Towards Refurbishing of an Outdated World Order

Shift Towards a Multipolar World Order

The world is currently in the midst of a novel transition from unipolarity to multipolarity that is expected to characterize the foreseeable decades of the 21st century, if not its entirety. The unipolar world is understood by the US’ predominant hegemony in a wide variety of spheres, which may manifest directly through unilateral initiatives or indirectly through its regional and institutional partners, a phenomenon understood as “Lead From Behind”. For the purpose of bringing balance to International Affairs, the multipolar forces in the world are replacing the US-led international order with a diversified array of multiple stakeholders. This change is evident with the entry of the new members which are more diverse, multi-cultural, following various political ideologies, and also having economic disparities. Incidents like 9/11 terrorist attack in the US proved that even the superpower cannot single handily tackle the different challenges and has to form regional grouping with other powers along the way thus, encouraging a setting of ‘unimultipolar’ world, where a uni-multipolar world is one in which resolution of key international issues requires action by the single superpower plus some combination of other major states, and in which the single superpower is able to veto action by a combination of other states. Thus, the combination of regional groups of states come together for the purpose of specific interregional interaction, where interregionalism is fast becoming the need of the day in the present global system and thus influences the world order, that, interestingly, has always been determined on the basis of power cycle among the countries possessing political and economic supremacy.

It is observed that this changed scenario is responsible for the enhancement of partnership among states from different regions is increasingly gaining ground and among the most important in the South-Asian region is the Russia, china and Pakistan triangle that is critical for the formation of a new world order. With the emerging superpower triangle between Russia, China and Pakistan, the three countries are set to transform the volatile region both politically and economically. The three allied nations have been actively boosting their trade in recent years, indicating that Russia could be intent on joining CPEC any time soon. Meanwhile, Moscow, Beijing and Islamabad seem equally interested in achieving peace, stability and prosperity in the region by putting an end to the Afghan war.

As Russia, China and Pakistan inch closer towards finalizing their ultimate plan to achieve peace in Afghanistan, their united mission goes far beyond Afghanistan and even the Middle East, as the three nations are poised to bring a multipolar world order while ending the U.S.-controlled unipolar system that has failed to bring the desired peace and economic stability in South Asia. Further, the troika seems to have a serious influence over CPEC and a consensus appears to have emerged between them on how to advance the Russian and Chinese regional planning. Russia’s strategic intention of establishing a link between the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC) and CPEC gets fulfilled through Pakistani and Chinese backing which serves to empower the South Asian region.

CPEC: Reshaping Regional Dynamics

CPEC is being termed as a game changer for the regional powers as it is a source of immense benefit for every partner and investor. As a multi-billion-dollar project, CPEC could fundamentally strengthen economic relations in Asia while providing a viable trade route for all. Pakistan alone through the massive inflow of foreign investments for various projects has experienced more than 7% GDP growth rate and 2 million direct and indirect job opportunities, according to estimations by Pakistani think tanks. CPEC is also set to act as a bridge for China’s ambitious Maritime Silk Route, which will link 3 billion people in Asia, Africa and Europe. China is intent on investing billions of dollars into CPEC because having access to Pakistan’s Gwadar Port would reduce the distance for oil transportation from12000 km to a mere 2400 km. Being the world’s fourth largest oil producers, China relies heavily on oil transportations. Russia, on the other hand is the world’s second biggest oil producer and aims to engage itself into CPEC’s oil benefits, while working on quite a few oil projects with its strategic partner China. Already both partners have worked upon supplying million of tons of oil per annum through the East Siberia–Pacific Ocean pipeline.

China-Pakistan: Going Strong

Pakistan and China have enjoyed cordial and friendly relations since 1950 through mutual trust and support. Pakistan has been instrumental for connecting China to the world by not only advocating and supporting the admission of China in UN system and permanent member of UN Security Council but played the role of facilitator to arrange visit of Henry Kissinger to China, which laid the foundation for the visit of President Nixon in 1972. While on the other hand, China also stood by Pakistan during troubled times and helped Pakistan build military and economic capabilities. In the mess left behind by US in Pakistan after the Afghan war, only China came forward to help Pakistan. The world saw the “Cooperation in Shadows” between the best friends when China resisted all pressures and continued to help Pakistan while both countries were under US sanctions after the alleged deal on missile and nuclear program. With such strong roots, over the years both countries have developed a strong bond of trust. Trust has always been a key element for strong relations. Building on the past, Chinese foreign policy gives a special focus to Pakistan in future endeavors of China. It is for this reason that the idea of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, conceived by the Chinese was realized in mutual harmony and support. The two governments had been working on the concept for almost two decades after which it started materializing. Both countries tried to move on bit-by-bit and smooth the process to implement the final phase. This beautiful and rewarding journey of trust and bondage, support and reliance has finally culminated into a much deep seated and multilayered association that may have incredible and long lasting effects on the political clime of South Asia.

Russia-Pakistan: Warming Up

The cold war grievances of Russia and Pakistan have come to a halt and both the countries are actively strengthening their economic, military and diplomatic ties. The revival of this cooperation began in 2014 when Moscow lifted its arms embargo against Islamabad, which was followed by a series of meetings and signature of a military pact as well. Russia has also been supporting Pakistan diplomatically. As part of bolstering bilateral ties, Islamabad and Moscow are also cooperating in the energy and agriculture sectors. Along with the growing warmth towards Pakistan, it can be noticed that Russia is also keen on developing its bilateral relations with Pakistan. Pakistan is wanting a multi-dimensional relationship with Russia in the fields of trade, defense, energy, infrastructure, culture and other spheres.

