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Battle of Yokes: Indo-US vs. Sino-Pak Nexus

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Rearrangements of new realities after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in 1979, and the readjustment of post WWII International Order into a multi-polar regionalized and globalized world, has led to the twosome power game in South Asia to continue via proxy. In all, from the legacy of 9/11 to the unsubstantiated accusations of ‘terrorist proxies,’ having safe havens for the Haqqani and the Taliban, Pakistan remains in a tender predicament despite being the ‘most allied non-NATO ally’ of the US. The role of a frontline state for the US was played unfailingly by Pakistan both during and after the-Cold War by joining anti-communist alliances like CENTO and SEATO and in the War on Terror (WoT) respectively. Pakistan was also a strategic ally to the CIA and facilitated its biggest covert operation against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. It helped the US provide billions of dollars in weapons to the Afghan Mujahideen. Till then, India was on the opposite side of the fence as it pursued a pro-Soviet policy.

Amidst the rise of a multi-polar politico-economy in a more regionalized and globalized world, India has successfully attracted its economic and diplomatic successes into new international opportunities. As such, shifting its romance towards the US after the Soviet Union was more lucrative to its politico-strategic clash with Pakistan.

In fact, India was already a better choice for the US.It had its comprehensive industrial base with 10% economic growth rate in early 1990’s, at the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union. The policy of self-reliance pursued uninterruptedly by India ever since its independence also adhered well in an increasingly more integrated international financial system despite new political dynamics. Its geo-strategic location next to the emerging US new competitor, China, embodied better transactional value. The $400 billion Foreign Exchange Reserves,7.4 percent economic growth rate almost equal to China and an earnings of about $30 billion from Foreign Direct Investment provide a solid base much in contrast to Pakistan’s import and aid driven economy.

Pakistan, on the other hand, had to largely compromise on its national interests by looking for bailout packages from the International Monetary Funds and International donors with its political status already weak as the mutual mistrust between the US and Pakistan had reached to new heights. To find a space in such an international politico-economic rivalry was an uphill task for Pakistan.

Hence, Senior US diplomat Alice Wells’ renewed criticism on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), during her visit in January, 2020, is a realistic tilt towards India. Evidently, the US allying itself with India more than Pakistan is more useful for the US and should be understandable. Her vehement criticism on the flagship projects of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in repetition of her earlier remarks at the Wilson Centre in Washington on Nov 21, 2019, represents simply politics of pragmatism and interest.  Similarly, the alleging lack of transparency in CPEC projects and the claims that Pakistan’s debt burden was growing due to the Chinese financing is an argument in the same vein. Amb. Wells went even further to declare that the companies blacklisted by the World Bank got contracts in the CPEC and had opposed the debt sequence as well. She also suggested that by getting Chinese financing for the projects, Pakistan was buying expensive loans which would eventually take a heavy toll on its already struggling economy.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Quraishi’s talk about human rights abuses by the Indian troops in the occupied Kashmir and intensified LoC ceasefire violations, assurances of Pakistan’s resolve for peace and stability in Afghanistan, was more of a diplomatic struggle to gain a strategic and political space in already strained relations and amidst a growing Indo-US nexus. The US already considers India a ‘major defence partner’ to facilitate defence technology, combat exercises and wargames. Joint projects have already been designed to include aircraft carrier technologies and jet engines, futuristic helicopters, infantry combat vehicles, F-16/ F-18 fighter production line and billions of dollars’ worth of arms deals including the C-17 Globemaster, Poseidon-8, C-130 Super Hercules, Apache attack helicopters and Chinook heavy lift helicopters. Pakistan, on the other hand, has been denied for creating a strategic imbalance in the nuclear South Asian region ever since the Obama presidency.

The times of Donald Trump are no different with his new syndrome of Islamophobia. Though, Trump praised Pakistan’s role in War on Terror and in Afghanistan during his several rounds of meetings with Prime Minister Imran Khan, his earlier declaration of Pakistan as the most dangerous country after Iran and the relations promoted between India and the US by four successive presidents prove enough evidence on the convergence of their interests. Pakistan has almost lost grounds to India. India holds a significant place in the American strategy to contain China also. Their policy of strengthening India’s conventional forces is growing with every passing regime. The statement of Alice Wells should therefore be seen in the light of the Mike Pompeo’s (the US Secretary of State)earlier warning to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).He said that the Trump administration will not allow it to lend US dollars to Pakistan for repaying China. The looming threat of placing Pakistan on the FATF blacklist should also be taken as yet another arm twister with the same aim.

