Will another Cold War drag Pakistan into camp politics?
The Russian Federation’s decision to recognize the rebel territories of Ukraine has profound implications for an international order and smaller countries like Pakistan, Africa and the Middle East. And this coincides with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Russia.
The United States dragged Moscow into this strategic blunder. Washington could have easily assuaged Moscow’s security concerns that Ukraine would not be part of NATO. However, he kept the option open towards Kiev. After the Russian intervention in Ukraine, the whole European bloc will feel threatened and the small countries of Eastern Europe will seek American weapons and its security umbrella. After the end of the war in Afghanistan, the American industrial and military complex suddenly became a new market for selling weapons and creating a role for the United States as an Internet security provider.
As the primary and secondary effects of Russia’s announcement to recognize the region as rebel territories are still being felt, small independent states in pro-Western Ukraine will be a catalyst for a proxy path. The United States has a wealth of experience in executing a proxy war that will create instability in regions affecting Russian interests.
China has so far refrained from supporting Russia as it faces a similar situation in Taiwan. This decision has some relevance to the Indian precedent of annexation of the IIOJ&K. Furthermore, it gives India the legitimacy to support irredentist and revisionist elements in Pakistan or the AJK and consider them part of a united India under the British Raj. Yes, Pakistan is a nuclear country. It may not be easy for Delhi to enter in troops. But logic provides India with a pretext to go to war against Islamabad.
Second, Afghanistan already claims part of western Pakistan as Afghanistan. Kabul believed that the distant metropolis of London, which ruled British India, should have ceded these territories to Kabul – once part of imperial Afghanistan – after its withdrawal from the subcontinent.
Again, the justification for a reunion of territories based on culture, language and history means that the breakaway countries of the former USSR must join the former Soviet Union. Nostalgia for the past also means that the whole map of the Middle East and Africa should be redrawn.
Pakistan’s security and political and diplomatic relations with the West, particularly European countries and the United States, also put pressure on Islamabad on how it would balance the new realignment with Russia.
As the Prime Minister is about to undertake a very important visit to Russia, what will Pakistan’s response be to the Russian Federation’s decision on Ukraine. What if we asked the Prime Minister a direct question about Russia’s recognition of the two Donbass regions? Are we going to support it or not? What about its implication on our position on the Indian annexation of Kashmir? Of course, there are parallels between the two instances.
Will a weaker stance like “we urge all parties to exercise restraint”, possibly by MOFA, cause India to borrow from the Russian toolbox and consider another possible Pakistani territory after the occupation of the IIOJ&K?
It is possible that the prime minister will discuss diplomatic recognition of the Taliban as a quid pro quo for supporting Russia’s claim to rebel territory in Ukraine. But Moscow is unlikely to move on its fundamental demand for ethnic and political inclusiveness for the Taliban government.
Pakistan is caught between the hammer and the stalemate by a geopolitical earthquake in a far Eastern Europe that has no relevance to Islamabad: how to reconcile the expectations of friends and biggest trading partners like the EU and the United States with the constraint of Russia is a great challenge. Since the Russian announcement, the world has officially entered a new Cold War with two opposing sides emerging as a reality. Not to mention that Pakistan’s efforts to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan have been directly affected by the Russian-American tension.
The Prime Minister’s visit could not come at the worst time to signal to the West that we are about to witness a high binary risk in our foreign policy and international relations. While no other world leader will visit sanctioned Russia, Prime Minister Imran Khan will go ahead with an engagement that is also bad in terms of optics.
It is also a bad signal after the recent initiatives of Islamabad, ie the boycott of the Conference on Democracy. Any tilt of Pakistan’s foreign policy in choosing one side or the other in the era of Cold War II is a bad foreign policy choice that Pakistan will be reeling from for decades.
If history is any guide, Zia-ul-Haq went to shake hands with the Shah of Iran who was replaced within a week by the Islamic Revolution led by Khameni. Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa’s recent visit to European Union capitals was a balancing act and a good message that Pakistan will maintain security and strategic relations with a major western bloc.
However, the populist anti-Americanism movements of the political government will keep Pakistan’s relations free with the western bloc, ie the United States and the counties in its orbit. Pakistan must have good relations with China and Russia, but we cannot choose one side or the other to avoid being caught in a binary relationship.
Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Balochistan and a former adviser to the government of Balochistan for media and strategic communication. It remained associated with BBC World Service. He is also the President of the Institute of New Horizons (INH) and of Balochistan. He tweets @Jan_Achakzai