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Pak-China & Russia Nexus by Amjad Naveed

Is nexus between Pakistan, China and Russia is really a threat to United States (US)? Pentagon said in a report released in August 2016 after Pakistan and China had started work on China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC) which was a big threat to United States (US) and India. The report said that in 20 years, emerging powers like China and Russia may partner with smaller states like Pakistan and North Korea to create new alliances challenging America’s supremacy.

The Pentagon’s Defence Technical Information Centre (DTIC), which prepared the report, predicts that over the next two decades, the United States will likely maintain its position as the single most powerful actor on the world stage but there will be other actors on the stage as well. The report — “The Joint Force in a Contested and Disordered World” — reviews future economic and political trends between now and 2035 and how these trends might affect America’s position as the world’s sole superpower. Describing Russia, China, as “revisionist states,” the report stipulates how they may “partner and coordinate with each other or with smaller, but militarily active partners such as Pakistan or North Korea to challenge the existing world order.”

The report notes that China might develop a more dynamic and adaptive maritime stratagem in an attempt to “impose irreversible outcomes for island disputes in the East and South China Seas.” Russia is likely to extend its influence and control in Eastern Europe and Central Asia by presenting itself as the security partner of choice, the report adds. “China might attempt to weaken alliances and compel neighbouring states to recognize its hegemony in the region.”

The report predicts that India and Iran will also continue to develop and leverage regional proxies and partners. In past, Russia being an ally of India had supportive of India,s stance on Kashmir but it had now shown clear signs of cozying up to Pakistan. The traditional Cold War rivals Russia and Pakistan, which have of late seen a gradual warming of ties. Even in Brics Summit, Russian President Putin had refused to support Indian Prime Minister Modi who had alleged Pakistan for sponsoring terrorism.

Having earlier lifted its self-imposed arms embargo on Pakistan, in November 2014 Russia signed a landmark “military cooperation” agreement with Pakistan, which spoke about “exchanging information on politico-military issues, strengthening collaboration in the defense and counter-terrorism sectors, sharing similar views on developments in Afghanistan and doing business with each other.” There have been reports that Pakistan may purchase Mi-35 combat helicopters apart from directly importing the Klimov RD-93 engines from Russia rather than via China for its JF-17 multi-role fighters. This could also mean a significant role for Russian equipment and spares in future development of the fighter.

In addition, Russian state-owned firm Rostekh Corporation is planning to build a 680 mile gas pipeline in Pakistan at an estimated cost of $2 billion. The mutual overtures between Russia and Pakistan are part of a greater shift in international relations. In Europe, Russia is embroiled in a showdown with the West over Ukraine, with Moscow’s military adventure in Crimea being followed by Western sanctions. In the Asia-Pacific, China’s encroachments in the South China Sea has inflamed tensions with other Asia-Pacific countries allied with the U.S.

These developments have forced Russia and China to look for allies, which explains the bonhomie between the two powers of late. Some analysts question whether a partnership motivated by external factors could lead to an alliance of countries that formerly distrusted each other. But the old adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” fits perfectly well here; the single most important factor that overrides all others is their concurrent perception of the U.S. and its “policy of containment” towards them. China needs allies to change the world order and it begins with Asia. The China-Pakistan link is well known and is the most formidable leg of the Russia-China-Pakistan triangle. China has been a traditional ally of Pakistan and has historically supported it against its arch rival India both in terms of military equipment and diplomacy.

Chinese have been involved in building nuclear reactors for Pakistan; Pakistan is the largest importer of Chinese manufactured defense equipment. China has also significantly invested in Pakistan’s Gwadar Port and in the Karakoram corridor. The imperative here is not just for China but for Pakistan as well. The burgeoning relationship between the U.S. and India, with their extensive trade ties and cooperation on strategic issues of mutual concern in the sphere of defense technology and equipment, does unnerve Pakistan from time to time. It is from here that the congruence of interests between the three states of Pakistan, China and Russia stems.

For China and Russia, the U.S. is an anathema, which must dethroned from its hegemonic position for their own security. Pakistan has enough of an incentive to be a willing partner in an Asian security architecture that is shaped by China. With India having diversified its military suppliers to include countries like the U.S. and Israel, Russia no longer sees any impediment to establishing a strategic relationship with Pakistan.

