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Debating Russia Pakistan Relations

July 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Analysis, war on terror

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.


4 Responses to “Debating Russia Pakistan Relations”
  1. Kirat Gore says:

    You put forth a compelling argument that the geopolitics of the region is witnessing major changes with Russia coming into Pakistan, traditionally an American domain. That Russia sees an opportunity here in view of deteriorating US Pak relations to dominate eurasian underbelly and gain access to Indian Ocean are theoretically sound. However, in the long run US is unlikely to vacate Af Pak entirely and cede this strategic space.

    The Jihadi terror flowing out of Pakistan and its nuclear brinkmanship have rendered the country inhabitable. Add to this the drug menace of Afghanistan and you have a perfect reason for Russia to move in. That Russia would not be able to pursue its vision due to these very factors is the paradox.

    Given the degree of anti Americanism in Pakistan, Pakistanis would be too keen to form this strategic alliance which may move from energy to other dangerous areas like defence. Something that would mount pressure on India to keep Russia engaged.

  2. Sultan Geelani says:

    The apparent capitulation, very recently, by Pakistan to American NATO supplies appears to run counter to what has been thought as Pakistan’s strategic autonomy – encouraged by Russo-Chinese policies in Central Asia. The matter is unlikely to rest here though. A contrary sequel is highly conceivable and indeed impending, in view of the heated and widespread anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.

    Further developments on the battle fronts in Afghanistan will decisively clarify the situation to displease American strategists. It must not be forgotten in this behalf that Taliban had made the formidably well armed Uzbek war lord, Rasheed Dostum, run away in defeat to Turkey, from his own purely northern and non-pushtoon territory. Similar treatment was meted out by the Talibs to the handful of northern alliance jokers. Americans had struck at the eleventh hour that saved the northerners from annihilation. However, the shifting strategic sands must NOT obscure the fact that towers above all, which is the palpable breaking of American will to stay the course, BECAUSE of the fact that Taliban represent besides the MAJOR Afghan ethnics, they even have Algerians, Morrocans and Uzbeks etc etc in their frontally battling ranks. It is this strategic unity of Islamic spirit that Americans had ACTUALLY worked hard to establish through the hyperactive support of wahabi “ecclisiastics” of Saudi Arabia during the Afghan-Soviet war. Americans are only facing the namesis of their quick fix policies of giving full speed encouragement to the anti-Soviet Jehadists — the frankestiens having long been ‘liberated’ are now gunning quite successfully to oust the Americans from Afpak!!


  3. Col (Retd) JP Singh says:

    It will be difficult for Pak to wean itself off US aid which nearly adds up to $4 Billion a year in terms of economic and military assistance. Putin maybe fishing in troubled waters as TAPI and IP are not practicle till the tribal death dance doesnt end in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is not practicle nor viable for Russia to replace USA as an aid provider to Pakistan. The dividends accrued here will not balance the aid disbursed. China maybe Pakistans’ best friend but is reluctant to invest more than that is neccessary in Pakistan. It nurtured Pakistan to keep Indias’ forces divided and continues this agenda to its advantage at a meger cost. 2014 will be interesting to watch from the side lines.

  4. Team SAI says:

    President Vladimir Putin of Russia is scheduled to visit Pakistan in October this year – the first by a Russian President in over 50 years.Obviously it has raised heckles in India who considers Russian friendship to be deep rooted over the last six decades of Indian existence. Despite differing opinions about the outcome of the visit experts see this as a growing sign of Russia-China=-Pakistan nexus as part of the larger SCO game to offset US interests in the region. India’s inclination towards US and reduced dependency on Russia for defence equipment are two factors that may have resulted in such a move by SCO. How should then India read into the visit and is it going to dilute the strength of Indo Russian relations?

    On the face of it, it appears a case of Russia seeking a place in the regional order of Af Pak in the post 2014 scenario. Analysts are quick to point out that both Russia (and China) are setting the stage for dominating the Afghanistan landscape post US pullout and attempting to achieve what Russia couldn’t through the first Afghan War – access to Persian Gulf and hence to the IOR. With US Pakistan relations at their nadir, this appears to be the ideal opportunity for Russia and China to serve their combined interests in Central Asia and South Asia through economic reconstruction of Af-Pak. Thus while marginalising US interests in the region both the countries would be able to strengthen the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and gain an upper hand in the “West vs Rest” geopolitical scenario.

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