Shafaqna Pakistan:There’s been a lot of speculation about the future of the Russian-Pakistani Strategic Partnership following the former’s partisan support for India earlier this month after New Delhi’s “Israeli”-like unilateral moves in Kashmir and the very successful visit of Prime Minister Khan to Washington shortly before then, but the fact is that relations between Moscow and Islamabad are still better than at any other point in history.
In fact, as counterintuitive as it might initially seem, the two aforementioned rapprochements between these historical pairs of briefly wayward partners – Russia & India, Pakistan & the US – is actually a natural outcome of the Russian-Pakistani Strategic Partnership that serves the grand strategic interests of both of them if one ascribes to the so-called “bait theory” that’s become ever more convincing in hindsight.
On the surface, it’s difficult to understand why there’s any optimism for the Russian-Pakistani Strategic Partnership after Russian Ambassador to India Nikolai Kudashev proudly proclaimed that “our views are exactly the same as India’s” because Moscow regards Kashmir as “an internal matter of India” and Trump publicly expressed such glowing words for Pakistan during his counterpart’s trip to the American capital last month that people across the world couldn’t help but raise their eyebrows wondering what was really going on behind the scenes for that to rhetorical turnaround to happen.
It also seems unbelievable to call their strategic partnership a success after Russia’s support for India represented the first time that Moscow openly contradicted Beijing on a matter of serious international significance since the Old Cold War and therefore diplomatically “balanced” it.
Baiting” India & America With Pakistan & Russia
Accepting the legitimacy of these observations, it should also be added that there were always clear limits to how far and fast the Russian-Pakistani Strategic Partnership would proceed, as well as it always being unrealistic to have expected both of them to abandon their historic partners in India and the US, respectively, in spite of the then-clear trend of relations between both pairs worsening over the past couple of years.
With the benefit of hindsight, one can convincingly suggest that the rapid gains that were made in the unprecedented partnership between Russia and Pakistan over the same period weren’t just a reaction to the aforementioned trend, but partly intended to reverse it by using the other as “bait” to “lure” their historic partners back into an equally fast-moving rapprochement irrespective of whether this was coordinated between the two or not.
Viewed through the prism of the so-called “bait theory”, then the Russian-Pakistani Strategic Partnership has been extremely successful because it led to positive outcomes for both beyond the limits of their bilateral cooperation. Russia and India are now officially “global partners” and Moscow was able to seal billions of dollars’ worth of military deals over the past 12 months after New Delhi fretted that it was “losing” its historic partner to Islamabad (though ignoring that its pivot towards the US partly inspired the said partnership that it’s so fearful of), while Pakistan is now recognized by the US as the global pivot state that it truly is after Washington realized that the country is an indispensable player in the Afghan peace process following its success in facilitating these talks and also making America’s Eurasian rival an important party to some of them.
“Biting” The “Bait”
In other words, the Russian-Pakistani Strategic Partnership provoked worry among the Indians who feared that Moscow would grow closer to Beijing through its cooperation with Islamabad (and possible informal participation in BRI’s flagship project of CPEC) while the Americans were worried about Islamabad contributing to the restoration of Russian influence in Afghanistan.
It was therefore natural that India and the US would seek to reverse or at the very least slow down these developments despite those two countries being largely responsible for them happening in the first place due to their own strategic partnership with one another, which is why New Delhi offered Moscow lucrative deals all across the board and Washington relieved a lot of its pressure on Islamabad, though they can always return to instrumentalizing these same levers of influence.
It’s important to point out that just like how Russia and Pakistan might not have coordinated with one another when using the other as “bait”, nor might India and the US have done the same when “biting” it and responding as they recently have, though that also doesn’t mean that the American-Indian Strategic Partnership has no future just like it would be ridiculous to say the same about the Russian-Pakistani one after what happened.
The fact of the matter is that everything is “balancing” itself out in its own way, with Russia & Pakistan understanding why the other did what they did just like India & the US do as well since each action and reaction (“bait” and “bite”) was both logical and in pursuit of predictable self-interests at the time. Altogether, these developments are adding an interesting dimension to the New Cold War that inextricably involves China, too.
China’s “Security Dilemma” Concerns
The People’s Republic must be pondering the strategic implications of these recent moves in South Asia, especially since Russia’s response represented the first time that it openly disagreed with China on an international issue of serious significance. In addition, the rapid progress that’s been made between Russia and the US in clinching a “New Detente” pairs perfectly with Russia’s “global partnership” with India to create the perception that Moscow might “passively” contribute to “balancing” Beijing in the coming future, which could in turn inadvertently trigger a “security dilemma” between both of them if some in China become concerned.
Given the dynamics at play, it’s entirely possible that China might soon seek a breakthrough in relations with either the US or India via a deal in the so-called “trade war” or during October’s Xi-Modi Summit, respectively.
Russia and Pakistan will obviously be watching to see if anything of the sort happens, as any moves in either of those two directions could lead to either an intensification or slowdown of their own strategic partnership in response. It should be stressed that while Russian-Pakistani relations are officially bilateral in nature, they nevertheless hold a multilateral significance because of the effect that they have on the strategic state of play in South Asia, which consequently shapes Eurasian geopolitics as a whole.
As such, a Chinese-American rapprochement would compel Russia into reactively “balancing” with India just like a Chinese-Indian one would cause Pakistan to do the same with the US, both of which might once again rely on “bait” to that end, thus making their strategic partnership pivotal for retaining the overall “balance of power” in the 21st century.