Trump’s Pakistan crisis presents opportunity for Putin By Shahid Raza
Washington DC has decided to ‘squeeze’ Pakistan in a sign of further desperation and frustration as its war in Afghanistan gets stuck in a self-inflicted quagmire, the fears of another ‘Vietnam’ loom large in Washington. This scenario is more of a crisis for the Donald Trump administration than it is for Pakistan, but it also represents a unique geopolitical opportunity for President Putin.
With China, Iran, Turkey, all vocally backing Pakistan’s position on Afghanistan in the wake of the Trump administration’s India inspired ‘squeeze Pakistan’ policy, the leadership in Pakistan has decided to take its own countermeasures. Pakistan can well and truly be expected to ‘squeeze back’ because it is totally in a position to do so.
For starters, if the United States refuses to pay reimbursements for rendered services by Pakistan aka the Coalition Support Fund, consequently those services including the vital geographic access to Afghanistan will be blocked. Pakistan also has been a key contributor in providing intelligence to the United States, which can be cut back. Pakistan has also announced that it will expel 1.5 million Afghan refugees who entered its territory on humanitarian grounds as a result of the decades-old US intervention in the country.
In addition to these measures, Pakistan is focusing only on stabilizing its side of the border with Afghanistan with a 2100km long fence which will be completed by the end of 2018. The border with Afghanistan will also see hundreds of Pakistan’s paramilitary posts and forts pop up to harbour a permanent military presence to counter terrorist infiltration from Afghanistan’s lawless regions as well as stopping illegal migration, drug trafficking and smuggling of food and fuel into Afghanistan. These countermeasures are designed to increase the pressure on the US-funded quasi-government in Kabul and ultimately on the United States.
This developing situation in Pakistan is certainly going to turn into a geopolitical crisis for the Trump administration in the coming weeks and months; however, such a crisis in such an important country is also a unique geopolitical opportunity for Mr Putin.
The aforementioned environment is now conducive for Russia to cultivate a truly strategic partnership with Pakistan, a country which is the centerpiece of the One Belt One Road initiative, controls strategically critical geography and possesses immense economic and military potential; therefore such a country in such close proximity with Russia is definitely a natural ally for Moscow. Through its close partnership with China, Pakistan’s leaders have proven that given a fair playing field, Pakistan is capable of cultivating, sustaining and nurturing long-term strategic partnerships.
Such a partnership is based on geopolitical rationality and there is clearly a symmetry of interest at play; Pakistan and Russia both need each other in fields like economics, military hardware, diplomacy, transit trade and above all geopolitically. In this context, an opportunity lies for Mr Putin to capitalize on by taking the necessary steps to confidently establish such a partnership arrangement with Islamabad.
- The United States will ultimately cut down all civil-military aid to Pakistan as well as the reimbursements under the so-called ‘Coalition Support Fund’. The military hardware sales that were in the pipeline will also be ‘frozen’, namely the mission-critical AH-1Z attack helicopters and associated hardware in order to increase pressure on Pakistan’s military by undermining their technical ability to fight terrorism at home.
- It is likely that if this situation escalates, the US military will try to carry out cross-border attacks in Pakistan on their perceived targets, which will engineer a crisis between the two countries.
- Pakistan is likely to shut down all services to the United States military if the payments for those services are frozen.
- Pakistan is also likely to shut down land and air transit to Afghanistan for the US military supplies which will greatly hamper Trump’s intensified war in Afghanistan.
- China, Russia, Turkey and Iran have lent their vocal support to Pakistan in the past; it is likely that the aforementioned trend will continue.
This geopolitical standoff between the two traditional allies might eventually subside, however, the damage to the relationship has already been done and it is likely to force Pakistan to further diversify its foreign relations and interests including an increased outreach to Russia.