THE BLOG

Trump’s Warning To Islamabad Has Formalised The China-Pakistan-Russia Axis

Meanwhile, the US and India are allying in Afghanistan.

30/08/2017 8:35 AM IST | Updated 30/08/2017 5:23 PM IST
NICHOLAS KAMM via Getty Images

In calling out the "safe havens for terrorists in Pakistan" as part of his Afghanistan policy, US President Donald Trump has given formal shape to a reality that has been brewing in South Asia since Washington fell out with Islamabad post the Osama bin Laden raid.

With both Beijing and Moscow coming out in Islamabad's defence almost immediately, the China-Russia-Pakistan axis has been formally inaugurated, with the US and India allying in Afghanistan—as epitomised by Trump's call for New Delhi to help out Washington in the region.

Washington and New Delhi have been conspicuously drawn toward each other since the 2008 nuclear deal, a similar version of which Islamabad has been demanding as well. However, initial US policy had been to ensure that proximity with India doesn't alienate its traditional ally Pakistan, which heretofore had a pivotal role for Washington in Afghanistan.

What the Trump regime has done to chastise Islamabad over Afghanistan echoes the Indian stance in the region, specifically targeting Pakistan's "jugular vein": Kashmir.

Following the bin Laden raid, the relations between the US and Pakistan became increasingly acrimonious under the Obama regime. Under the Trump presidency, the Republicans in the Congress that had already been clamouring to revisit aid to Pakistan—asking Islamabad to pay for its F-16s last year, for instance—now have a formal outlet to vent their frustration.

What the Trump regime has done to chastise Islamabad over Afghanistan echoes the Indian stance in the region, specifically targeting Pakistan's "jugular vein": Kashmir.

In little over three months, Trump implicitly equated Kashmir's freedom fight with terrorism at an Islamic summit in Riyadh, sanctioned the Kashmir-bound Hizbul Mujahideen and its commander Syed Salahuddin as terrorists, and now officially underscored the problem of Pakistan "harbouring terrorists" while seeking the solution from India.

Meanwhile, China has continued to forestall New Delhi's move to blacklist Kashmir-bound jihadists at the UN, as it continues work on the $62 billion corridor with Pakistan, while further reigniting its own border dispute with India in Doklam.

Moscow drawing closer to Islamabad, at least militarily, naturally overlapped with US angst vis-à-vis Pakistan. It started with Russia lifting its self-imposed arms embargo on Pakistan in November 2014, followed by a landmark "military cooperation" agreement that culminated in the first ever joint military drill between the two countries last year.

In the meantime, Pakistan will be importing Mi-35 combat helicopters in addition to the Russian Klimov RD-93 engines for its JF-17 multi-role fighters. Moscow and Islamabad have also signed a deal for the construction of the North-South gas pipeline from Karachi to Lahore, to cater to the ever growing energy needs in Pakistan's most populous province.

The shaping of these axes in South Asia has been further facilitated by Indo-Pak ties reaching their nadir amidst increasing volatility in Kashmir.

This formation of hard alliances is a return to 20th century diplomacy and the rigid rulebook that defined bilateral relations, and which caused wars of all kinds.

With the US involved in direct confrontation in Ukraine and the South China Sea, as on-ground samples of its longstanding rivalries with Russia and China, the formalisation of coalitions means the respective alliances could henceforth be backing territorial disputes and regional crises as single units, drawn against one another and overlapping with the security and economic cooperation between the groups.

Even so, Russia cannot overlook the economic power that India is growing into. It is especially unlikely that Moscow would stop its military exports to New Delhi, despite its two-pronged security antagonism with Islamabad and Beijing.

Another promising ally for the China-Russia-Pakistan axis would've been Iran, considering Tehran's proximity to Moscow and bitterness vis-à-vis the US, which has seen it join Beijing and Moscow in condemning Trump's accusations against Islamabad. But Pakistan's own ties with Iran have deteriorated in recent times, with Tehran echoing the US and India in accusing Islamabad of providing safe havens to terror groups, and even threatening military invasion inside Pakistani territory.

Furthermore, Pakistan's unflinching obligations to Saudi Arabia, which is the foundation of its differences with Iran, coupled with New Delhi and Tehran's growing economic cooperation along with Kabul—as exemplified by the Chabahar Port—mean that Iran isn't a natural fit for either of the two groups, especially since Washington is unlikely to diplomatically ease things for Tehran under Trump, who has signed a "$110 billion" arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

This formation of hard alliances is a return to 20th century diplomacy and the rigid rulebook that defined bilateral relations, which caused wars of all kinds. But there still might be a chance that the China-Pakistan-Russia axis might end up being shaped by the common interests that define it, rather than the ramifications for the states that it alienates.

Even so, with stridently antagonistic voices and policymaking now at the helm in Washington and New Delhi, coupled with Islamabad's rigidly masochistic shielding of jihadist groups, it is likely that confrontation rather than cooperation will remain the order of the day in South Asia—at least in the near future.

Locally-Grown Bamboo Is Empowering Tripura Women By Turning Them Into Entrepreneurs

More On This Topic

SPONSORED BY THE LIVE, LOVE, LAUGH FOUNDATION