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Opinion

June 17, 2017

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Russia calling

Russia calling

Fifth column

Pakistan’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. Not only has it affirmed Pakistan’s growing importance as an emerging and strategically placed geo-economic safeguard to fit into the new development narrative around the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative and its main artery under CPEC, but it also compliments Russia’s similar ambitions in Eurasia.

This adds to Pakistan’s strategic importance for both China and Russia – not only for their own vision to supplement a multi-polar world through economic integration, but also to create a counterbalance to the emerging India-US pivot that wants to diminish Pakistan’s role to a mere Indian proxy. Mushahid Hussain, the chairman of the Senate Defence Committee, views the SCO membership for Pakistan as an opportunity to widen foreign policy options in a regional and global context. He also rightly points out that it has brought “India and Pakistan at par in the emerging regional scenario, where India’s attempts to isolate Pakistan have been an abysmal failure”.

In this backdrop, the SCO summit at Astana was a big success for Pakistan and its growing stature, much to the detriment of India – which, after 9/11, was promoted as the main protagonist in the region. In addition, the anti-Pakistan, anti-Muslim Hindu extremist government of Narendra Modi has failed to gain any traction for his publicly pledged goal to ‘isolate Pakistan’, as Pakistan has emerged as an important economic and security ally in the region and beyond.

At the Astana Summit, India had to suffer a bigger humiliation in the form of the growing cooperation between Russia and Pakistan. A clear manifestation of this came in the form of a bilateral meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. President Putin was candid in his vision and determination about the future trajectory of relations between the two countries as he described Pakistan as an important partner in South Asia – clearly signalling the Indian intentions of ‘isolating Pakistan’ as dead. This must have come as a shock for Narendra Modi – not only as a personal failure for his continued attempts to link Pakistan as the source of troubles in the region and beyond, but also because Russia has moved miles ahead from seeing the region from the Indian perspective.

A prominent Russian political analyst Andrew Korybko described the development as “unthinkable even to countenance only a few years ago”.

In the near future, there is a strong likelihood that we will see greater security cooperation between both countries against the terrorist groups that India supports and operates in Afghanistan against Pakistan and CPEC. This cooperation will also temper the anti-Pakistan activities emanating from Iran and the UAE – including sustenance for certain sectarian and terrorist formations that they nurture exclusively or in collaboration with India. It will effectively render the Indian efforts to block Pakistan from a stake in Afghanistan’s future to a naught as Russia increasingly views Pakistan as a reliable partner. It not only sees it as a trade partner – whether bilaterally or through CPEC or SCO – but also views it as a strategic partner for future security in the region.

This widens Pakistan’s room for manoeuvre and would also help gather support for Pakistan’s efforts to give everyone, including the Taliban, a stake in the peace of Afghanistan. It would allow the regional powers to fight Isis terror formations within Afghanistan, which are believed to be supported by India and its allies.

President Putin, in his keynote speech at the SCO Summit, emphasised the strategic importance of CPEC and its relationship with other similar projects. He asked the member countries to “focus on combining efforts...[and coordinating] national strategies and multilateral projects through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation” with an aim to combine the potentials of the Eurasian Economic Community, SCO, Asean and OBOR. Andrew Korybko interprets this as Putin “marshalling all of the attendees in support of Beijing’s world-changing geo-economic quest [to] develop the emerging multipolar world order”.

Korybko further elaborates: “Given that CPEC is OBOR’s flagship project, this can rightly be interpreted as Russia calling on all SCO members – including India – to accept and participate in this endeavour. It should therefore go without saying that Russia supports CPEC and wants India to as well”. Korybko construes that Modi’s resistance to CPEC remains a red line for Russia that would be resisted and “decreed in the most public way possible”. He also openly accuses India of waging the ‘hybrid war’ on CPEC and New Delhi’s use of terrorism in promoting its regionally obstructive agenda. He predicted that Putin’s open call for India to join the CPEC was Russia “giving India its last chance to behave as a responsible Eurasian actor”.

Postscript: During the summit, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was, for a brief moment, shown lending a casual ear to his military secretary, Brigadier Akmal Aziz, who drew Sharif’s attention to his live microphone that needed to be turned off. This footage of a few seconds sent the leading Indian ‘news’ channel, Times Now, into a frenzy. In a display that could only be described as pornographic, the commentators claimed that the prime minister was taking instructions from the military. This was repeated in several high-pitched commentaries – including official social media channels – and showed the growing psychological imbalance across Indian institutions.

Appendage: The Indian news agency, PTI – considered close to the Indian intelligence establishment – also came up with its own ‘news’ story. It claimed the Chinese President Xi Jinping skipped a customary meeting with Sharif in a “rare snub” and linked it to the recent murder of a Chinese couple in Balochistan who were engaged in secret proselytizing on behalf of some underground Catholic ministry. The story, which was widely reported across India, was trashed by the Chinese Foreign Ministry as “just nonsense and unwanted”. The ministry clarified that Xi and Sharif “met several times” during the summit. The explanation was not satisfactory for the Indian media. Commenting on the Chinese rebuttal, Scroll, a news website, observed: “The spokesperson did not confirm if the meetings between Xi and Sharif were bilateral in nature or not”.

 

Twitter: @murtaza_shibli

 

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