Emerging Russo-Pakistan relations and Indian concerns

Big powers and South Asia

South Asia where the two nuclear powers India and Pakistan that jointly occupy  Jammu Kashmir- a nation sandwiched between them -  dominate the scene by perpetual conflict, wars and cross boarder fires, alongside limited cross border trade, remains one of the most tensed regions of the globe. NATO war on Afghanistan and its continued military presence there further complicated the situation in the region.

Global superpower USA, wanting perpetual terror wars in Islamic nations so that their economies are weakened and they become destabilized, is therefore keen to prolong the conflict in Afghanistan by creating problems and brining in new terror actors wit new names. Pakistan believes that the US may be using ISIS as proxy to further its interests particularly to counter China and a resurgent Russia. Russia is interested in engaging the Taliban in an attempt to defeat ISIS in the region.

The USA is not ready yet to accept a peace deal something officials here pointed out showed Washington’s lack of interest in seeking any peaceful environment anywhere in the world that would drastically undercut the arms trade by USA and Israel. Contrary to the tough US stance, China and Russia are willing to show flexibility in a bid to give way for genuine peace efforts. The unending Afghan problem has brought Pakistan and Russia so close that the two are now taking their ties to new heights in terms of strategic and defence cooperation. The development is part of a series of steps the two countries have undertaken in recent years to open a new chapter in their relationship that have long been held hostage to the politics of cold war era.

Today, as a new development in international relations, Pakistan, China and Russia have come together to stabilize South Asia, first by brining stability in war torn and highly destabilized Muslim nation Afghanistan. For well over two decades, Islamabad and Moscow competed against each other to pursue their interests. Now the two are all set to become part of a possible alliance in a dramatic turnaround in their otherwise frosty relationship for decades. China plays a crucial mediating nation. Pakistan’s entry into SCO makes its place secured in international politics.

Until recently New Delhi increased its military and economic ties with Russia to ensure its occupation of Jammu Kashmir which it annexed in 1947 by using all British arms and technology as soon as it got independence from Great Britain. But now India with its fast growing economy has chosen USA and Europe and Israel to spend its money on new terror goods. Russia, however, is not much worried about the change of political and military mind in New Delhi. Russia then, but gradually, moved towards Pakistan for beneficial ties.

Kashmir, being occupied India is another major cause of serious concern perpetually blocking chances of regional peace. The emergence of ISIS in Afghanistan is not gong bring peace there at least in the near future. For Pakistan, this is dangerous scenario as prolonged instability in Afghanistan will continue to cast shadow on its progress and stability. Russia and China have endorsed Pakistan’s stance on Afghanistan seeking an all inclusive reconciliation process. Emerging Russo-Pakistani ties have obviously created uneasiness not just in New Delhi, a very close military ally of Russia, but in the USA.

China, USA and Russia are supposed to play important role in the stability or otherwise of South Asia where the w two nuclear powers India and Pakistan continue to fight each other over the occupied Jammu Kashmir.

Steady improvement

Pakistan and Russia have joined hands for apprehensions that the USA may not be interested in bringing stability to Afghanistan for its own strategic interests. These fears have now opened up the possibility of an alliance between Pakistan, Russia and China in an unprecedented development that will shape the future of this volatile region. They are inching closer to formalizing their relationship with an aim to bring regional stability particularly seeking a political solution to the Afghan war. With a view to evolving a regional consensus for the lingering conflict in Afghanistan Russia has already hosted two meetings involving Pakistani and Chinese officials to discuss the Afghanistan problem that keeps spiraling and disallows peace in the region.

Pakistan accepted the Russian Federation’s proposal to enter into bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) Russian President Vladimir Putin during his meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) at Astana gave the offer - which Pakistan accepted. In the meeting, it was also decided to setup a top-level committee of Russian and Pakistan officials on the FTA. Sources have informed that leaders of both the countries will soon meet to formally sign the trade agreement. Pakistan has FTA agreement with China, Sri Lanka and Malaysia.

Moreover, Russia has also unconditionally expressed support for Pakistan’s inclusion in Eurasian Economic Union – the FTA will increase Pakistan`s trade volume, exports and foreign reserves as it will Pakistan access to Russian markets.

