backyard. Since Russian forces are actively engaged in Syria against ISIS, the military operations in mountainous terrain differ from those in the plains and the exercise revolved around similar environment. Militarily, this joint exercise might seem insignificant, but given the many factors it is a starting point of a conduit which would create a greater strategic impact. International reaction and media’s coverage of this military cooperation – in particular that of the U.S and India, enhances the impact and stance of Pakistan of not being isolated from the rest of players in global politics. This , however, is not the first act of cooperation between the two countries; over the past two years Pak Russian ties have improved manifold as evidenced by the lift of arms embargo ; the purchase of Mi-35 Hind Gunship Helicopters by Pakistan. This was done under the auspices of a defense cooperation agreement signed two years ago. Besides defense, in the energy sector, Moscow and Islamabad signed an agreement on a gas pipeline between Lahore and Karachi. All these overtures and indentures were seen as breakthroughs in the once-acrimonious relations.
What makes this growing Pak-Russo alliance important is the diplomatic realignment. Pakistan’s aversion to Russia was rooted in the deep strategic relations between Moscow and its arch-rivals, New Delhi. The year 1971, when Pakistan was split asunder with the overt and armed support of India, saw USSR enter into a strategic treaty of friendship and cooperation with India. The landmark agreement continued to affect Pakistani strategic thinking. The military exercise comes on the heels of bitter tensions between India and Pakistan in wake of an attack on an Indian military installation. With growing diplomatic and military offensives by India ostensibly to give a “befitting response” to Pakistan, the Russian tilt towards Pakistan is a cause of concern for New Delhi. Despite being India’s closest strategic partner, Russian opening to Pakistan is tantamount to “crossing the red line “in the eyes of India.
However, Moscow’s move towards Islamabad was inevitable due to a host of developments in the region and the changes in power profiles of allies. There is a need to dabble into the possible reasons of the Pak Russo engagement and the chances of fissures in Indo-Russo ties.
States try to expand their sinews of national power to hold their own. They do that by hobnobbing with states which have the capacity to pander to their strategic interests. Convergence of interests is the basic element in establishing inter-states ties and same is the case in the ever-strengthening bond between China and Pakistan. Both countries have become all the more indispensable to each other.
Pakistan’s position and role in China’s strategy to expand its clout has increased tremendously with the establishment of the China Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC). It is a mega project which will connect West Asia with China, and is an integral part of China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative. Not only does CPEC gives China a conduit into West Asia and the Middle East but it also lessens its dependence on the Strait of Malacca as the route from the Gwadar Port till Xinjiang province saves China invaluable time and money. Most importantly in case of a blockade of the Strait of Malacca, China may not be inflicted with a heavy loss. It is this closeness with Beijing which has elevated Islamabad’s importance for Russia. Indeed, despite doubts owing to historical misgivings, Russia’s pivot towards China is almost complete. Both countries are on a cooperation course even in areas as diverse as technology, media and sports. The entente can be corroborated by the following statement by the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister.
“Russia is sincerely delighted by China’s achievement, who is our strategic partner bilaterally and internationally. We truly appreciate our relations with the People’s Republic of China and consider them as the best in history,”. All this perches Pakistan in a favorable position to foster closer relations with Russia as the later see the former as the linchpin to further strengthen its association with China. The likelihood of this entente turning into a deeper strategic partnership is bright because of the Indian factor. India’s growing strategic relations with Israel and especially the United States might have slightly pushed Russia away from its old ally. Given the timing of this military drill, India and Russia could be in for a period of misunderstanding. The fact that this simulation is being carried out amidst Indian attempts of isolating Pakistan, any sort of cooperation will leave a negative impact on the long standing marriage between India and Russia. Hence, it could be argued that the regional pivoting places Pakistan at the epicenter as evidenced by the primacy given to CPEC. Indo Pak tensions; the Indo U.S entente and most importantly China’s ever increasing clout do augur well for a new era of friendship and cooperation between Pakistan and Russia.
Official inauguration of CPEC has sent ripples across the international community with many wanting a share in the project including Afghanistan. Afghanistan is an old scar for the Pakistan’s new counterpart and perhaps the sole point of remorse. With the expansion of Taliban’s ground control in Afghanistan and its disapproval of the existing U.S allied government and presences of Coalition forces, the land locked country remains a proxy battleground. Presence of ISIS in Afghanistan is an active threat to Pakistan and mega project of CPEC. Moscow’s call for trilateral talks in December on the situation in Afghanistan is a significant hit of mutual interests and future coalition and perhaps it is the reason why so far no further detail on the talks has been given out to the public. United States and India still hold swaying powers owing to their own dealings with Russia and China; a point that Pakistan would need to comprehend in case asked for an unexpected favor by either two.
Although, with the developing ground situation in Afghanistan, the Taliban/ISIS held areas could form a separate Islamic State and seek separation if the U.S completely pulls out its forces under the next U.S President Donald Trump. This would seem a rather farfetched idea but cannot be ruled out as a possibility over the course of next years. Afghanistan due to its uncertain political situation becomes a grave matter of concern for the three countries involved. Moscow’s attempt in brokering peace deals between the Kabul and the Taliban would further increase the regional stability and decrease the probability of a major conflict.
The newer nexus in the international political arena sees the alignment of three nuclear powers: Russia, Pakistan and China. Bearing in mind that CPEC would play a major role in physically connecting the three countries. Together the trio will bring about a major shift in the world order but Pakistan needs to formally appoint a foreign minister and amend its preferences of personal based favors which many in the civil establishment are guilty of taking time and time again. Examining the trio’s political coziness under the basic microscope of International Relations, the coalition in the making is based on the firm principle of “you scratch my back I scratch yours”. Pakistan gains an exceptional edge in this formation by being the only Islamic country in the future coalition. Historical events and facts should be revisited by Pakistan as becoming a part of any coalition is easy but any compromise on the national interests and preferences of Pakistan should remain Pakistan’s chief factor in future foreign dealings. The emerging coalition of Pakistan, Russia and China will bring out unforeseen complications and challenges for all three states – complete trust will be the only factor that will maneuver from the trap of falling and suffering mutually assured damage.