Debating Russia Pakistan Relations
President Vladimir Putin of Russia is visiting Pakistan in September this year. The visit comes at a time when Pakistan is reeling under pressure from the United States, the future of Afghanistan remains complicated and regional security is in flux. The pre visit formalities, based on an energy club under the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation are currently afoot.
Would this work in a genocide oriented Pakistan heading for self-destruction?
The geopolitical landscape of South Asia, which for some time now has been in global focus, is passing through challenging times. As a region separating the Western and Eastern Asia and serving as the sensitive Eurasian underbelly, it is witnessing new power games being played by global players. With the NATO deadline of 2014 approaching, US, Russia and China have realigned forces to participate in strategies to shape South Asia’s future to their advantage.
As per Ambassador Bhadrakumar’s assessment “in order to effectively counter the US’s strategic thrust into Central Asia, Russia (and China) would do well to strengthen Pakistan’s strategic autonomy and its capacity to withstand US pressures. Pakistan, on its part, has shown remarkable grit in standing up to US pressures. The US’s so-called New Silk Road project to erode Russian and Chinese influence in Central Asia itself becomes a non-starter without Pakistan’s whole-hearted cooperation”. The contest thus is set between the old rivals of the cold war era.
It appears that Russia, under a confident Putin, who had dreamt of an “energy club” as the basis of strengthening the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in 2006, is changing the geopolitical outlook with an eye on the Indian ocean via Pakistan. Further, the energy club strengthens Iran’s position in the region as major energy supplier along with Russia and the Central Asian Republics (CAR) frustrating US sanction efforts. The recipients being energy hungry India and China.
Russia sees energy cooperation as the key plank on which to mature the now developing relations with Pakistan. It has offered help in building Turkmenistan – Afghanistan- Pakistan – India (TAPI) and Iran – Pakistan (IP) gas pipelines and creation of a Central Asia South Asia(CASA) 1000 power grid to transport 1000-1300 MW electricity through transmission lines from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to Pakistan. As per Ambassador Bhadrakumar, Moscow has zeroed in on energy cooperation as the fulcrum of its nascent cooperation with Islamabad. Reasons:
Russia and Pakistan are joined in their opposition to the long-term occupation of Afghanistan by the West; Russia hopes to influence Pakistani policies with regard to Afghanistan’s future and, in turn, cooperation with Pakistan enhances the overall Russian resilience to play an effective role in the stabilization of Afghanistan and in providing security to Central Asia; and, equally, a strong relationship with Pakistan – in the field of energy security, in particular – can provide yet another underpinning for Russia’s strategic ties with other key regional powers, especially China, India, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
However, before going deeper into the arrangements being planned by Russia and Pakistan it must be remembered that Pakistan has already been defeated in Afghanistan. Echoing this sentiment, Nitin Pai, founder of Takshashila foundation argues that “Barack Obama has executed a very smart policy change—he has effectively dehyphenated Af-Pak by extricating the United States from the long-running Afghan civil war and focusing Washington’s attention on Pakistan”. The post 2014 Afghanistan has all but dangerous portends for Pakistan if it persists with its ill-gotten objectives of seeking “strategic depth”. The history books of 1990s may have to be dusted off to imagine the future prognosis in Af Pak which would severely alter the security situation in Pakistan. Ashley Tellis of Carnegie Endowment too postulates that Pakistan has been all but defeated in Afghanistan and the impact of its decades of interference has made it(Pakistan) a more dangerous place to live in than Afghanistan.
By the time President Putin visits Pakistan in September there would be more clarity on the situation in Pakistan. Surely Moscow would have factored these security situation dynamics where the CASA transmission lines would pass over the intensely troubled areas of Afghanistan and Waziristan / Khyber Pashtunwala. Likewise, the construction of TAPI and IP pipe lines would be a dangerous proposition for geographical and security reasons. More so, as these ventures would go on beyond 2014, the raging civil wars in Af Pak may sabotage the projects prematurely. Nitin Pai states that US would not be concerned about the disastrous consequences of Jihadi violence in Af Pak beyond a point.
However, Pakistan refuses to accept that it has been well and truly defeated in achieving objectives it set forth for itself in Afghanistan while destroying the country from within. It sees the American – Indian nexus working overtime to disintegrate Pakistan. The strategic realignment towards once enemy Russia after China seems to be Rawalpindi’s method of signalling its policy options to US.
If Pakistan supported Taliban all these years to have a pliant regime in Kabul, the current battle for influence by Karzai, Taliban and the National Front for Afghanistan (NFA -basically a Tazik, Hazara,Uzbek grouping) and hoards of other warlords does not point towards any faction supporting the Pakistan cause. The Durand Line has become increasingly more active with cross border (if there is a border) attacks from both sides signalling a possible reiteration of Pashtunistan in the long run to the detriment of Pakistan. More significantly Pakistan seems to be losing its influence over the policy decisions on the future of post 2014 Afghanistan because of its intransigence over the supply routes – something it now seems to have found a face-saving formula to climb down from its high horse.
We had argued in an earlier post that Pakistan, which was imploding under the weight of internal violence, needed to be put on a genocide watch. This article by Murtaza Haider, “Pakistan imploding under sectarian violence” is a reiteration of the arguments put forward by us in view of deteriorating situation in Pakistan. This complicates matters some more.
Despite its discomfort with Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and Pakistan’s genocidal trajectory that could threaten portions of Russia, Moscow has made a decision to reach out to Pakistan just at a time when Washington’s relations with Islamabad have nose dived. This relation is likely to be extended to the security field too in the foreseeable future.
Russia’s (re)entry into the now emerging game in Af Pak signals a new great game for influence in the region. On the larger plane this may be a SCO backed initiative to marginalise US influence in the region. However, amidst the above stated chaos, Russia’s designs of building a house in Indian Ocean may not be very viable, at least for now. We need to watch this space.