Based on this insensitivity, arrantly ignoring Pakistan’s legitimate security and economic concerns is certainly a blow for a country which had suffered immense material damages amounting to over $120 billion during the US War on Terror as a frontline ally. Hence, as is, can Pakistan rely on such passive diplomacy?

Understandably, the onus of understanding this dilemma in their relations lies more on the US. It can be safely held responsible for changing the balance of power in South Asia with its consolidated political, strategic, monetary and military union with India. Its apathy towards the strategic balance in the region with three nuclear powers; China, India and Pakistan, along with the Afghan quagmire cannot be ignored. Neither does it absolve Pakistan for keeping all its eggs in one basket. Notwithstanding the fact, Pakistan remains a state of crucial relevance to the region. To revitalize its role, Pakistan needs to look beyond the $5.5% projected GDP for 2020s as a catalyst towards regionalism of South Asia and bring its house in order. Remarks of Daniel S. Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), that, it “is anything but clear. A clean break between Pakistan and the US seems unlikely, despite simmering disagreements over a number of issues” cannot be ignored either.

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South Asia

United States snubs India for its excessive maritime claim

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On April7, 2021, a 9,000-ton guided-missile destroyer, USS John Paul Jones (US 7th Fleet), waded (not strayed as it was deliberate) into the vicinity of India’s Lakshadweep Islands. The ship was 131 nautical miles away from India’s coast (12 nautical miles territory) but well within its exclusive economic zone (200 nautical miles, 370.4 kilometre).

Shockwaves

The trespass by the US destroyer triggered indignation through all walks of life. It conjured up memories of the arrival of the 7th fleet during the Indo-Pak war of 1971. The fleet gave a message, loud and clear, to India that it should not dare finish West Pakistan, its long cherished desire. Even Nehru, an ostensibly liberal leader, regarded the creation of Pakistan a blunder. His rancour against Pakistan reaches a crescendo in his remarks: “I shall not have that carbuncle on my back.” (D. H. Bhutani, The Future of Pakistan, page 14). During 1971, Pakistan was a US ally. Now India is in the anti-China US-backed basket.

Yet, the `destroyer’ conjured up memory in India’s mind of `bitter’ American intervention.  Congress leaders voiced surprise at the U.S. move. In a tweet, Manish Tewari said, “This never happened in the 10 years of UPA [Congress-led rule] or perhaps even before that as far as I can recall. The last time I remember it being so rather in your face was 1971 – Task Force 74 – 7th Fleet. What then happened is History. Hope the NDA/BJP shows some Oomph?” Echoing the surprise, former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh, said, “And this happened when the former U.S. Secretary of State and Climate Envoy, John Kerry, was meeting Ministers in New Delhi.”

The euphoria created by US gung-ho support for Quad, and Pakistan’s exclusion from the climate conference petered out.

India’s foreign office tried to play down the event by stating that it was not a “military manoeuvre”. So, the USA was not bound to inform India about it. But, to India’s chagrin, the U.S. The Navy announced that its ship the USS John Paul Jones had carried out Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) in the Indian EEZ, adding that its operations had “challenged” what the U.S. called India’s “excessive maritime claims.” The U.S. defends its actions saying they were in compliance with international laws.  Even Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby justified what India calls “intransigence’ by announcing the US Navy’s move was in compliance with international law.  He told reporters, “I can tell you that the USS John Paul Jones, a Navy destroyer, asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Republic of the Maldives by conducting innocent passage through its territorial sea in normal operations within its exclusive economic zone without requesting prior permission. We conduct routine and regular FONOPs, as we have done in the past and will continue to in the future. FONOPs are not about one country, nor are they about making political statements’.

India compelled to protest

As a face-saving gesture, India was forced to protest the U.S. decision to conduct a patrol in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the western Indian Ocean, rejecting the U.S.’s claim that its domestic maritime law was in violation of international law. India’s external-affairs ministry retorted, ‘The Government of India’s stated position on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is that the Convention does not authorise other States to carry out in the EEZ and on the continental shelf, military exercises or man oeuvres, in particular those involving the use of weapons or explosives, without the consent of the coastal state.’ The ministry insisted that the USS John Paul Jones was “continuously monitored” transiting from the Persian Gulf towards the Malacca Straits.

