Pakistan and Russia this week inked an accord that paves the way for this country’s troops to head to Moscow to complete stints at the latter’s military training institutes. This is a welcome move. In as much as it underscores how Islamabad is learning that the art of strategic cooperation means not relying on all goodies resting in the basket of a single ally.
Yet this warming of ties with Russia did not happen overnight. Rather, the two sides signed the bilateral defence cooperation pact back in 2014; the same year that Washington’s civilian funding under the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act 2009 was scheduled to end. This signals pragmatism. As does the tilt towards China for infrastructure investment. None of which should give the US any cause for concern. Not when both Moscow and Beijing are just as concerned as the Americans when it comes to stabilising Afghanistan and clearing that country of ISIS fighters.
That being said, Islamabad must walk a tightrope in its dealing with regional partners. For the country is in the somewhat unique position of being allied to the both Washington and Saudi Arabia in the fight against religious extremism; particularly under the banner of the Islamic Military Alliance (IMA). The latter, of course, is viewed by Tehran as an overtly anti-Shia club. Similarly, as the current White House administration adopts an increasingly hardline position on Iran it is discovering that the country enjoys considerable support from the region’s big boys: primarily Russia but also China. Pakistan’s role should be equally clear-cut. That is, honest broker to both allies and neighbours. And while it needs to raise support at multilateral platforms — focus on this should in no way replace the forging of strong bilateral ties with as big a cast of actors as possible.
The world is changing. The old unipolar order is fast crumbling; likely not to endure the next half century. Pakistan, for its part, needs to keep up. And that means, where possible, not taking sides but simply diversifying bilateral portfolios. After all, no nation should fear the future. *
Published in Daily Times, August 9th 2018.