Has Pakistan Abandoned U.S. For China And Russia?

Pakistan Imran KhanSyedWasiqShah / Pixabay

Pakistan is entering a new era of relations with both China and Russia – no doubt about that – but what does it mean for relations with the U.S.?

One can argue that given the pace of Pakistan’s growing ties with Beijing and Moscow – Washington’s traditional and historic rivals – its relations with the U.S. can no longer go forward in a friendly direction. But Pakistan’s current stance in geopolitics is more complicated than that.

It has been a whirlwind couple of years for Islamabad and its foreign policy. Islamabad has been enjoying the rapid growth of economic and diplomatic ties with China, elevating relations to a level they have never seen in history. The regime of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has also been warming up to Russia, China’s most promising and formidable ally which, like China, has challenged the U.S. to shrink and limit its influence in the region.

Islamabad has been soaking up the benefits of its ever-growing relations with China for decades – arms sales, joint projects both military and economic, across-the-board diplomatic support, etc. But in recent years, their relations have been spurred by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a joint regional development project that has created numerous business and economic opportunities for the two allies and could significantly improve connectivity in the region.

Pakistan-Russia relations have for decades been cold given the grievances between the two nations after the Cold War era, when Moscow and Islamabad had been in rival camps. In addition to that, Russia’s close ties to India, Pakistan’s biggest enemy, have for decades prevented Moscow and Islamabad from finally putting their past grievances behind them and shaking hands.

But a little less than three years ago, Russia officially ended its decades-long arms embargo against Pakistan, a move that drew ire from India, further improved ties with China and served as yet another confirmation that Pakistan has entered a new era in its foreign policy.

Are Pakistan-U.S. relations doomed to end because of Russia and China?

Not that Islamabad wasn’t aware of it, but standing with Moscow and Beijing as one, united front has plagued its relations with Washington. There are several factors that could explain the downward trend in U.S.-Pakistan relations, such as the U.S. seeking closer ties to India; China’s discontent with friendly Pakistan-U.S. ties; Pakistan seeking closer ties to Russia; Washington accusing Islamabad of sheltering terrorist elements; and the U.S. electing President Donald Trump, whose administration to this very day hasn’t outlined a clear policy for Asia.

But Pakistan’s new ambassador to the U.S. argues that his country’s recent efforts to seek closer diplomatic and economic ties with both China and Russia do not represent the opening salvos of “a zero sum game” with the U.S. Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry admitted to reporters on Friday that close Pakistan-U.S. ties remain an issue of “critical importance” to Islamabad.

The ambassador, however, stressed that Pakistan’s improved relations with Beijing and Moscow is not only in their mutual bilateral interests but also in the interest of the U.S., which Pakistan still considers an ally despite apparent difficulties in finding common ground lately. One can argue that Pakistan and China’s acceptance of Russia’s invitation to hold trilateral talks on Afghanistan without inviting the U.S. to be part of the talks served as a yet another sign of cold U.S.-Pakistan ties. It was that meeting which gave birth to the speculation that the three nations may be plotting a Syria-like intervention on Afghan soil.

Pakistan has much bigger role in geopolitics

The Trump administration may see Pakistan’s attempts to get closer to China as a negative or even hostile gesture toward the U.S. This is especially true given Trump’s apparent discontent with some of China’s foreign policies, including trade and its actions in the disputed South China Sea. He has also accused the country of being a currency manipulator and questioned the One China policy.

Their friendship, however, has been put to the test numerous times in the past few years, such as when the U.S. openly hinted that Pakistan could be sheltering terrorist groups on its soil or when Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama started seeking closer ties with India, its biggest enemy, to apparently use New Delhi as a means to bring down China’s growing influence in the region and upset its plans in the South China Sea.

If Pakistan gets particularly close to China, it could be a major obstacle for the weakening partnership with Washington. However, Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. argues that Islamabad’s growing ties to Beijing could actually become a bridge for U.S. relations with China.

“We can serve as that bridge,” Mr. Chaudhry insisted, explaining that Pakistan’s emerging friendship with China shouldn’t be viewed as an obstacle to U.S. relations.