The incident is a rare falling out between the two partners in the Quadrilateral Grouping that had recently committed to upholding freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific together.

Bone of contention

The USA shrugged off India’s ennui. According to the annual FONOP reports released by the U.S. Department of Defence for each fiscal year, the U.S. had been regularly conducting FONOPs in Indian EEZ. The FONOPs were carried out in several c continental shelves of several countries including its allies and partners. The USA regarded Indian maritime claim as “excessive” and in violation of International Law. From 2007 onwards till 2017, the U.S. carried out multiple FONOPs every year challenging “excessive” Indian maritime claims. No FONOP was carried out in 2018 and 2020 and one FONOP in 2019.

Difference of opinion is due to the fact that the USA has not ratified the UN Convention on the Law of Seas. India and China have ratified it with some reservations. But, the USA does not care a fig about provisos attached by China and India.

Ashamed of USA’s crass rebuttal, India is coining excuses to mitigate its embarrassment. To relieve pressure on Indian government, former Navy Chief Admiral Arun Prakash interpreted the US “trespass” as if it were a message to China that the USA has unfettered “freedom of navigation”. Prakash Tweeted

“While India ratified UNCLOS in 1995, the U.S. has failed to do it so far. For the 7th Fleet to carry out FoNOPs missions in Indian EEZ in violation of our domestic law is bad enough. But publicising it? USN please switch on IFF (Identification, friend or foe)! Prakash added FONOPs by U.S. Navy ships, “ineffective as they may be,” in South China Sea, are meant to “convey a message to China that the putative EEZ” around the artificial SCS islands is an “excessive maritime claim.” “But what is the 7th Fleet message for India?” he asked.

Might is Right

 Obviously, the USA is acting upon might-is-right policy. India itself acted upon this policy to devour princely states, and annex Nepalese territory. Junagadh and Kashmir disputes are still unresolved on UN agenda.  Indian Union is an artificial sally.

In its entire history India had never been a single nation, or one country, until united at gun point by the British. The artificial nature of modern India created by the British colonialists and adopted by post-colonial India generated insurgencies and separatist movements.

At the time of partition, India was in grip of virulent insurgencies and separatist movements (Dravidian South, Khalistan, Seven Sisters in the North East, so on). Wikipedia lists 68 major organizations as terrorist groups. Of them, nine are in the northeast (seven sisters states), four in the center and the east (Maoist/Naxalites), seventeen in the west (Sikh separatist groups), and thirty eight in the northwest (Kashmir). India kept afloat as a union only at the barrel of gun. The Indian army chief paid a five-day visit to Bangladesh as a prelude to conducting a massive operation against the Naxalbari militants.

UK and USA’s Diego Garcia headache

International Court of Justice advisory opinion on Chagos Islands has catapulted Indian Ocean into limelight. The ICJ `advisory’ is a blow to UK’s forcible occupation of Chagos Islands, including the strategic US airbase of Diego Garcia atoll (leased out to the USA by the UK).

The ICJ President Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf observed, `The UK has an obligation to bring to an end its administration of Chagos archipelago as rapidly as possible’. The court ruled that separation of Chagos Islands from Mauritius during decolonisation in the 1960s constituted an “unlawful detachment” and was a “wrongful act”.

In 1966, the U.S. signed a secret agreement with Great Britain allowing the Pentagon to use the Indian Ocean territory as an airbase in exchange for a big discount on Polaris nuclear missiles. Three years later, hundreds of Navy Seabees arrived by ship and began pouring out two 12,000-foot runway that would become a bulwark of American Cold War strategy in the region, and a key launching pad for the first and second Gulf wars, the 1998 bombing of Iraq and invasion and carpet-bombing of Afghanistan.

The base can house more than 2,000 troops and 30 warships at a time. It has two bomber runways, a satellite spy station and facilities enabling the use of nuclear-armed submarines. It served as a CIA black site (like Guantanamo Bay) to interrogate and torture terror suspects including those from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indonesia.

The base holds key to America’s Afghan exit plan, by year 2024, to avoid a rout at the hands of Taliban.