In the future one could see signs of integration between the three states, as their abilities complement each other: Russia is an alternate source for Western military technology and energy supplier, China is economically more potent than the other two, with considerable foreign exchange reserves looking to invest and in need of energy supplies, Pakistan despite its structural problems is a growing economy with young population in need of both of both energy supplies and defense equipment. Already importing equipment from China, Pakistan will have access to Russian technology, which was in fact the source for many Chinese products as well. Sanctions-hit Russia will have a new market for its defense equipment, although this may well in the future see some competition between Russia and China.

It is possible that Russia will continue to arm India along with China and now Pakistan. Both EU and US have followed the strategy of supplying defense equipment to both India and Pakistan. But Russia arming Pakistan is still significant because that implies that Russia will no longer give preferential treatment to its historical friend India. It is true India is still economically too big to be overlooked and Russia has an interest in preserving its relationship with India. But India has estranged security ties with China and Pakistan, and with Russia drawing ever closer to China, its divergence of interest with India in the world order it perceives is growing more apparent.

The Russia-Pakistan-China triumvirate is a reality in the offing and has a far greater convergence of security objectives in Asia than a similar Russia-China-India grouping (also subsumed within BRICS). It is important to note here that the Chinese economy is visibly slowing and this could lead to some internal turmoil, the Russian economy may very well see further contraction, while that of Pakistan, albeit showing signs of improvement, is external aid dependent and beset by internal security concerns. Aggression on the part of this triumvirate to deflect attention from internal problems cannot be ruled out. The strategic ramifications will be for India as much as they will be the U.S. and other countries in the region.

As the contours of the alliances in Asia harden, India will have to shed its reluctance to take a firmer stand in Asia and work more closely with the U.S. and Japan Russia and China, being permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, have decided to work towards delisting the Afghan Taliban from the world body’s sanctions list in a move, they said, is aimed at launching peaceful dialogue between Afghanistan’s government and insurgent groups.

The announcement came in a joint statement issued after the trilateral meeting involving senior officials from Pakistan, Russia and China. The three-way talks that discussed the current situation of Afghanistan were held in Moscow. Interestingly, Afghanistan was not part of the discussions, causing concerns in Kabul. The joint communique, however, said all the three countries agreed to proceed with consultations in an expanded format and would welcome the participation of Afghanistan.

The most significant takeaway of the Moscow meeting was Russia and China’s announcement to show a ‘flexible approach’ to delisting Afghan individuals from the UN sanctions lists as their contribution to the efforts aimed at launching peaceful dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban. The participants agreed to continue their efforts towards further facilitating the Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan according to the known principles of reintegration of the armed opposition into peaceful life, the joint statement reads.

It was not immediately clear how Afghanistan’s government and the United States would react to the move by Beijing and Moscow to remove some Afghan Taliban commanders from the UN sanctions list. The development, nevertheless, is an indication that both Russia and China are now flexing their muscles to play a more proactive role in the Afghan peace process that could not make any headway due to the current hiccup in ties between Kabul and Islamabad.

The Ghani administration has accused Pakistan of providing sanctuaries to the Afghan Taliban leadership and the Haqqani network. It also asked Islamabad to use force against these groups since Taliban refused to enter into the negotiations. Pakistan, however, made it clear that it does not harbour any Taliban on its soil and insisted that all-inclusive peace process is the only way forward to achieve lasting peace in Afghanistan.

Observers believe that the outcome of trilateral meeting in Moscow is a major diplomatic success for Pakistan since two big powers—Russia and China—vindicated its stance by supporting the Afghan peace process. More importantly, this also showed increased cooperation between Pakistan and Russia, which during the cold-war era were in opposite camps mainly due to the Afghan conflict. The trilateral meeting in Moscow also means that Pakistan, Russia and China have now convergence of opinion on how to deal with the long running conflict in Afghanistan, where the Da’ish is also trying to establish a foothold. The three-way talks in Moscow minced no words in expressing concerns over what they called the ‘deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan’.

They particularly voiced concern regarding the increased activities of extremist groups, including Da’ish-affiliates in the country This shows that Pakistan, Russia and China have started to grow their influence in this region and even they were working together for ensuring peace in Afghanistan. Afghan Taliban had played a key role in fighting against Russia in Afghan war. But this time, Russia was supporting Afghan Taliban at a time when after 9/11 these groups had turned against United States.US is supporting India to become member of Nuclear Supplier Group that had upset Pakistan. After nuclear deal with Iran, US had started pressing Pakistan to restrict nuclear programme. Pakistan needs new allies in such situation to counter Pak-India nexus. China has already been ally of Pakistan and Russia has emerged new ally to support Pakistan on international forum like UN.

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