Russo-Pakistan relations since 1947 when India and Pakistan became free from British occupation have never been sound. Russian interest in Pakistan grew only when Soviet army invaded neighboring Afghanistan. As a leader of NAM, India became an important nation to propagate socialist thinking in third world. The Soviet Union and Pakistan first established the diplomatic and bilateral relations on 1 May 1948. For the most of the Cold War, the Soviet Union's relations with Pakistan have seen ups and downs during the different periods of Pakistan's history. Pakistan turned to USA as an anti-communist country. And let Washington decide its policies and fate. In response to ongoing Soviet support to communist Afghanistan regarding the Durand Line issue during the late 1970s and 1980s, Pakistan began to support Mujahideen rebels attempting to overthrow the Soviet-backed communist regime and was later aided by the United States, United Kingdom, China and Saudi Arabia. This later led to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

In 2010, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia stated that Russia was against developing strategic and military ties with Pakistan because of Russian desire to place emphasis on strategic ties with India. In 2011, Russia changed its policy and Putin publicly endorsed Pakistans bid to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and said that Pakistan was a very important partner in South Asia and the Muslim world for Russia. Putin offered Russia's assistance in expansion of Pakistan Steel Mills and provision of technical support for the Guddu and Muzaffargarh power plants and Russia was interested in developing the Thar Coal Project In 2011, Russia strongly condemned the NATO strike in Pakistan and the Russian foreign minister stated it is unacceptable to violate the sovereignty of a state, even when planning and carrying out counter-insurgent operations.  

In 2012, Russia and Pakistan have covertly developed geopolitical and strategic relations behind the scenes of world politics for the last two years. In 2012, Russian president Vladimir Putin announced to pay a state visit to Pakistan soon after his re-election, later he cancelled it, citing other crucial engagement. However, to offset the diplomatic setback caused by this unexpected cancellation of much-anticipated visit, Putin’s sent his Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. (Media reported that Putin cancelled the visit due tremendous pressure from both USA and India.) On 5-August-2013 Colonel General Vladimir V Chirkin visited Pakistan where he was received by General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. The two generals discussed matters of mutual interest with emphasis on improving defence cooperation, army-to-army relations the security situation in the region, especially in Afghanistan post 2014.  The Russian Federation came to a conclusion that Pakistan is a crucial player in Afghanistan and that, as NATO withdraws, it becomes all the more urgent for Moscow to seek some sort of modus vivendi with Islamabad

Russia, China and Pakistan seem to come together to stabilize Afghanistan as a prelude to make the region safe and secure. In recent years ties between Russia and Pakistan have warmed as a counter measure to warming ties between India and the USA, the two countries carried out their first ever joint military drills in 2016 despite Indian requests to postpone due to attack. Pakistan and Russia signed an agreement for the North-South gas pipeline from Lahore to Karachi, and reached a price accord by December 2016. Pakistan has also granted Russia access to a warm water port in the Arabian Sea Gwadar Port.

The development is part of a series of steps the two countries have undertaken in recent years to open a new chapter in their relationship that have long been held hostage to the politics of cold war era.

Is Islam popular in Russia?

Pakistan is a Muslim nation and a close ally of Arab nations. Russia, like China, is not known to be pro-Islam nation; however, unlike China which denies the Muslim population the right to pray and undertake fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, it does not harm the Muslim interests in any direct manner. The Chinese anti-Islam behavior is indeed strange and awkward in view of its close relations with Pakistan.

Can Russia, predominantly a Christian nation now, like Pakistan or Islam? The bilateral relations have not showed any people-to people relations as yet. President Putin inaugurated a big Mosque in Russia in the presence of Turkish President Erdogan that made it amply clear his real mind.

It seems Islam is becoming popular in Russia and Putin who killed many Chechen Muslims to strengthen his presidency, doesn’t intervene in Islamic faith in Russia. But he opposes terrorism which is given the Islamic color by the West.

