The year of 2010 marked the beginning of an age of shifting interest and realignments of power relationships. This matrix of the new age brought the strategic partnership of three key powers which are central to the resolution of many regional issues and whose collective political decisions can shape the political environment of the future. This power relationship is between China, Pakistan and Russia. China has economic and global influence, and Russia enjoys strength in information warfare and Pakistan combats terrorism and sits in a geo-strategic location. This emerging triangular relationship have the inherent political potential to pull the strings in the global political theater. The international political order is moving toward multi-polarity, which is leaning toward Asia, a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural region.
New world developments such as China’s investment in the One Belt One Road Initiative and Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union and its connectivity with OBOR are key factors that will define the new trends in the power relations between these three nations.
China under its dynamic leader Xi Jinping ambitiously envisioned and pursued the economic strategy to integrate Asia with Europe, Middle East and Africa with its OBOR initiative. Pakistan and Russia are two important actors in China’s geo-strategic ambitions, first in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and second in the OBOR integration with the Eurasian Economic Union. In this context, China, Pakistan and Russia have shared objectives in commerce, defense and regional security.
From Pakistan’s perspective, the Chinese seek to accelerate their trade and commerce through CPEC, which is an essential component of the Maritime Silk Road, which is composed of railways, highways and pipelines and various energy and industrial projects designed to stave off Pakistan’s energy starvation. The project will also improve regional connectivity and pave the way for China’s access to the Indian Ocean by linking Xinjiang Province with Pakistan’s Gwadar Port. The geo-strategic interests of both China and Pakistan converge beyond their geographies and also include substantial roles in Afghanistan. China’s interests in Afghanistan range from development assistance to investments, and its emerging security role will help it get and preserve those interests in a country which needs an enhanced security environment.
China and Russia’s shared interests are to counter U.S. hegemony. They shared many multilateral platforms and institutions such as BRICS and SCO to strengthen their strategic partnership. Russia, with its Eurasian Economic Union initiative, and China, with its OBOR initiative, are seeking to revolutionize world trade and integrate world economics through trans-regional connectivity and mutual cooperation with the shared objective of a G-zero World.
Eminent political commentator Pepe Escobar stated that Russia and China are not only protecting their core national interests but advancing their complementarities. Russia’s excellence in aerospace, defense technology and heavy industry matches Chinese excellence in agriculture, light industry and information technology. Both countries are supported by prestigious coalitions such as BRICS, SCO, CSTO and the Eurasian Economic Union. Both Russia and China have shared objectives regarding peace and stability in Afghanistan and South Asia.
In South Asia, Russia’s recent approach to Pakistan, its Cold War-era rival represents a clean break from that animosity. Russia’s security ties with the “Friendship 2016” joint military exercise with Pakistan is a recent example which has more benefits than costs attached. Russia and Pakistan bilateral relations are at the embryonic stage with the projects undertaken representing a cautious approach. Here it is pertinent to state that Pakistan’s traditional rival India is uneasy with the growing ties between Russia and Pakistan. Russia is the second largest defense exporter to India, and it is expected that their bilateral defense trade will reach 30 billion dollars by 2025.
On the other hand, Russia and Pakistan share strategic interests as Russia wants to resolve the Afghanistan dilemma because it has fears of the spill-over effects of terrorism from Afghanistan into its backyard in Central Asia, particularly, the emergence of IS, which threatens the stability of Russia itself with reference to Chechnya. It also has fears of the presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s interests start with strengthening its position in the region by engaging with another nuclear power. Second, Pakistan seeks a peaceful resolution of the violence in Afghanistan. Third, Pakistan seeks benefits from giving Russia access Gwadar Port and the subsequent incorporation of Russia in OBOR. In a nutshell, in the South Asian context, Pakistan’s reach to Russia comes out of the need to counterbalance India’s growing influence in the region, especially after the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) between India and the U.S., which seems to make India a “linchpin” in this region.
Indian access to U.S. weapons alongside U.S. support for Indian operations in the Indian Ocean represents an alarming signal to Pakistan that it should recalibrate its international relations and increase its outreach to counter the prospective Indian hegemony in South Asia. Simultaneously, Pakistan should maintain its relations with the U.S. because its improving strategic relations with Russia and China are not to be done at the cost of relations with the U.S. The only objective is to counterbalance India’s hegemony in the region.
— The writer is Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute, a think-tank based in Islamabad.
Article by Asia Maqsood