Rise of the new bloc?

M Omar Iftikhar

THE geopolitical fabric of the world is changing as we speak. Recently, Russia, China, and Pakistan agreed to expand their three-way consultations and meetings on Afghan conflict. A joint statement read, “The parties agreed to proceed with consultations in an expanded format and would welcome the participation of Afghanistan.” This was the third such talk, and first publicly disclosed, between the three countries on “deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.”
With political and economic blocs working around the world, it is evident that the Russia-China-Pakistan alliance will create ripples of jealousy and curiosity among the West. Moreover, India in particular, will watch this union materialize with raised eyebrows. Similarly, Iran will keep a close watch over this bloc, as Tehran is Moscow’s supporter in the fight against extremist factions in Syria. In this case, Pakistan-Saudi Arabia relations might get sour as Russia and Iran do not get along with Riyadh. The Russia-Pakistan joint military exercises held in September 2016 – the first ever between the two countries is a testament to the friendship they are building. During the same month, Russia held military exercises with China. However, Russia’s decision to hold separate military exercises with China and Pakistan was a sign from Moscow that it is willing to forge ties and a long-term strategic relationship with China and Pakistan.
Pakistan and Russia were on either side of the table during the Cold War, with the US assisting the Afghan Mujahideen through Pakistan to defeat the Russians. Moreover, China has also assisted Pakistan against India by providing military assistance. However, with changing times comes a reason to shun past differences and to look ahead. It is yet to be seen how well Russia, China and Pakistan will integrate to form a unified team. However, it is certain that these three countries will defend their regional interests to lessen United States’ influence from South Asia and Asia. The West – US and Europe in particular – and India from the East will not accept Russia, China, and Pakistan to stand on the same page.
According to an estimate by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Russia, China and Pakistan have over 7,500 nuclear warheads combined. This makes them a force to reckon with. However, there is a slight twist in the narrative. Despite being neighbors, nuclear powers, big economies, and having a geopolitical importance, all three countries have their own internal or regional conflicts. Pakistan is in a continuous scuffle with India over Kashmir along with internal terrorism damaging Pakistan’s internal peace. China has its hands full because of the South China Sea and because the United States may begin a trade war under Donald Trump’s regime. Trump has already openly accused Beijing of being a “currency manipulator.” Russia, on the other hand, is supporting the military intervention in the Syrian Civil War. Moreover, Russia is being criticized for annexing Crimea.
However, analysts suggest that once US President-elect Donald Trump is in power, he might ease tension between US and Russia, he could cut sanctions on Russian businesses, and Trump may even find a Russian friendship helpful in maintaining ties with Europe and easing hostility with the Middle East. Only time will tell if Moscow will have a smooth sailing with the US while remaining close to China and Pakistan. Moreover, Russia-China ties will put India, Japan, and the US under pressure. China has been exerting its influence over the South China Sea affecting the Asia-Pacific region where Russia may play a role in helping China continue its dominance over this Sea. However, it is too early to predict any course that this issue may follow.
Furthermore, Pakistan was scheduled to host the 19th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit in November 2016. India pulled itself out of the Summit following the Uri attack when New Delhi alleged Pakistan’s involvement in the attacks. This escalated the Pakistan-India tension. However, the friction between Pakistan-India ties increased with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) gaining momentum and now Pakistan forming a bloc with Russia and China, India may reinforce its ties with the US.
The Russia-China-Pakistan bloc may even counter the LEMOA Pact or the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement signed between India and the US in August 2016. The LEMOA will enable India and the US to cooperate in trade and defence technology whereby providing both with an opportunity to facilitate in military logistical support, supplies and services. However, New Delhi’s interest in strengthening ties with the US will probably pave the way to build smooth and robust ties with Washington when Donald Trump takes oath as the President.
With the US, Europe and India seemingly at one side of the table, the nexus of Russia-China-Pakistan – although in its early stages – seems a powerful team. However, time will tell if these three countries can put aside their internal conflicts and ideological differences to grow as a successful nexus reshaping the geopolitics of South Asia.
— The writer is a freelance columnist based in Rawalpinid.
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