Russia–Pakistan Strategic importance in Afghan conflict

By: Raja Furqan Ahmed

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday wrapped up his two-day visit to Pakistan, the first Russian foreign minister who visit Islamabad after almost a decade. 

The visit was quite successful specifically in the term of bilateral relations. Lavrov met with the top leadership of Pakistan which includes Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan as well as Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa. He was leading a 13-member delegation that also includes Russian special envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova and several other senior officials.

During his press talk, he also touches on economical projects such as the North-South gas pipeline, energy deficit, growth of bilateral trade, cooperation for use of technology for medicine and industry, boost cooperation in diverse areas including defence and counterterrorism. The body language of Russian FM shows that it is the time to start the new era of relationship. 

Lavrov also expressed concern over the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. Here it is to be mentioned that Afghanistan has played a key role in the Pak-Russian relations and Kabul is also one of the reasons in which both states could not develop close ties. The ties were cute during the cold war and later on the tensions increase when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Pakistan was the key ally of the Western bloc and for making them happy Islamabad put its hand in Afghanistan. 

There is no doubt that the United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia created the mujahedeen, fired them with religious sentiment, armed them, paid them and send them against the USSR in Afghanistan. The aliens never think how this militia would divert to a productive life after the Jihad was won. This mistake leads to the conflict which still going on. 

The Afghan conflict didn’t solve yet and it gives another opportunity for Pakistan and Russia to re-boost new relations as both are concerned about the Afghan issue and both states are also on the same page and demanding that the Afghan issue can only solve through a political means.

Previously, Russia worried about Pakistan’s close alliances with the West, which have been established since the early Cold War years, and it is now observing the nature of Pakistan’s deepening strategic relations with China. Similarly, Pakistan is concerned about Russia’s strategic relations with India. Currently, Pakistan is more inclined towards China as it committed to work together in the economic as well as development sectors. China has strengthened their relations through bilateral trade, military agreements and supporting each other on key issues. Meanwhile, the CPEC corridor which is the economical game-changer for Pakistan, Moscow is also looking to take the part. 

Russia is also finding new opportunities in the South Asian Region as the United States have done an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw its troop before 1 May 2021. Once the US leave Afghanistan the opportunities for other states to invest in Afghanistan will increase. 

Moscow is playing its key role as last month it hosted a meeting of the extended “Troika” which focused on making progress in the intra-Afghan process to reach a negotiated settlement and permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.

Moscow invited the prominent Afghan political figures and representatives of the Taliban movement, as well as other stakeholders such as the United States, China, Pakistan and Qatar, Turkey as guests of honour. The conference was very successful and the Afghan government and the Taliban agreed to accelerate the peace process following a conference in Moscow in March, after the talks in Qatar’s Doha hit a deadlock.

Apparently, India was not invited to the conference which was quite shocking because Russia-India have great relations and it can be seen in their military agreement but it also means that India is not considered as the stakeholder in the Afghan conflict. Pakistan also appreciated this decision for not inviting India as Pakistan believes that India role in the Peace process is a spoiler.

On the other hand, a 10-day long Afghanistan peace conference will begin in the Turkish city of Istanbul on April 16. The US proposed the conference to bring together Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India, and the US to discuss a unified approach to support peace in Afghanistan. But this conference is more inclined towards decreasing the role of Russia and China in the Afghan peace process as the US didn’t accept rivals takes the lead. 

Russia–Pakistan relations have grown under the shadow of dramatic shifts in geopolitics. The policy shifted from the US to China also paved the way for new investment and development. Both Pakistan and Russia can play important role in the Afghan conflict and use the Afghan strategic location for economical development.

The writer is a freelance journalist currently based in Islamabad, Pakistan. He can be reached at [email protected] or @furqanraja1122 on Twitter.