ISSN 2330-717X

Pakistan, China And Russia Bonds Deepen – OpEd

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The ‘Arthashastra’ by Kautilya, ‘The Art of War’ by Sun Tzu, and ‘The Prince’ by Machiavelli are notable books on military and political strategies. Sun Tzu’s  one of the famous quote is “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles…If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”  Kautilya’s apt quote to the subject “A king whose territory has a common boundary with that of an adversary is an ally.” or simply “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”  

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The main objective of the Winter Olympics was projection of China’s soft power, to tell the world how it had achieved economic prosperity and stood up to the only superpower the US.  The US on the other hand led the games boycott supported by UK, Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan and Denmark. Russia’s Putin and Pakistan’s Imran Khan were the strong supporters who attended the Winter Olympics opening ceremony.As sabre-rattling continues in the crisis over Ukraine, shifting geopolitics has pushed Russia and China into closer alignment while exposing differences within the Western coalition on how to respond. And for China it is Taiwan and the South China Sea. East-West polarisation has now started to take place and war clouds are soaring high over Ukraine with Russian forces on its borders.  

Iron Brothers “Pak-China friendship is higher than Himalayas, deeper than ocean, sweeter than honey, and stronger than steel” and now Russia making it to a trilateral friendship. It may be too premature to talk about Pakistan-China and Russia bonhomie but the growing strategic convergence between the three is a significant geopolitical development, especially with the US on a confrontation footing with both China and Russia. This convergence will also be seen in Central Asian Republics and in Pak-Af region.

Pakistan and Russia with the help of China have made concerted efforts to establish the foundation for a mutually beneficial relationship amid deteriorating regional security post the US withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan. Interestingly with shifting geopolitical competitions China is the new player in Afghanistan and Central Asia. It is not surprising that Central Asia will have one of the main routes connecting China and Europe under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asian countries will connect China mainland to the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and on to Europe.

Islamabad and Moscow had a diplomatic fallout post the Soviet war in Afghanistan due to Pakistan’s proactive pursuit of the US strategic objectives and Russia’s continuing strong ties with India. It was only around 2010 that the relationship between Islamabad and Moscow improved with high-level visits and arms sales. In April 2018, General Qamar Javed Bajwa the Pakistani army chief visited Moscow. His trip resulted in the setting up of a Joint Military Commission between the two countries and Islamabad went on to sign an agreement   for training of Pakistani military officers in Russian military institutions.

Strained relations between the US and Pakistan, the mounting confrontations between Moscow and Washington and the growing US-India strategic closeness have given Pakistan and Russia a common cause for getting closer. Russia realizes the importance of Pakistan in any settlement of the Afghan problem. Meanwhile, Islamabad understands that Moscow will be back in the game as a regional stakeholder under changing geopolitical circumstances in South Asia as the Americans withdraw from Afghanistan..

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Although India remains a bigger market for Russia, Pakistan’s increasing geo-economic significance, courtesy China featuring the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as its flagship  BRI project, its influence over the Afghan Taliban, and the market it provides for Russia’s defense industry underscore the fact that Moscow’s interests in South Asia are not exclusive to India anymore as economics sway the interests.

China has been vocal about opposing the formation of QUAD (US-Japan-India-Australia) and both Russia and Pakistan have displayed their ‘pro-China’ tilt on the QUAD. Have also voiced their opposition to the AUKUS (Australia, Britain and the US).For Pakistan, America’s growing defense relations and professed commitment to bolster India’s capabilities to counter China all three are binding together for quid-pro-quo benefits of Taiwan, Ukraine and the CPEC/BRI. In October last year, Pakistan on behalf of 55 countries, which included Russia made a joint statement   at the UN “opposing interference in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of Hong Kong.”

Beyond their shared criticism of QUAD, there are other areas where the strategic objectives of the three countries converge. Despite the Chinese projection of the CPEC as a purely ‘economic’ project, few would deny the strong geopolitical implications it would have—particularly in the Indian Ocean. Gwadar Port, in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, handed over to the Chinese in 2013 for 40 years provides Beijing direct access to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean through the Arabian Sea. This would extend Chinese power projection well into the Western Indian Ocean and in future is likely to effectively counterbalance US and Indian naval capabilities.

China, which has already penetrated deep into the Indian Ocean through strengthening maritime ties with East African countries, is independently strengthening maritime cooperation with both Russia and Pakistan. Strongest tie holding the three  together is a common opposition to the ‘Western hegemony’ led by the US who is reluctant to hand over its so far single Super Power status to China.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was in China to secure his country’s strategic interests not merely to witness the Winter Olympics. In their joint statement, China and Russia talked of a new era of global governance. Reciprocal support by China to oppose further enlargement of NATO to Ukraine, supporting Russia’s proposals to create “long-term security guarantees in Europe” and Russia confirming that “Any form of Taiwan’s independence”. Declared further a “no limits” partnership and backing each other more against the West.

A major highlight of Putin’s visit was the agreement on setting up the Power of Siberia 2 gas pipeline to be built by Gazprom, which would supply an additional 50 billion cubic metres of natural gas annually to northern China as China is phasing out its coal-fired power plants and reduce its reliance on ship-based supplies from Australia and others. Russia has been looking for a  long-term purchaser for its gas and depend to sell to Europe.

Russia is now supplying advanced technology weapons to China; these have included SU-35 fighter jets (4.5 generation), S-400 air defence system, M-171 transport helicopters and Kilo class submarines. With the threat of CAATSA sanctions by the US, the buyers for the Russian arms have dried up and China has emerged as a steady customer. 

Pakistan PM Imran Khan in addition to witness the games had also gone to Beijing to seek several favours like another deposit of $3.14 billion from China to stabilise Pakistan’s foreign exchange situation, a rollover of $4 billion loans and $4.5 billion in trade finance facility. China and Pakistan also signed a new agreement as part of Phase II of the CPEC during his visit to Beijing.

The old adage that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” would be apt to the present China and Russia’s relationship with  US and Russia in a confrontation mode over Ukraine. For  India  it is a growing concern that a partnership between our time trusted friend Russia is building up on a fast pace with Pakistan and China in view of their immediate interests. Towards Russia getting closer to Pakistan and China, India has also to share the blame for it moving closer to the US on all fronts. As far as India is concerned, both China and Pakistan pose a great challenge to its security in the west and the north. In the emerging global order, it will have to align with countries that would be on New Delhi’s side when the need arises. Hopingly both the trusted friends Modi and Putin would have discussed these challenges amongst themselves considering the compulsions of regional challenges. For the moment, India will have to wait and watch to see how the situation develops. India understands Putin’s compulsion of needing a significant power (China) to stand beside him over the Ukraine issue and  in  China he has found a timely friend who is capable in confronting the US on various fronts.

Patial RC

Patial RC is a retired Infantry officer of the Indian Army and possesses unique experience of serving in active CI Ops across the country and in Sri Lanka. Patial RC is a regular writer on military and travel matters in military professional journals. The veteran is a keen mountaineer and a trekker.

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