Meanwhile, thirty percent of Russians now identify as Muslims, according to a new survey by the ZoomMarket marketing agency, just 12 percent fewer than the 42 percent who say they are Orthodox Christians. Some 18 percent say they are atheists, with all other denominations in the single digits. Thus, three percent of Russians say they are Roman Catholics, two percent say they are Protestants or Old Believers, and one percent each identify as Buddhists, Jews, Greek Catholics or Slavic pagans.

The most Muslim places were Kazan (72 percent), Krasnodar (43 percent), Voronezh (31 percent), Yekaterinburg (29 percent), Krasnoyarsk (28 percent), and Moscow (26 percent). And the most “atheist” were St. Petersburg (26 percent), Voronezh and Yekaterinburg (23 percent), Krasnoyarsk (22 percent), Moscow (21 percent), and Novosibirsk (18 percent).

These figures are important for at least three reasons. First, they show just how rapidly Islam is gaining ground in Russia. Second, they cast doubt on the claims of the Kremlin and the Moscow Patriarchate about how “Orthodox” Russia in fact now is. And third, they set the stage for even more changes ahead. One indication of that: a third of all those queried said that they would vote for a religious party if one were available to them.

Geopolitics and Indian worry

India believes it has got maximum benefits from Russia and now it must go ahead with a strong a strategic partnership with USA to advance its national interest at par with Israel.

India is worried that its nearly 70-year friendship with Russia is about to end. Russia is warming up to India’s biggest historical enemy, Pakistan, which inevitably has led to tensions between New Delhi and Moscow. So even though India and Russia were very close for nearly seven decades, Russia-Indian relations have come crashing down over the last two years as India looks forward to Washington, Israel and its western allies

Geopolitics is the reason the relationship between the two countries is deteriorating. Moscow and New Delhi have backed one another on the international diplomatic sphere for decades. But when Russia refused to support India’s bid to turn Pakistan into a pariah state this year, Moscow took a major step away from its friendship with New Delhi. Russia and India may have signed large-scale military deals over the past seven decades, but when Moscow held its first-ever joint military drills this year with Pakistan – India’s biggest adversary – it was a sign that Russia is trying to send a message.

When Russia rejected India’s efforts in November to isolate Pakistan politically, tensions between Moscow and New Delhi reached their peak. While concerns are rising within the Indian government, Russia continues to warm up to Pakistan and has recently shown interest in Pakistan’s joint project with China, the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The CPEC is a sensitive issue for India because the project passes through the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region in Kashmir. By backing the project, Russia automatically declares its support for Pakistan’s position in the long-standing Kashmir issue, a major development in Russian-Indian relations that could end their seven-decade friendship once and for all.

Apparently,  India is not much worried about deteriorating ties with Moscow as it calculates that would make USA move forward to seek closer ties with India. Unlike Soviet era policy of free economic assistance, now Russia does business deals with India incurring huge expenses and it wants to buy terror goods from USA and Israel, instead. Indians say Russia’s cooperation with Pakistan directly threatens India’s safety. India’s unexpected turn toward the USA wasn’t met with much excitement in Moscow, which is why Russia’s efforts to find a new ally in the region shouldn’t come as a surprise. And Russia seems to have made a choice in favor of Pakistan, no matter how painful it may sound for India.

However, increasing Russo-Pakistanis ties annoy New Delhi. But Moscow has assumed India it continued support and not to worry much about its relations with Pakistan. Dismissing Indian fears over growing Russia-Pakistan relations, Russian President Vladimir Putin on said that while his country had a "deep cooperation" with India, which could not preclude ties with other countries, including Pakistan. Putin reportedly assured the Indian state-run news agency that Russia's relations with Pakistan will have "no impact on trade between India and Russia. The Russian president also spoke about the "deep cooperation" his country enjoys with India in areas such as missile technology, asserting that the relationship between the two countries "cannot be diluted." He added, however, that this "special relationship" between the two countries should not be a restriction on forming contracts with other "partnering countries."Putin admires Islamabad: saying: "I believe Pakistan is taking immense steps to stabilize the situation in the country."

