Map of the China-Pakistan CPEC roadway network. Credit: Government of Pakistan, Wikipedia Commons.
2010 marked the beginning of an age of shifting interest and realignments in 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 future.
This power relationship is between China, Pakistan and Russia. China with its economic and global influence, Russia with its muscular strength, information warfare and Pakistan being a frontline state combating terrorism and its geo-strategic location this emerging triangular power relations have inherent political potential to pull the string in the emerging regional and global political theater. The contemporary international political order is moving towards multi-polarity which is leaning towards the Asian political order, a multiethnic and multi cultural region.
With the new world developments such as China’s investment in the One Belt One Road economic initiative, Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union and its connectivity with OBOR and Pakistan’s geo-strategic location are one of the key factors that would define the new trends in the triangular power relations between three depending upon the basic queries such as the motivating factors behind the convergence of interests and what would the impact this trio exert on the Asian Order.
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. Hence Asia is an integral part and very important key to success to materialize this OBOR initiative and Pakistan is the first link to this initiative. However, Pakistan and Russia are two important actors or pillars in Chinese geo-strategic ambition, first in the China -Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and second is the OBOR integration with the Eurasian Economic Union. In this context China, Pakistan and Russia have essential shared objective in commerce, collective 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 Maritime Silk Road enterprise composed of networks of railways, highways and pipelines along with various energy and industrial project subjected to stave off the energy starvation of Pakistan and regional connectivity and pave the way for China’s access to Indian Ocean by linking Xinjiang province with Pakistan’s Gwadar Port. The geo-strategic interests of both countries China and Pakistan converge beyond the geography and also include a substantial role in Afghanistan. As far as China’s interests in Afghanistan are concerned ranges from the development assistance, investment enterprises and emerging security role to get and preserve its strategic objectives in the country which need enhanced security environment.
While China and Russia’s shared interests in the contemporary international environment are to counter US hegemony. China and Russia shared many multilateral platforms and institutions such as BRICS and SCO to strengthen their strategic partnership depends upon their shared interests both regionally and globally. Russia with its initiative of Eurasian Economic Union and China with its OBOR initiative are seeking to revolutionize the world trade and integrate world economics through trans-regional connectivity and mutual cooperation with the shared objective of G-zero World.
An 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, defence technology and heavy industry matches Chinese excellence in agriculture, light industry and information technology. Both these countries are supported by the prestigious institutions such as BRICS, SCO, CSTO and Eurasian Economic Union. Both Russia and China have shared objective regarding peace and stability in Afghanistan, South Asia particularly Pakistan’s role as geo-strategic fulcrum, Eurasian integration making peace in the violent and fragile Middle East.
In South Asia, Russia’s recent overture or approach towards Pakistan (previously cold war rival) represents a clean break from the cold war animosity. Russia’s security tie with the joint military exercise “Friendship 2016” with Pakistan is the recent example, which has more benefits than costs attached. Russia and Pakistan bilateral relations are at embryonic stage with undertaken projects represent the cautious approach. Here it is pertinent to state that India’s traditional rivalry with Pakistan, whom Russia has long-term strategic partnership commence from the cold war era, is uneasy with the growing ties of Russia and Pakistan. Russia is the second largest defence exporter to India and it is expected that their bilateral defence trade is targeted to reach 30 billion dollars by 2025.
On the other hand, Russia and Pakistan both share strategic interests as Russian wants to resolve Afghanistan dilemma because it has fears of the spill-over effects of the terrorism to its backyard in Central Asia from Afghanistan particularly the emergence of IS which threatens the stability of Russia itself with reference to Chechnya. It also has fears of the presence of US forces in Afghanistan.
Whereas Pakistan’s interests are starting from first, it wants to strengthen its position in the region by engaging with second nuclear power; Second, Pakistan seeks to peaceful resolution of Afghanistan; Third, Pakistan seeks the prospects of giving Russia access to deep-sea port in Gwadar and subsequent incorporation of Russia in OBOR. In a nutshell, in the South Asian context Pakistan’s reach to Russia come out of the need to counterbalance India’s growing influence in the region specifically after the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) between India and the US which seems to make India “linchpin” in this region.
As Indian access to US weapons alongside US support for Indian operations in the sea – Indian Ocean — represents an alarming signal to Pakistan to recalibrate its international relations and increase its outreach to regional powers to counter prospective Indian hegemony in South Asia. Simultaneously Pakistan should maintain its relations with US on even keels because Pakistan’s shift to strengthen its strategic relations with Russia and China are not at the cost of Pakistan-US relations- 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.