Is Russia abandoning India to be closer to Pakistan?

It’s yet unclear how the Trump administration sees Pakistan’s emerging friendship with Russia, as the U.S. President and his team have given conflicting opinions about Russia and its President Vladimir Putin so far. However, it’s clear that growing Russia-Pakistan ties are creating serious obstacles for Moscow’s relations with India.

Last year, Russia held its first-ever joint military drills with Islamabad, a move that prompted India to slam the Russian government and its growing security ties with Islamabad. Moscow also refused to back India’s claims that terrorism is emanating from Pakistani soil. In addition, Moscow didn’t even invite India for its trilateral Afghanistan talks with China and Pakistan earlier this year.

In fact, while Russia remains India’s key weapons supplier, Moscow recently started selling arms to Pakistan, something no one could predict just few years ago given the decades-long tight military and security partnership between India and Russia.

But new developments in Pakistan-Russia relations indicate that the world is rapidly changing, and so are Pakistan’s foreign policies and priorities. Only time will tell if Pakistan’s close partnerships with Russia and China will create tensions in relations with the U.S. or if Islamabad could really become that “bridge.”

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About the Author

Polina Tikhonova
Polina Tikhonova is a writer, journalist and a certified translator. Over the past 7 years, she has worked for a wide variety of top European, American, Russian, and Ukrainian media outlets. Polina holds a Master's Degree in English Philology from the University of Oxford and a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism from the Saint Petersburg State University. Her articles and news reports have been published by many newspapers, magazines, journals, blogs and online media sources across the globe. Polina is fluent in English, German, Ukrainian and Russian.

9 Comments on "Has Pakistan Abandoned U.S. For China And Russia?"

  1. Maida Rafiq Butt | Mar 31, 2017, 4:13 pm at 4:13 pm |

    I dont agree with the author on this issue.Pakistan has learned alot from its long relations with USA.At many points Pakistan felt that US wants to use Pakistan for its personal purposes.That is why Pakistan is looking for reliable long term friendship based on mutual interest rather than a one sided friendship.Russia is truely a reliable partner I guess Pakistan should seek now.Similarly Russia has also seen that selfish and coward allies like India will not help Russia in case of war like scenario so Pakistan is a better and trust worthy option for difficult times.

  2. Russia is a military super power and will remain so.People forget that Russia has been a major power since 18th century.

  3. could not agree more, time to snub US for China and Russia. World is no more unipolar

  4. Another innocent Indian deluded by wicked media. Well man you will come to reality when USA will stab you in back like it did many times to Pakistan. Russia, china over USA any day

  5. When you have friends like USA you dont need enemies. USA friendship with Pakistan has brought misfortune to Pak. Pak should move on and cement strong relationship with Iran,Russia & China.

  6. Dont take weed in morning. Its not good for health.

  7. Pakistan’s relations with China have always remained strong irrespective of ups and downs in Pak-US ties. But yeah, the most beautiful thing has started happening in the region with Russia opening up to Pakistan. But again, improved relations with Russia will not impact Pak-US relations which are already in a downward spiral because American priorities in the region have changed. They needed Pakistan to win the cold war against Russia. But now they want to take on China and Pakistan cannot help them in that. Instead they are forming a botched alliance of India, Iran and Afghanistan.

  8. Stupid author!
    Russia should worry about India abandoning Russia and not the other way round…
    India is economically 2x the size of Russia and will become 10x by 2030. US, Israel, Europe and Japan are already too keen to provide arms and military support to India for better relations and market access.
    Russia getting close to Pakistan gives India the perfect opportunity to fast track its strategic bent towards the 1st world.
    Without India’s support, Russia will fast become a satellite State of China like North Korea and Pakistan.

  9. Dear Polina, we are not abandoning the US but its just that the US cannot ignore us and keep us with it at the same time. Pakistan and Russia should work closely because both Pakistan and Russia face threat from terrorists in Northern Afghanistan. We would also welcome Russian tourists in Gwadar because American tourists would only be spies and nothing else.

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