Russia – that patronized India in 1971 war against Pakistan that left Pakistan lose its eastern wing (now Bangladesh) & Pakistan – the main character responsible for Communist Russia’s humiliating fall in Afghanistan are now coming closer. Together with China, they are inches away to form an alliance that many analysts eye as “The new Axis of Evil” that may upset the Washington & its allies.
Upsetting the old alliances
What a reversal of decades old alliances! Pakistan has been a strongest Non-NATO ally of the United States since its independence, while Russia maintained close relations with Pakistan’s intimate enemy, India, throughout the Cold War. Russia stood by India during 1965 & 1971 Indo-Pak wars.
The Russia-Pakistan enmity reached its climax in the 1980s when Pakistan found Russia resting in its backyard – the Afghanistan. It was high time for Pakistan to settle score with the Soviet Empire & it didn’t let go this opportunity. With all its might & with that of Washington & allies, Islamabad supported, sheltered, funded & trained the Afghan Islamic Jihadists to bleed imperial “infidel” Communist Russia with a thousand cuts. Pakistan turned its tribal areas bordered with Afghanistan into a safe shelter & training centers for guerrillas of Afghan resistance against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. With support from CIA & Muslim countries who saw the ever-expanding Communist Russia as a threat, Pakistan finally succeeded in shattering the Soviet Empire. Score was settled. Soviet Empire had fallen.
But the world has changed completely: the collapse of the communist bloc, the rise of China and the globalization of radical Islam have disrupted the old alliances.
Over the years, the two closed allies United States & Pakistan have strained their relations. US dubs Pakistan of playing the double-game & mainlining ambiguous links with the international Islamist movements that are hostile to the West. At the same time, they have moved closer to India in order to contain China in South Asia. Pakistan has tightened its ties with Beijing, which is investing over $66b in the development of a strategic transport route to the Arabian Sea. In 2014, Islamabad & Moscow signed a pact of military cooperation, signaling the shedding of cold-war tensions for the ‘’greater regional interests’’ of both the countries.
A multi polar world
Russia hopes to achieve a set of objectives in establishing an alliance with Pakistan. It intends to compensate to a certain extent for its loss of influence in India, to find a new ally in the region in the backdrop of ever changing dynamics of the world , to give a new outlet to its arms industry and, last but not least, to cultivate its relations with a country particularly influential on the Islamist movements especially in Afghanistan & beyond. Pakistan has great Influence over Afghanistan’s Taliban with whom both China & Russia are in talks with to work out a peaceful Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US & NATO troops from Afghanistan. Pakistan has close, strategic ties with former Soviet colonies of Central Asia that Moscow continues to regard as its backyard.
The common threat
The rise of ISIS in already war-torn Afghanistan has ringed the bells in the power-corridors of Pakistan, China & Russia. The troika considers the emergence of IS in Afghanistan as an eminent threat for the stability in the region & an attempt by US to further its interests in the region, especially to counter Russia & China. This has led China, Russia & Pakistan to sit together & find a political solution to the Afghan problem. Kremlin has already hosted crucial meetings involving Pakistan & Chinese officials to disuses the possibilities of a peace-deal between Afghan Taliban & Ashraf Ghani led US-backed Kabul regime. There are reports that suggest the Taliban representatives have also attended some of these meetings that were held in Pakistan.
India is Rattled
Even though India & Russia are still each others major partners in trade, India is rattled by Russia’s outreach to its arch rival Pakistan. India made its best efforts to urge Russia to cancel its military exercises with Pakistan but the diplomatic efforts didn’t bear fruits. Former Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army Nirmal Chander Vij told a Russian publication: “New Delhi was concerned about “the growing military cooperation between Moscow and Islamabad and Chinese expansion in Eurasia.”.
Indian is also concerned because China, Russia & Pakistan’s alliance to seek a solution to Afghanistan problem will endanger India’s interest in Afghanistan. Pakistan accuses India of using Afghanistan as a proxy to fund & train the separatists movements in Pakistan’s Balouchistan region. Former US defense secretory Chuck Hagel confirmed Pakistan’s concerns when he said by saying that:
"India for some time has always used Afghanistan as a second front, and India has over the years financed problems for Pakistan on that side of the border".
India strongly opposes any possibility of peace-talks with Afghan Taliban. Foreign ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup told the media:
“____as far as the Taliban are concerned, we believe they should follow all internationally accepted red lines, and give up all violence and terrorism."
Russia changing its stance about Taliban & accepting Pakistan as central for long-lasting peace in Afghanistan has certainly strained the Moscow-New Delhi relations.
These developments, however spectacular they may be, do not indicate reversals of alliances. Russia continues to have good relations with India and the United States maintains a close relationship with Pakistan. In the multi polar world that has succeeded the Cold War, this is the new normal in the relations between states.