China and Russia have given Pakistan their assurances that they will veto US sanctions against Islamabad as Turkey pledges to work with Pakistan for peace and stability in Afghanistan.
This week Pakistan is reaping the benefits of Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif’s tour around its Eurasian allies, China, Russia, Iran and Turkey. Meanwhile, experts are talking about the possibility of Islamabad, Beijing, Moscow and Ankara forming a united bloc that would defend Pakistan vs US.
China and Russia have reportedly assured Pakistan at the diplomatic level that they will veto any attempts from the US to place economic sanctions on Pakistan through the United Nations. The unequivocal support from Beijing and Moscow, two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, comes amid Washington’s mounting pressure against Islamabad.
US considering sanctions against Pakistan
The Pakistan vs US tensions show no signs of going away after US President Donald Trump delivered a national address last month in which he strongly criticized Pakistan, America’s long-time ally, and accused the nation of harboring “agents of chaos” on its soil.
In his speech, Trump warned Islamabad that it had “much to lose” by continuing to provide “safe havens” to militants. Since then, US-Pakistan relations have been shaken by political whirlwinds that prompted the South Asian nation to seek closer ties with China and Russia, which were among the first to defend Islamabad against Trump’s Afghan strategy.
As part of that strategy, the Trump administration decided it would not give Pakistan access to $225 million in military assistance until it stops harboring Haqqani Network militants on its soil, a claim Islamabad vehemently denies. Washington also expects Islamabad to step up its efforts in the fight against terrorism in the region and hinted that it would impose sanctions against Pakistani officials who are allegedly connected to militants.
The list of targeted Pakistani officials is yet undisclosed, but Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi warned the US against imposing sanctions on Monday. He said in an interview with Reuters that the sanctions would only “degrade our effort” and would also “hurt the US effort” in waging the war against terror.
China and Russia join forces with Pakistan on Afghanistan issue
Two weeks after President Trump unveiled his Afghan strategy, Pakistan started to approach key international and regional powers at the diplomatic level to seek their support in the Pakistan vs US diplomatic crisis. This past week, Pakistani FM Asif toured key regional players, such as Russia, China, Turkey and Iran, and rallied their support for Pakistan’s sacrifice in the war on terrorism.
What comes as the most prominent victory for the Pakistani government is that Islamabad has drawn the support of two veto-wielding nations in the UN: Beijing and Moscow. These two partners have reportedly pledged to veto any US moves to slap Pakistan with sanctions.
The two powers have taken Pakistan’s side from the very beginning of the Pakistan vs US diplomatic crisis. However, Islamabad-based diplomatic sources told the Daily Express earlier this week that Russia and China agreed to veto any UN sanctions against the South Asian nation.
Pakistan has criticized Washington for failing to acknowledge its sacrifices in the war on terror, which has claimed the lives of nearly 22,000 Pakistani civilians and killed more than 6,800 Pakistan’s soldiers since 2003.
Islamabad is also reportedly set to approach key Western powers, such as France and the United Kingdom. Pakistan also reportedly plans to hold talks with the diplomats for French President Emmanuel Macron and UK Prime Minister Theresa May and possibly ask them oppose the US policy of putting diplomatic and economic pressure on it.
Another major victory from Asif’s tour around Eurasia was his trip to Turkey, where he met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other high-level Turkish officials. The two Muslim nations, which have enjoyed brotherly relations for centuries, further cemented their ties during the meeting on Tuesday.
Ankara and Islamabad voiced similar views on the Afghan crisis, with Turkey reiterating that it opposes a military solution to the Afghan war, which Trump’s strategy calls for. The two allies have agreed that they will continue to work together for peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Last Thursday, Moscow-based political analyst Andrew Korybko told ValueWalk that if Pakistan, China, Russia and Turkey form a bloc, it would not only be a game-changer strategy to achieve peace in Afghanistan but also help “revolutionize” Eurasian geopolitics in general.
What does Turkey gain from all this?
With the four nations inching closer to formalizing a united front against Trump’s Afghan strategy, what do Russia, China and Turkey have to gain from taking sides in the Pakistan vs US row?
For decades, Ankara has sought to become a member of the European Union (EU), but it did a U-turn in its foreign policy goals when the international community unleashed criticism on the Erdogan regime for its handling of the attempted military coup in July 2016. As Turkey shares the same views with China and Russia on multiple international issues, such as the Afghan war, Ankara is gravitating toward the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a China- and Russia-led Eurasian political, economic, and security organization.
Why China cares about Pakistan and Afghanistan
China views Pakistan, its all-weather ally, as a key pillar of stability, peace and prosperity in the region. Beijing is investing at least $54 billion into its joint project with its South Asian ally, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. CPEC is a vital part of its mammoth One Belt, One Road Initiative.
A stable and peaceful Pakistan is essential to China’s security and national interests, as Beijing places great importance on the project. The economic corridor links China’s Xinjiang province to Pakistan’s Gwadar Port through a network of rail and road projects.
The two embattled regions remain under a major threat from Islamic militants, which has prompted Beijing and Islamabad to increase their joint anti-terrorism cooperation in the region. The roller-coaster in US vs Pakistan relations has also prompted Islamabad to seek military assistance from China, though it may be challenging for China to fully replace US military aid to Pakistan in the short term.
As stability in Afghanistan translates to peace in Pakistan, China is prepared to protect Pakistan’s goals and counterterrorism measures at the diplomatic level. By being involved in resolving the Afghan crisis, Beijing also enhances its influence in security affairs in Central and South Asia.
Why would Russia back Pakistan?
Russia’s rapprochement with Pakistan, its Cold War-era enemy, has been a heated topic of discussion in both Pakistan and India, Moscow’s traditional South Asian ally.
As Islamabad and New Delhi often engage in fierce fights in the international arena, if India loses its reliable ally in the face of Russia, it would have a severe impact on New Delhi’s foreign policy objectives. Trump’s Afghan strategy appears to have pushed Pakistan closer to Russia, whose goals in Afghanistan have been in accord with those of China and Pakistan, according to a recent report by the Carnegie Institute.
Avinash Paliwal, author of the Carnegie report, argues that Russia’s approaches in the Afghan crisis “are no longer in accord with India’s.” The author added that Moscow’s ongoing outreach to “the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan has raised concerns that Moscow could be deviating from earlier approaches that it had shared with India.”
Russia has long viewed Afghanistan within its sphere of influence and waged a decades-long war on Afghan soil in the 1980s. Moscow has increased its contacts with the Taliban and urged all sides of the Afghan conflict to hold a dialogue with the Taliban to find a cohesive, permanent solution to the devastating war.
As for Russia’s rapprochement with Islamabad, Russian President Vladimir Putin lifted the decades-long embargo on arms sales to Pakistan in 2014. Later that year, Moscow and Islamabad signed a historic agreement to expand their military ties. Last year, the two nations held unprecedented joint military exercises under the name of “Friendship 2016.”