Wednesday February 21, 2024

Russia-Ukraine crisis: Will another cold war drag Pakistan into camp politics?

February 24, 2022

The Russian Federation’s decision to recognize rebel territories of Ukraine have profound implications for an international order and smaller countries like Pakistan, Africa and the Middle East. And it coincides with PM Imran Khan's visit to Russia.

The US has baited Moscow into this strategic blunder. Washington could have easily assuaged Moscow's security concerns that Ukraine will not be part of NATO. Yet it did keep the option open towards Kyiv. After the Russian move in Ukraine, the entire European bloc will feel threatened and small eastern European countries will be seeking US weapons and its security umbrella. After the end of the Afghan War, the US Industrial-Military Complex has suddenly become a new market to sell weapons and create a role for the US as a net security provider.

Since the primary and secondary effects of Russia's announcement to recognize rebel territories region are still being felt, tiny independent states in pro-Western Ukraine will be a catalyst for a proxy way. The US has a rich experience of executing proxy war which will create instability across regions affecting Russian interests.

China has so far stayed away from supporting Russia as it is facing a similar situation in Taiwan. This move has some relevance with the Indian precedent of the annexation of IIOJ&K. Also, it gives legitimacy to India to back irredentist and revisionist elements in Pakistan or AJK and consider them as part of united India under the British Raj. Yes, Pakistan is a nuclear country. It may not be easy for Delhi to enter troops. But the logic provides India a pretext to go to war with Islamabad.

Then Afghanistan is already claiming part of western Pakistan as Afghanistan. Kabul believed that the faraway metropolis of London running British India should have ceded these territories back to Kabul – once part of imperial Afghanistan — after withdrawal from the Sub-Continent.

Again justification for a reunion of territories based on culture, language and history means breakaway countries from the former USSR have to rejoin the old Soviet Union. Yearning for the past also means the whole map of the Middle East and Africa would have to be redrawn.

Pakistan's security and political and diplomatic relations with the West, particularly European countries and the US, also put pressure on Islamabad on how it would balance the new realignment with Russia.

As the prime minister is about to embark on a very important visit to Russia, what will be Pakistan's response to the Russian Federation's move on Ukraine. What if the PM is asked a blunt question about Russia’s recognition of the two Donbas regions? Shall we support it or not? What about its implication on our stance on the Indian annexation of Kashmir? Of course, there are parallels between the two instances.

Will weaker stance like "we urge restraint on all parties" conceivably by MOFA spur India to borrow from the Russian tool-kit and think of eying another possible Pakistani territory after the occupation of IIOJ&K?

There is a possibility that the PM discusses the Taliban's diplomatic recognition as a quid pro quo for support of Russian claim on Ukraine's rebel territories. But Moscow is unlikely to budge on its core demand of ethnic-political inclusivity for the Taliban government.

Pakistan is caught between a rock and a difficult place by a geopolitical earthquake in a faraway Eastern Europe that has no relevance for Islamabad: How to balance the expectation of friends and largest trading partners like the EU and the US with a constraint of burgeoning ties with Russia is a big challenge. Since the Russian announcement, the world has formally entered into a new Cold War with two opposing camps emerging as a reality. Not to mention Pakistan's effort to stabilisation of Afghanistan situation was directly affected by Russian-US 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. When no other world leader will be visiting the-would-be sanctioned Russia, PM Imran Khan is going to go ahead with engagement is also bad in terms of optics.

It is also a wrong signal following Islamabad's recent moves i.e. boycott of the Democracy Conference. Any tilt in Pakistan's foreign policy in choosing either camp in the second Cold War era is a bad foreign policy choice Pakistan will be reeling under for decades to come.

If history is any guide Zia-ul-Haq went to shake hands with the Shah of Iran who was replaced in a week through the Khameni-led Islamic Revolution. The recent visit of Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa to the European Union capitals was a balancing act and a good message that Pakistan will keep security and strategic relations with an important western bloc.

However, the political government's populist moves of anti-Americanism will keep Pakistan's relations free with the western bloc i.e. the US and counties in its orbit. Pakistan must have good relations with China and Russia but we cannot choose either camp to avoid being caught in a binary relationship.

Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Balochistan and an ex-adviser to the Balochistan government on media and strategic communication. He remained associated with BBC World Service. He is also Chairman of the Institute of New Horizons (INH) & Balochistan. He tweets @Jan_Achakzai