It’s been a very painful experience for India to see Pakistan and Russia boosting their military ties. It would be bad for India if Russia joins the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor (CPEC). Islamabad and Moscow have agreed to enhance their military-to-military cooperation during a recent meeting between Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Russian Ambassador to Pakistan Alexey Yurevich Dedov.Bajwa and Dedov acknowledged that boosting Pakistan-Russia military ties would have a positive impact on regional security. The Russian envoy also voiced his support for Pakistan’s ongoing Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad, which is aimed at wiping out terrorist elements in the country.
Enhanced Pakistan-Russia military ties come as a huge disappointment for India, which has enjoyed brotherly ties to Russia for decades. And so New Delhi, which views Islamabad as an existential threat to its security, is starting to lose a reliable military friend. Russia has been one of India’s most trusted partners and remains its largest defense partner, according to a recent survey by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
Russia’s CPEC involvement is a major blow to India
But it’s not only the evolving military ties between Moscow and Islamabad that worry India. Russia’s economic involvement with Pakistan and China has also drawn ire in New Delhi. Russia has yet to reveal its involvement in CPEC, but the Kremlin already has plans to stretch the multi-billion dollar project into the Eurasian Economic Unit (EEU), whose total GDP is estimated at more than $4 trillion.
While India has several other non-Russia-related issues with CPEC, its regional strategy would take a major blow from Moscow shifting its economic and military interests to Pakistan, its biggest enemy.
CPEC is expected to benefit not only China and Pakistan but also the entire region. The project consists of a 3,000-kilometer sophisticated network of roads, railways and pipelines that runs from Kashgar, China to Gwadar, Pakistan and extends to Turkey through Iran.
If Russia formally invests in or joins CPEC, it would cement the fact that there are grave differences between New Delhi and Moscow, which had been close allies since the Cold War era.
Why India would never support Pakistan and China’s CPEC
India has several major issues with the development of CPEC, including the fact that it passes through regions disputed by India. As the two nuclear-armed nations both claim Kashmir as their own, New Delhi fears that CPEC may result in internationalization of their territorial dispute.
But for Pakistan to involve itself with global players like China and Russia is even a bigger problem for India, which for years has been trying to push for Pakistan’s isolation in the international community. Pakistan’s expansion of its military and economic ties with key global players and getting billions of dollars in investments run against New Delhi’s plans to isolate it.
In recent years, Russia and India have had a communication gap which resulted in their somewhat cold relations. While experts continue to argue about the reason for Russia’s sudden shift towards Pakistan, most of them seem to agree that it was India warming up to the United States, Russia’s traditional rival, that motivated Moscow to seek closer ties with India’s enemy.
More and more frequently, India has been excluded from Russian foreign policy. Just recently, Russia held trilateral consultations on regional issues and invited only Pakistan and China. Not only was India not invited to the talks to discuss Afghanistan, but it also wasn’t mentioned in the discussions.
India has never been so isolated in Asia
India may have never enjoyed close ties with China, its traditional rival in the region, but it has never been so isolated from the two biggest powers of the region – China and Russia – at the same time.
The U.S. has always maintained a cautious approach in its relations with India due to its ties with Russia. But with the presidency of Donald Trump, the prospect of India-U.S. relations has become even more vague and unpredictable. If India could for decades rely on Russia’s economic and military assistance in case of any conflict, today it can rely neither on Russia nor on U.S. support.
That doesn’t mean Russia will jump at the chance to support Pakistan in any conflict. Far from it. But Russia’s ever-growing ties to China, which appears to be – just like Russia – adamant to minimize U.S. global dominance, means that Moscow will most likely back China’s interests in any regional conflict. And now that Pakistan has become a huge part of China’s regional interests due to CPEC, it could mean that Russia would be willing to support China’s biggest regional ally, Pakistan, in regional conflicts.
The most recent indication of a growing Russia-China partnership is their announcement earlier this week about joining forces to fight against U.S. plans to deploy the THAAD missile defense system to South Korea.
India suffers major setbacks in Asia
With all its efforts to turn Pakistan into a pariah state and the international community denying Islamabad’s role in terrorism, India has suffered a significant and painful hit. Not only has New Delhi failed to assert its role in Asia in recent years, but it also lost the support of Russia.
But an even bigger challenge is still up ahead for India. New Delhi will have to sit on the sidelines of major developments and progress in the region spurred by CPEC. The project is set to give a tremendous boost to both Pakistan’s and China’s economies, while investors can also get a piece of that benefit pie. India, which will most likely remain aloof from the multi-billion-dollar project, will have to witness the economic rise of its biggest enemy.
But the most disappointing thing for India is that so far it has failed to bring back Russia as its trusted and tested friend in the region. And Moscow is not exactly eager to give up the business opportunities in CPEC for India, even though it still supplies about 68% of India’s arms import.