Hand aloft

To India’s chagrin, the USA wants to exert its authority on Indian Ocean also. Forty seven countries have the Indian Ocean on their shores. The Indian Ocean is the third largest body of water in the world. It occupies 20 percent of the world’s ocean surface – it is nearly 10,000 kilometers wide at the southern tips of Africa and Australia and its area is 68.556 million square kilometers, about 5.5 times the size of the United States. India’s motto is ‘whoever controls the Indian Ocean dominates Asia’. Admiral Alfred T. Mahan (1840-1914) of the United States Navy highlighted the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean in these words: “whoever attains maritime supremacy in the Indian Ocean would be a prominent player on the international scene. The Indian peninsula (i.e. the Deccan and below) juts 1,240 miles into the Indian Ocean. 50 per cent of the Indian Ocean basin lies within a 1,000 mile radius of India, a reality that has strategic implications. Under the law of the sea, it has an exclusive economic zone of 772,000 square miles. Chennai is a mere 3,400 miles away from Perth in Australia, slightly more than the distance between New York and Los Angeles.

 To dominate Straits of Malacca (bordering Indonesia and Malaysia), India established its Far Eastern Marine Command at Port Blair in the Andamans. It has developed Port Blair as a strategic international trade center and built an oil terminal and trans-shipment port in Campal Bay in the Nicobar Islands.

Concluding remarks

In diplomacy, there are no permanent friends or foes, only permanent interests. Afghan exit plan requires the USA continues to retain Diego Garcia.

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US-China Developing Confrontation: India and QUAD

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At the request of the editors of International Affairs magazine, the renowned Kanwal Sibal, India’s Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to Turkey, Egypt, France and Russia, comments on new US initiatives in Southeast Asia.

Judging by its Interim National Strategic Security Guidance (INSSG) document (March 2021) the Biden Administration intends to be tough towards China on many fronts. Human rights issues in Xinjiang and Tibet, threats to Taiwan, limiting Hong Kong’s autonomy, encroachments and territorial pressures in the East and South China Seas, freedom of navigation and overflight issues, preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific, unfair trade practices, technology theft, resilience of critical supply chains, emerging technologies, standard setting for 5G, a new competitive US industrial strategy, and so on.

Whereas Trump had alienated allies and weakened America’s hand in dealing with China’s challenge, the Biden administration seeks to speak to China from a position of strength. For this it seeks to restore ties of confidence with Japan, South Korea and Australia in priority. In doing this the US is indirectly recognizing its reduced strength and its inability to meet the China challenge alone. In this perspective, It had reached out to Europe for policy coordination towards China even before it took office, but Europe went ahead to sign a Comprehensive Investment Agreement (CAI) to protect its own independent and competitive interests in China. After the fractious US-China Alaska meeting, the US has continued its coordinating efforts with Europe but faces resistance from Germany and France in particular who want to retain their strategic autonomy in dealing with China, believing that US policy under Biden will remain self-centred and that too much water had flown under the bridge for US-Europe ties to simply revert to the pre-Trump era.

The timing of virtual Quad summit before the Alaska meeting was also intended to signal to China that like-minded countries were coming together to deter what they view as China’s increasingly aggressive policies. From a telephonic meeting at the Foreign Ministers level in February 2021 the summit was a major step forward in consolidating the Quad politically. India, earlier reticent in moving too far too quickly with the Quad in the light of the need to manage the stresses of its China ties, decided to join. After the stand-off in eastern Ladakh India has realized that deferring to Chinese sensitivities is not reciprocated by China. The visit of the US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to India coincided with the US-China meeting in Alaska.

In the INSSG, India is not treated strategically in the same category as US allies like Japan, Republic of Korea and Australia. The China challenge is felt primarily in the western Pacific where the US has bases, deployed military forces and a powerful naval presence. China’s challenge in the Indian Ocean is not considered of the same order for the time being, but partnership with India, with its significant naval assets and geographic position, overlooking the critical sea lanes of communication in the region, is important for the future. India is seen as a net security provider, fitting into the template of burden sharing. For this the US has shown its readiness to build India’s maritime surveillance capacities by supplying defense platforms, intelligence sharing, increasingly complex military exercises with the inclusion of Japan and Australia, and utilizing the India-US defense-related foundational agreements that provide for inter-operability and sharing of geo-spatial data.

