Strategic Studies Institute Islamabad (SSII) held a discussion on “The Evolution of Pakistan – Russia Relations” on Thursday, November 16, 2017. The guest speaker was Mr. Andrew Korybko, a Moscow based American political analyst.

During the discussion Mr Korybko said that the rerouting of global trade and creation of new marketplaces through One Belt One Road (OBOR) will inevitably have political consequences because it will help pioneer the creation of new multipolar institutions whose members eventually divest from their unipolar counterparts in replacing US-led Western Globalisation with Chinese-led Silk Road Globalisation.

He said that Russia and Pakistan are stakeholders in OBOR through the Eurasian Land Bridge and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) respectively, as they each believe that they have more to gain from a progressively reformed international system which gives them a more equitable stake in its affairs than continue with the existing one where they are marginalised and “contained”.

He indicated that China wants to integrate with Russia and Pakistan as it seeks to develop new trade routes, access new marketplaces, and contribute to the long-term stabilisation of its neighbouring Great Powers, while the US wants to obstruct this partnership. Accordingly, Afghanistan emerges as the most crucial focal point of American pressure because of the potential that this state’s prolonged destabilisation has in disrupting China’s multipolar transnational connective infrastructure projects with Russia and Pakistan, understanding that its problems could easily migrate to Central and South Asia if they are not adequately resolved. This shared interest in Afghanistan’s stability is what most immediately brought Russia and Pakistan together for a common cause.

Mr Korybko said that as a result of this imperative, Russia and Pakistan drew closer to one another in coordinating their diplomatic and political responses to the War on Afghanistan, with the outcome being the incipient Moscow peace process. He, however, stressed that relations did not just stop there, as they have become all-encompassing and truly comprehensive, and the credit goes to both leaderships for being brave enough to step away from the long shadow of the past in charting a new future together.

Mr Korybko stressed that Russia was also equally influenced by the Chinese model of partnership in agreeing to restart relations with Pakistan from a blank slate in overcoming their historical challenges and finally seeing the Pakistan of today as different from the one of the past. However, he emphasised that Russia’s rapprochement with Pakistan is not aimed against India, but some voices in New Delhi seem to believe that it is, and they are being encouraged to think that way by the US. Likewise, Pakistan’s rapprochement with Russia is not aimed against the US, but India wants America to see it that way in order to widen the rift between Islamabad and Washington.

He said that Russia and Pakistan’s traditional partners are against their Silk Road coordination with China, while these two Cold War-era rivals happen to find themselves in agreement about the wisdom in working with Beijing on this matter.

“Russia and Pakistan’s traditional partners are against their Silk Road coordination with China, while these two Cold War-era rivals happen to find themselves in agreement about the wisdom in working with Beijing on this matter.” Andrew Korybko

He stressed that from Russia and Pakistan’s perspective, their Afghan coordination, which was the driver of their rapprochement, was initiated out of their shared interests in stabilising their borderlands and therefore ensuring the security of the game-changing New Silk Road projects that will traverse through their territory. Political cooperation soon gave way to military cooperation, which is why the two sides decided to stage their first-ever joint military exercises last year in Pakistan and just recently concluded the second drill in Russia over a month ago. Their anti-terrorist ties do not just take political, diplomatic, and military dimensions, but are also incorporating a degree of economic ones as well, though this segment lags behind the others due to the geographic distance between the two states. “What I mean by economic measures against terrorism is simple enough to understand, and it’s that an improvement in living conditions usually serves as a buffer against terrorism recruitment.”

In the Pakistani case, impoverished individuals are vulnerable to falling under the sway of extremist and militant ideologies, so it follows that lifting these people out of poverty is indirectly a national security concern in and of itself. CPEC will definitely help with that when it comes to jobs, but Russia could also play a role in its own way through its plans to build a North-South gas pipeline to reliably supply the population with energy. Taken together, Chinese jobs and Russian-supplied energy can go a long way in lifting people out of poverty and powerfully enhancing the “soft” vector of any multilateral anti-terrorist strategy. This tangent will still take time to fully develop, but events are moving along a positive trajectory in any case, though this cornerstone of the Russian-Pakistani rapprochement will remain incomplete until both parties develop more robust trade ties in the commercial sector of the economy, which is where CPEC comes in.

Mr Korybko said that although the Russian government has been ambiguous about its willingness to participate in CPEC in order to preserve its delicate 21st-century geostrategic balancing act, particularly as it relates to broadening it to include North-South connectivity, Central and South Asia, and resource-rich Siberia.

He said that the diversification of Russian-Pakistani relations in the past couple of years from their common peace-seeking ground in Afghanistan to military, energy, and even institutional cooperation via the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) testifies to the fact that both countries’ leaderships are dedicated to enhancing all-around relations with one another.

Talking about Pak-Iran relations, Mr Korybko said that there had been different periods in the two countries ties, but lately their relations are driven by renaissance due to shared security threat. He said in May 2017, when there was a cross border terrorist attack in Iran there were speculations in Tehran that the attack was Pakistan sponsored. For a moment there were disagreement on both sides, however the two states effectively resolved the situation through diplomacy.

Mr Korybko said that he believes that the attack was RAW inspired while insisting that Indian intelligence agencies are working with worst terrorist organisations in the world and trying to create a political self-sustaining terrorist movement inside Balochistan for the purpose of destabilising CPEC. He said that the May 2017 attack was in one degree or another influenced by RAW to provoke a deterioration in Pak-Iran relations because both countries needs one another.

In his concluding remarks, Mr Korybko said that the energy ties between Russia and Pakistan are forecast to expand as progress is made on the North-South gas pipeline and possibly other projects as well, while real-sector economic relations will probably continue to lag behind all the others until more progress is made on this front.

He emphasised that a positive suggestion would be to promote the Central Asian and Siberian connectivity potentials of CPEC to Russian and Pakistani businessmen, both state-connected and private, since they’ll eventually become the vanguard ambassadors of their homelands in each other’s country as they pioneer the next person-to-person phase of the Russian-Pakistani rapprochement.
Complementary to this, both sides need to continue promoting their cultural and soft power, including through more academic exchanges and tourism, which can help bridge the geographic gap that impedes the expansion of their socio-economic relations.

Press Coverage
The News Pak, Russian interests converge on OBOR: expert
https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/245107-pak-russian-interests-converge-on-obor-expert

The Nation OBOR to have far-reaching political implications: Expert
http://nation.com.pk/E-Paper/islamabad/2017-11-17/page-3/detail-5

Business Recorder ‘The Evolution of Pakistan–Russia Relations’
https://epaper.brecorder.com/2017/11/17/12-page/682645-news.html

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