Urgent concerns

Pakistan, meanwhile, has two urgent concerns: the violent military suppression of legitimate political discontent in India-occupied Kashmir and the actions a hawkish Hindutva Indian government may be taking to stir trouble inside Pakistan. India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s misguided, militarized policies in occupied Kashmir and refusal to engage Pakistan and freedom fighting leaders could attempt to play on the latter’s fears by pulling closer to Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the LoC, racked by tensions and frequent exchanges of fire, is worryingly close to the possibility of a conflagration.

Helping reduce tensions in the short term and promoting dialogue among Pakistan, India and Afghanistan will only work if China, the USA and Russia play pivotal roles and recognize the interplay between the various security concerns of the three countries.

China is a traditional ally of Pakistan and therefore an adversary of India. Warming up to Islamabad is a smart move to get closer to China, but that move comes at a price: abandoning its decades-long friendship with India. In fact, India must blame itself for losing a close and reliable friend in Russia. As the Cold War-era generation doesn’t hold much sway in India now, it’s far trendier for the newer generation to look up to America. A survey by the Pew Research Center in 2015 revealed that more Indians view USA favorably than Russia.. Moscow cannot but lose appeal in a country that has been gravitating towards Russia’s biggest competitor in the world. The Kremlin reminded India that Moscow hasn’t made any complaints about New Delhi’s growing cooperation with Washington on matters of defense.

In order to stabilize Afghanistan there should at least be normal relations between India and Pakistan. The threats to peace and stability in the region are interlinked and dialogue is the only realistic solution. Russia has offered to mediate between Pakistan and India. China appears to once again be preparing to take a lead role in dialogue between Pakistan and Afghanistan in the newly revived Quadrilateral Coordination Group framework. The USA, in a new review of its Afghan policy, has broadened the scope to include its policy towards Pakistan, which in turn has widened to include the latter’s ties with India.

Kabul, riven by political tensions and under extreme pressure by the Afghan Taliban on the battlefield, has taken to blaming Pakistan for all its security troubles and has cooled to the idea of dialogue with. Very recent events suggest that Kabul may be considering softening its approach towards the insurgents, and coordinated diplomacy by outside powers could help in this.

Demanding Pakistan put pressure on the Afghan Taliban without helping alleviate its concerns about India’s growing involvement in Afghanistan and destabilization efforts in Pakistan, has not worked in over a decade.

Similarly, Pakistan demanding India address the Kashmir dispute is unlikely to achieve results while New Delhi, unwilling to deliver justice to Kashmiris by surrendering their sovereignty back to them instead of murdering and terrorizing them,  is focused on a perceived ”terrorism” threat from Pakistan to dilute the tensed situation in Kashmir.

India has killed over 1000,000 Kashmiris and converted Kashmir its major military cantonment to keep increasing its military prowess there to silence the freedom movement now by the youth there.

War no option for peace

For all the tensions among India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the three states recognize that war is not an option and that peace and stability must be sought. Surely, that is a need for big-power diplomacy in this region. As a senior partner of both India and Pakistan, USA could contribute to the noble cause of freedom of a nation by indirectly pushing the Modi government to opt for surrendering sovereignty to Kashmiris ion favor of regional stability and global peace that would be an achievement much more than and above the ordinary Nobel Peace prize. At the very least, outside powers can try and stabilize regional dynamics that are threatening to spiral out of control.

The QCG, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the influence that the USA, China and Russia independently have in this region — all can be for the good if used pragmatically and in a sustained manner.

What remains to be seen is if the USA, China and Russia, each of which has different relations with India and Pakistan but all of whom are invested in stability in Afghanistan, can do something more and better — help align the interests of Pakistan and Afghanistan (also India) in a way that reduces regional tensions.

Strong bilateral ties between Russia and Pakistan could have a very important positive outcome: Kashmiris would get back the lost sovereignty. Could Russia – standing between New Delhi and Islamabad and now having an equally big influence on the two of them – help resolve some of the most pressing issues in the region, the Kashmir issue?

India’s policy cum efforts to solve the regional tensions without surrendering Jammu Kashmir – but only by killing Kashmiris who demand sovereignty back, have only made the region a perpetually crisis region. Both India and Pakistan keep adding more terror goods to their military depots, denying a credible chance for peace in South Asia.


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