Although the joint statement issued by the Quad summit did not mention China by name, China was of course discussed, with each leader sharing his thinking. According to US NSA Jake Sullivan, China, about whom none of the leaders had any illusions he said, was discussed at the meeting but was not its focus. Coercion of Australia, harassment around the Senkakus, border aggression against India figured in the discussions. According to him, the Quad is now a critical part of the architecture of the Indo-Pacific. Cybersecurity incidents impacting Quad members too figured, including attacks against India’s power sector. He dismissed the talk about Quad being a military alliance, though he stated that it has to worked out at the leaders level and that of the working groups how the Quad can move from freedom of navigation to broader regional security questions. Apparently, at Alaska, the Chinese reacted negatively to US mentioning its dialogue with India.

The summit rightly felt that the Quad should have a broader agenda than simply China, a point of view that India has studiously supported. India is conscious of the fact that the US, as well as Japan and Australia, have deep economic ties with China, which can be rolled back selectively to lessen dependence by decoupling in critical areas, restricting Chinese access to advanced critical technologies in which China has external dependence such as semi-conductors, preventing Chinese investments in sensitive areas etc but cannot be dramatically reduced, given China’s huge weight in the global economy. The US policy seems to be “extreme competition”, cooperation and confrontation, as required. India’s investment in the Quad, beyond the maritime security aspect, would be to benefit from a shift away from China of critical supply chains, use India’s democratic environment to attract more US investment and technology transfers that would accelerate India’s growth for the welfare of its people, besides enabling it to close the developing gaps with China.

It is in this perspective that the decision on building India’s capacity for vaccines should be seen. The three expert groups set up by the Quad summit, on vaccines, critical technologies (5G, AI, Quantum Computing, human biology) and climate change broaden the Quad’s agenda, opening up bilateral opportunities with the US for India, besides creating the beginnings of a structure. In line with Indian thinking and emphasis on a broader agenda, the Quad leaders pledged “to respond to the economic and health impacts of COVID-19, combat climate change, and address shared challenges, including in cyber space, critical technologies, counterterrorism, quality infrastructure investment, and humanitarian-assistance and disaster-relief as well as maritime domains”. The decision to manufacture US vaccine in India with Biological E Ltd to provide one billion doses to the Indo-Pacific region was taken, with Japanese finance and Australia’s delivery support. The third group will deal with critical – and emerging-technologies to facilitate cooperation on international standards and innovative technologies of the future. 

China’s concerns about the Quad summit and the strengthening of India’s strategic ties with the US have no basis. China has benefited enormously from US capital and technology and that of its allies for China’s rise. The economic power it acquired, and with that military power, has been used by it to expand territorially in the western Pacific and globally through the BRI, not to mention in the Indian Ocean. Now that defenses are being put up against China’s policies and ambitions, China, after the stand-off in Ladakh, has no ground to warn India not to become close to the US. Even now the US is China’s biggest economic partner and China is reaching out to the US to ease pressures on it. Its critique of “selective multilateralism” would apply equally to the Russia-India-China group, BRICS as well as the SCO. It has established a Quad in our region- the China-Pakistan-Afghanistan-Nepal group, in which Nepal does not fit at all.

The bristling encounter at Alaska demonstrates that China’s expectations that a change of administration in the US could lessen tensions and some accommodation could be worked out have been belied for the time being. China touted the Alaska meeting as a strategic dialogue, which was strongly denied the US. In response to Secretary of State Blinken’s severe strictures on China’s infringements of a rules based international order on various issues, Politburo member Yang Jiechi hit back brutally, decrying US democracy, castigating America’s racism, calling it the champion of cyberattacks, rejecting the notion that western nations represent global public opinion, and, most significantly, stating that the US lacked the qualifications to speak to China from a position of strength, now or even 20 or 30 years earlier. Yang Jiechi may have intended to say all this in private but felt compelled to do so in public to show to the domestic and international audience that China will not be bullied and will deal with the US as an equal. If he had reacted meekly, it would have been a blow to China’s prestige and its self-image. It appears that after the public spat the two sides got down to business calmly on the agenda items , with serious differences over Taiwan emerging and raising US concerns that this could become a flash point if Xi Jinping was determined to achieve reunification, by force, if necessary. There was no commitment by the US side to meet again despite persistent probing by Yang Jiechi to elicit a response.

