Pakistan-Russian Strategic-Volte Face

The bitter rivals of the past have now rejuvenated their foreign policy doctrines in adopt a holistic pragmatic approach to foreign engagements, as opposed to narrow cold war era bloc politics


The unprecedented changes in world order followed by burgeoning Chinese power, Russian revanchism, and American retrenchment ceded space to revisionist powers to outmaneuver American exceptionalism. American grand strategy rests upon colossal miscalculation that it can chastise all other revisionist powers simultaneously. Inevitably, the US found it entangled in a geopolitical predicament when assertive Eastern powers China, Russia, Iran, and Pakistan started developing bonhomie. This emerging entente cordiale marked the beginning of the end of American strategic hooliganism in the East. As “Ummah Pivot”, Pakistan garnered a favorable diplomatic response of Eurasian goliath, inflicting a momentous blow to the Indian drive to diplomatically isolate Pakistan. Russia`s grand strategy in the East seems to be “Balancer” and that`s why it’s engaging with unusual states such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan.

Pakistan which got tired of treacherous American strategic relationship of expediency readily embraced new regional strategic calculus. Being a self-interested actor in Anarchic international order, Pakistan readily accepted the Russian olive branch, acting in accordance with Stephen Walts` “Balance of Threats” paradigm. The burgeoning Indo-US bonhomie in myriad fields such as Nuclear energy, defense, cyberspace, trade, and spacecraft unraveled Indian duplicitous rhetoric stressing “Act East” as it’s brazenly “Acting West”. This gave fodder to Russian alarmism which was already in dire need to diversify its strategic and trade partners, underweight of American sanction blitzkrieg.

Now the question arises that what are the major reasons that are persuading Russia to engage with Pakistan? In a webinar held by the Karachi Council of Foreign Relations, the Russian ambassador to Pakistan Danila Garnish candidly revealed that both Russia and Pakistan are “developing” states, and collaboration in mutually beneficial ventures would alleviate developmental challenges. Thus, one reason for the Russian newfound pivot to Pakistan is the enduring developmental conundrum that is inducing it to diversify markets, trade, and investment partners.

President Putin is also eager to usher regional strategic connectivity by linking the proposed Siberian-Indian Ocean Corridor with CPEC. Furthermore, the inauguration of the Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline Project will consolidate the Russian economic footprint in South Asia. The future of the PAKAFUZ Railway deal, connecting the Arctic and the Indian Ocean would further decide Pakistan`s role in the Russian strategic sphere of influence. For the success of the Russian strategic doctrine of “Greater Eurasian Partnership”, Pakistan is an indispensable actor. Hence, Pakistan must not expect loans or grants from Russia but effective strategy vis-à-vis engagement with Russia is economic diplomacy, economic integration, and effective projection of Soft Power via cultural exchanges and people-to-people contacts.

Both Russia and Pakistan are also engaged with each other in other multilateral endeavors such as Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and Afghan Peace Process. As Russia opened doors for Pakistan to its sophisticated weapon market in 2014, followed by periodic joint military exercises, it was clearly established that both countries have managed to relinquish Cold-War era mistrust. Russia, preoccupied with prospects of terrorism in its strategic backyard, is eager to learn from Pakistan`s anti-terrorism playbook. Another bond that is shared by both resurgent actors is that being responsible nuclear weapons states; both can extend cooperation in the nuclear realm as well. If this partnership sustained upheavals of geopolitics, Pakistan can earn Russian support in its bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

Marking the glaring strategic volte-face, Russia accorded tacit approval to Pakistan`s political map being demonstrated at SCO September 2020 virtual meeting. Special Assistant to Prime Minister on National Security Dr. Moeed Yusuf commented on this diplomatic coup in these words; “Pakistan proudly displayed the political map at SCO meeting, while Indian objections were rejected by member countries and even Russia sided with Pakistan on the issue”. Inevitably, Russia finds itself obliged to Pakistan for opening its doors to Afghanistan Peace Process, specifically cultivating ties with the Taliban.

The bitter rivals of the past have now rejuvenated their foreign policy doctrines in adopt a holistic pragmatic approach to foreign engagements, as opposed to narrow cold war era bloc politics. Pakistan has its own compelling strategic conundrums that require a diversity of strategic partnerships. While Damocles’s sword of American Indo-Pacific strategy, with India as its icon, looms in dark clouds of strategic ambiance, the only silver lining is to galvanize multifaceted partnership with regional powers. This newfound Bromance with Russia resonate realist dictates of Kenneth Waltz when he asserted;

“The web of social and political life is spun out of inclinations and incentives, deterrent threats and punishments. Eliminate the latter two and the ordering of the society depends entirely on the former -a utopian thought impractical this side of Eden”.

Against the backdrop of Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov`s visit to Pakistan, it’s important to debunk the myth that Afghan Endgame is its sole agenda. The narrow prism of geopolitics and defensive realism is obsolete now. The time is ripe to recalibrate our position in the geo-economic world order. Pakistan must cajole Russia via lucrative investment avenues to grant it a substantial role in the proposed Greater Eurasian Partnership (GEP), much to the chagrin of India. The Eurasian goliath has already embraced strategic synergy with Pakistan in the wake of compatible visions of regional connectivity and economic integration. Pakistan`s “Multi-polar Grand Strategy” has already crafted contours of rapprochement with Russia in Islamabad Security Dialogue. Furthermore, instead of solely pursuing myopic ‘military diplomacy’ with a former superpower, Pakistan must usher a new era of ‘economic diplomacy’ to lay edifice of a sustainable long-term partnership

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