For Imran, Russia is the new US

The election of Imran Khan to power will only accelerate the momentum in Russia-Pakistan ties, created during the previous administration

Photo courtesy: social media
Photo courtesy: social media
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Mohsin Saleem Ullah

Washington is loosing the battle of influence in South Asia and Russia’s growing influence in this region has posed a threat to isolate the great superpower in Afghanistan. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has sought to strengthen his pivot by expressing a desire to enter into a partnership with China on its One Belt One Road initiative to link central Asian states through Pakistan. Russia is on course to shape an unprecedented alliance with Pakistan and substitute the United States from the geopolitical map of this region.

The election of Imran Khan to power will only accelerate the momentum in Russia-Pakistan ties, created during the previous administration. Alexey Dedov, the Russian envoy to Islamabad, was one of the first foreign dignitaries to call on Imran after his election victory.

Terming Pakistan’s blossoming relations with Russia as a reciprocal gesture at US’ gradually cutting aid to the South Asian country, Pakistan Tehreek-eInsaaf (PTI) Senator Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani told National Herald, “Alike China has dispute with India and United States, but it has the strongest economic ties with them. Thus, this shall serve as a precedent for us too that Pakistan will deal both US and Russia with equity; rest depends whether they extend a helping hand or not.” The partnership recently saw the first-ever combined military exercises of 3,000 troops from Russia, India, Pakistan, China and other SCO member countries, as a part of multi-nation anti-terror drills under the banner of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Russia.

Pakistan has taken part in the exercise thrice now, starting from 2016, after a defence cooperation agreement was reached between Islamabad and Moscow in 2014 with the lifting of Russian arms embargo. Despite India’s objections, Russia has struck a deal to supply Pakistan with Mi-35 combat helicopters and sold Russian engines to the Pakistan Air Force for the SinoPakistani co-developed JF-17 fighter planes. Moreover, a hefty economic deal of $2billion was signed between Russia and Pakistan for an 1100-km-long gas pipeline project from Karachi to Lahore back in 2015. But what did cause this paradign shift in Pakistan’s foreign policy?

The emerging Russian-Pakistani alliance may leave the US isolated in this region, especially after US announcement of halting billion-dollar aid to the military and suspending the professional training programme of high-ranking army officers

The US failed to enter into a new era of security cooperation with Islamabad. And it seems Moscow and Islamabad share a common bond in their anti-Americanism. Earlier in April this year, Pakistan’s former defence minister Khurram Dastagir Khan endorsed the news that the Pakistani military wanted to purchase Su-35 fighter jets and T-90 tanks from Russia.

The anti-American inclination of Pakistan has edged Russia to extend its helping hand and make Pakistani policymakers to view the US as the major cause of instability in the South Asian region, especially in Afghanistan. ISIS is a cause of mutual concern for both Russia and Pakistan.

They do not want this militant network to spread across Afghan borders to wreak havoc on Pakistani and Russian soil. In addition, the Trump administration’s military involvement in Afghanistan and expansion of its longstanding US mission, with its outreach to India, has caused Pakistan to step back since the famous ‘lies and deceit’ tweet earlier this year.

At present, Islamabad and Moscow want to resolve the war in Afghanistan through a dialogue with the Taliban and by their engagement in a political setup. The US believes that ISISKhorasan threat is dying its own death but Russia and Pakistan have contended earlier that their network is expanding in Afghanistan. This has led to Moscow and Islamabad to equip the Taliban with weapons to combat ISIS’ growing influence.

In February, Pakistan’s then foreign minister Khawaja Asif, on his visit to Russia, held the US responsible for the present situation in Afghanistan. “Russia enjoys a special place in our foreign policy. Regular high-level exchanges between the two countries in the last few years is a manifestation of the mutual desire of both sides for translating political goodwill into a substantive and multidimensional partnership,” the foreign office of Pakistan had said.

The emerging Russian-Pakistani alliance may leave the US isolated in this region, especially after US announcement of halting billion-dollar aid to the military and suspending the professional training programme of high-ranking army officers. US National Security Advisor John Bolton’s criticism of Pakistan, accusing Islamabad of indulging in state-sponsored terrorism, doesn’t help either.

(The writer reports for Fox News in Pakistan and is also an opinion columnist for leading English newspapers. He tweets at @MohsinSaleemu).

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