With China and Russia in the cross-hairs of the Biden government, it is not surprising that both countries have closed ranks against the US. Lavrov and Wang Yi rejected US calls for “a rules-based order” and proposed a summit of the UN Security Council’s five permanent members to be held “to establish direct dialogue …in the interests of maintaining global stability”. With the sharper US divisions with China and Russia it is unclear what the P5 summit could achieve concretely, especially as the representative nature of the UN Security Council as currently constituted is questioned in large parts of the world.

Regrettably, a new version of the Cold War might now be taking shape. In the developing scenario, it is very important that the India-Russia dialogue is strengthened so that the implications of the new developments and the compulsions of the two countries are better understood bilaterally.

From our partner International Affairs

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Convergence of interests determines Russia-Pakistan Relations

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Russian FM is being received by his Pakistani counterpart upon arriving at the Foreign Office. PHOTO: TWITTER/SMQureshiPTI

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Pakistan on 6-7 April 2021 and held delegation-level meetings with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, in addition to called on Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief, as well as had interaction with other dignitaries and senior officials during his two-day stay in Islamabad, Pakistan.

It is worth mentioning that Russia and Pakistan face similar challenges and pass through similar difficulties, including sanctions, economic challenges, security threats, etc. Both countries share similar views on the Afghanistan issue, terrorism, regional security, and China’s common friend. There exists a comprehensive convergence of interests.

Especially after India signed a series of Defense agreements and acted as a “Major Defense Partner” and American-led Quad or concept of Asian NATO, the geopolitics has emerged so that Russia and Pakistan must cooperate with each other. As a matter of fact, we left with no option except strengthening regional cooperation.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow and Islamabad would boost ties in the fight against terrorism, with his country providing defense equipment to Pakistan and the two holding joint military exercises.

During the meeting, Prime Minister Imran Khan restated Pakistan’s determination to expeditiously complete the mandatory legal process for the “Pakistan Stream” (North-South) Gas Pipeline project and begin the work as early as possible.

Pakistan-Russia mutual relations and issues of regional and global importance were discussed in the meeting. The Prime Minister fondly recalled his interaction with President Vladimir Putin during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in Bishkek in June 2019. He had emphasized his desire to take the bilateral relationship to a new level. He repeated that the importance Pakistan attached to its relations with Russia as a critical foreign policy priority. The Prime Minister uttered satisfaction at the steady growth in bilateral ties, including deepening cooperation in trade, energy, security, and defense.

Citing to the situation in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), the Prime Minister shared Pakistan’s perspective on peace and security issues in South Asia, including the need for sustainable, peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.

The Prime Minister repeatedly extended his invitation to President Putin to visit Pakistan at his earliest convenience. It is hoped that President Putin will visit Pakistan soon.

Moreover, disturbing the peace process in Afghanistan, where both countries have long histories of concerns. It was the first time a Russian foreign minister had visited Pakistan in nine years and comes at a delicate time for Afghanistan with peace talks making little progress and a deadline approaching for the United States to withdraw its forces. “(Pakistan and Russia) share convergent positions on several issues … including peace and stability in Afghanistan,”

The visit comes as Moscow seeks to increase its stature in the region, particularly in war-torn Afghanistan, where it has sought to inject itself as a critical player in fast-tracked efforts to find a permanent peaceful end to decades of war.

As Washington appraisals an agreement it signed more than a year ago with the Taliban and rethought a May 1 withdrawal of its troops, Moscow has stepped up its involvement in Afghanistan, emerging as a significant player. Last month it hosted talks between the Taliban and senior government officials, and Lavrov suggested another high-level meeting could again be held in Moscow.

Addressing a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Lavrov expressed satisfaction over a 46 percent increase in trade between them. He, however, stressed there is a need to diversify it further. Discussing the energy sector opportunities, he said both the countries are now discussing a new protocol on the Stream Gas Pipeline Project, an ambitious project to transport 1.6 billion cubic feet per day of regasified liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Karachi to Lahore. As soon as it is signed, the construction work will begin. The top Russian diplomat termed the relationship between the two nations mutually beneficial and constructive. He recalled Russia had provided 50,000 doses of its Covid-19 Sputnik-V Vaccine.

Qureshi said Pakistan wanted to build a relationship with Russia that is based on trust. He said Moscow has always advocated the importance of international law and multilateralism. “These are principles that Pakistan adheres to. Our coordination and cooperation at the United Nations level have been excellent.” At this, Lavrov reaffirmed the commitment to deepen ties with Pakistan and create win-win cooperation between them.

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