Pakistan and the New Geopolitical Reality
The first of May was marked by the 70-year anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Pakistan and the USSR (Russia is the assignee of the Soviet Union).
In an official message of the Foreign Office of Pakistan dedicated to this event, we read the following: “We believe that long term multidimensional strategic partnership between the two countries will be mutually beneficial for the people of Pakistan and the Russian Federation and would contribute towards regional peace and stability.”
In a statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry, it is said, that “the heads of foreign policy agencies have noted the high level of Russian-Pakistani interstate relations, which are based on the principles of equality, mutual respect, and the acknowledgment of the two partners’ interests, as well as a constructive character of cooperation on world affairs including in leading international organisations, mainly the UN and SCO. Both sides have affirmed an attitude geared towards the consequent deepening of bilateral political dialogue and the development of multi-level cooperation in the areas of counter-terrorism, trade and economics, and other practical spheres of interest of the peoples of Russia and Pakistan”.
This is not simply constructive action and multi-level cooperation. The warming of relations between the two countries is taking place against the background of a growing crisis of relations between Russia and the West. Simultaneously, Pakistan is moving sharply away from its former patron: the US. Politics has no patience for emptiness, and it is therefore entirely logical for Russia to take the Americans’ place: after all, only Moscow can replace Washington in geopolitical importance. What is more, Moscow cannot just replace Washington, but also competently provide a balancing power if we take into account Russia’s traditional relations with New Delhi and its general interests in the Eurasian space.
In March 2017, the former head of the Pakistani Foreign Office, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, said in an interview to the Pakistani media that relations with Russia were improving because of the effective foreign policy of the government. At the same time, there exists a deficit of trust in the US because Washington is trying to build its policy on an unequal foundation. However, Pakistan will never compromise its national interests and dignity.
White House policy on Pakistan has been characterised in the last few months by a series of ultimatums. The most odious statement by the Trump administration was a threat to include Pakistan in the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Islamabad answered by refusing the Americans access to its territory for transport to Afghanistan, as well as stopping cooperation between Pakistani and US intelligence services.
High-ranking officials and especially members of the Pakistani military have started to almost openly accuse the US of destabilisation through various forms of controlled conflict. The re-examination of relations between the two countries has reached the level of historical revisionism. The Pakistani prime minister’s national security advisor, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Nasir Khan Janjua, declared, that the country’s involvement in the Afghan War was Washington’s handiwork that was backed by a nebulous “communist threat”, which Pakistan erroneously took at face value. Further, the removal of Soviet troops and Washington’s apathy led to the Taliban coming to power. After the terrorist attack in New York in 2001, the next occupation followed, this time an American one.
However, Pakistani and foreign experts are noting more and more often, that the handbooks that were earlier spread between the Afghan mujahedeen and are now disseminated among potential ISIS supporters were prepared in an American university. All of this instability has had a direct effect on Pakistan. A fairly complex geographical area with a border of two and a half thousand kilometres directly benefited refugee streams as well as terrorist groups and the smuggling of drugs and weapons.
However, if we follow Carl Schmitt’s formula of the meaning of political relations, the opposition between a friend and enemy is not a constant. Times (and interests) are changes. If earlier Russia (the USSR) was seen by Pakistan as an aggressor, then today there is talk of deep cultural ties and memories of Russian soldiers as true warriors in contrast to the Americans, who are only capable of bombing (the bet on aerial domination during ground operations was made by the US as far back as the Second World War, from the phosphorous bombings of Dresden and the nuclear strike on Japan up to current times, little has truly changed in the Pentagon’s thinking).
Of course, the old Afghan wound is an episode from our two countries’ past. If we are to speak of the present, in a recent publication dedicated to Russian-Pakistani relations, an author from Islamabad notes, that the “new arrangement of Pakistan-Russia relations is a symbiotic realism that flouts conventional wisdom. This is essentially a paradigm shift in the global policy framework. Old allies such as US and Pakistan are drifting away amid changing geopolitics and unfolding regional crescendos.”
Who it is that is drifting away are the US, although several of Trump’s moves at first glance seem to be in clear contradiction to the strategy that has been developed for the past decades. Washington is only trying to secure its role and status of world hegemon. Pakistan is clearly developing new foreign policy vectors that are colliding with Washington’s jealousy and its desire to control everyone and everything, a desire that is only worsening current political fault lines.
As far as Russia is concerned, we can say, that the cardinal change in relations between the two countries occurred as far back as 2015, when Pakistan joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation at a joint SCO-BRICS summit in Ufa. In the same year, an embargo on weapons deliveries to Pakistan was removed, and in August a contract for Russian military helicopters for 153 million dollars was signed. These developments were followed by joint military exercises on both Russian and Pakistani territory.
Medio 2017, the Russian company Gazprom and the Pakistani energy company OGDCL signed a memorandum on joint understanding that had as its goal the development of bilateral cooperation, the creation of joint enterprises, and the application of new technologies.
At the beginning of 2018, an agreement was signed on cooperation between our two countries about the exchange of intelligence data.
It is possible, that to other countries events like these are regular, routine work; however, for Russia and Pakistan, these events and the many talks currently being held are an indicator of an unprecedent level of cooperation. And this is just a beginning stage.
Afghanistan is another link that unites our two countries alongside neighbouring Iran, which is participating in the discussions. Both Moscow and Islamabad are truly interested in the establishment of peace and stability in the country.
The US, which are supporting a significant military contingent in the country, understand very well that if they leave, they will hardly have a chance of returning. This means, that an opportunity for versatile control over many countries in the heart of Central Asia will be lost.
Nonetheless, even US sources are confirming that despite support from NATO and Washington, Afghan security forces have strongly degraded in the last year. It seems that because of a lack of understanding of what is really happening in Afghanistan and solutions to the current crisis, the US are applying the old method of carpet bombing. In the first quarter of 2018, the American coalition deployed more explosives than in any of the prior 15 years in which US forces have been rampaging through the country.
However, a proactive process of negotiations as well as the experiences of all states that are participating in a settlement for Afghanistan will sooner or later force Washington to leave.
As far as strategic economic initiatives are concerned, we must node, that spring 2018 saw the festive opening of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which begins in the harbour of Gwardar on the Indian Ocean coast and ends in the Chinese city of Kashgar, which is located close to the Kyrgyz border (165 km). A highway link has already been built, but work on a railway line has already started.
In the context of talks on the fusion of projects of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Chinese “One Belt – One Road” (which was announced at the abovementioned summit in Ufa), this corridor could be a logistical opportunity for Russia. The PRC and Kyrgyzstan already have an (albeit low-tech) active transport infrastructure through the Torugart pass.
Therefore, although it might not be a direct one, Russia could secure a route to the Indian Ocean (a second possible link might lead through Iran). What is more, a minimum of three parties will be interested in the upkeep and development of the infrastructure: Russia, China, and Pakistan.
Although Islamabad has been a long-time strategic partner of Beijing (especially in light of their joint views of their common neighbour, India), the country’s leadership is all the same interested in a diversification of foreign relations. There is already narrative in Pakistan of the possible appearance of an RPEC: a Russian-Pakistan Economic Corridor. It could become an additional project for the recuperation of the Russian economy. Joint access to the two countries’ markets in different sectors would be useful to both our governments as well as representatives of several levels of business.
Translated from the Russian by V.A.V.