This is exemplified by the fact that Russia, after signing an agreement on military cooperation with Pakistan began the very first joint Russian-Pakistani tactical exercise. Pakistan defense enterprises also expected to participated in the Army 2018 military expo in Russia. Russia aims to assist Pakistan in fighting terrorism by supplying military equipment. Further, Pakistan also ordered helicopters, fighter jets and even air defense systems from Russia. This selling and buying of advanced military equipment and joint military drills of Russo-Pak soldiers point to a prominent shift in Russian policy towards Pakistan. After a decade of strained relations, Pakistan and Russia are now cautiously trying to improve their interaction.

Furthermore, the disturbing conditions in Afghanistan have also brought Russia closer to Pakistan. Russia is focusing on peace and security of Afghanistan. Also, Russia will host another wider regional peace conference on Afghanistan on April 14, 2018 for which it has invited Pakistan, Iran, India, several Central Asian States and also United States of America. Russia fears that Afghanistan might become a stronghold for the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) militant group after Iraq and Syria. The recent series of collaborations showcase a favorable tilt of deep and long-term interest of Russia towards Pakistan. Apart from military cooperation, Pakistan and Russia are also expanding bilateral cooperation on energy and infrastructure projects such as North-South gas pipeline and CASA1000 etc. Pakistan took the first step by offering Russia the use of Gwadar port which would help Russia to connect it to the rest of the world. Moscow, being a part of this triangle aims to use this port for exports and imports for which it is showing great interest and contributing.

Significance of the Russia, China and Pakistan Superpower Triangle

The formation of the Russia-China-Pakistan Troika is a welcoming development and an initiative that benefits, not only the three partners, but the South Asian region at large in terms of bringing peace and stability. Pakistan being at a vulnerable stage due to political instability, economic challenges, and security issues, stands to benefit the most by this troika. In this backdrop, the triangle would not only strengthen the economy through initiating various development projects and enhancing trade, but would bring peace by the commitment of all three nations to reverse terrorism and as a result bring stability in the volatile region that serves no benefit for regional stakeholders.

The main significance of the superpower triangle in terms of regional stability has been the control brought to the nefarious Indian designs. Keeping in mind the mistrust and animosity arising from India towards Pakistan, both Russia and China have now stepped up their diplomatic efforts to prevent New Delhi from isolating Pakistan and making it a pariah state. Moreover, catering for India’s hegemonic stance in South Asia, China has blocked India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group in order to control her hegemonic designs in the region. Further, Russian joint military drills with Pakistan took place just weeks after India’s tensions with Pakistan reached its new peak, certainly sent a message to New Delhi.

The Taliban, who previously considered Russia an enemy, have welcomed the trilateral initiative, expressing that “it is joyous to see that regional countries have also understood that the Taliban are a political and military force and that the proposal forwarded in the Moscow tripartite of delisting members of the group is a positive step in bringing peace and security to Afghanistan.” Similarly, the recent unexpected contact between Russia and the Taliban over their common enemy, the IS, has lent a new dimension to the Afghan issue. Russia’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov expresses the fact that the “Taliban interests objectively coincide with ours.” This automatically brings the idea of a peaceful Afghanistan as a workable one.

In this backdrop, what makes the Russia-China-Pakistan Trilateral Dialogue unique is the role of Russia, who has, after its withdrawal in 1979, started taking interest in Afghanistan for the purpose of reviving the peace process between the Afghan government and the Taliban by collaborating with China and Pakistan. With both China and Pakistan on board the process, Russia’s presence becomes extremely significant and viable.

Moreover, China who has otherwise maintained a limited role in Afghanistan has begun to play a more proactive and constructive role in helping to bring about stability in Afghanistan by offering to provide necessary facilitation between the Afghan government and the Taliban in realizing reconciliation. Since 2014, China has hosted a number of Taliban delegations and has taken part in several initiatives including the Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism (QCCM) to help foster talks. China’s increasing interest and involvement in Afghanistan are based on the need for maintaining peace in its Sinkiang province that is susceptible to militancy infiltration, spread of IS and can result in spreading of the Chinese militant groups. Apart from growing militancy, ongoing instability in Afghanistan continues to be a major hurdle for interconnectivity in the region and in particular, the implementation of CPEC

Through the trilateral association, Pakistan stands to play central for its strategic location.  Russia’s engagement with Pakistan comprises aspects that eventually endorse China’s “Belt and Road” initiative and supplements CPEC. The North-South gas pipeline link is one such aspect which might not be directly linked to CPEC but it endorses Putin’s vision of linking the Eurasian region with South Asia, where Pakistan is emerging as a connecting bridge.

Project CPEC: Benefits, Benefits and Benefits!!!

The CPEC has grave benefits for the region where it will be instrumental in stimulating economic growth with corresponding effects all along its routes. It will also benefit the surrounding population socially, economically and educationally that is a much needed move. It will link the country through large networks of roads, bridges and flyover etc. to regional hubs to accrue benefits of connectivity and increase relevance thereby enhancing geo-economic stakes of global players in Pakistan. Further, it aims to redefine the increasing urbanization by creating opportunities and bringing development to smaller towns thus reducing burden on existing metropolitan cities. Economic opportunities all along the route will improve the living standards of people that will help bridge Pakistan’s societal fault-lines, address inequalities which will result in enhanced national integration and deepening strategic linkages between Pakistan and China. The most worthwhile factor is that existing trends of extremism and militancy will be reduced as economic opportunities will be more attractive than the evil practices of terrorism and will address basic needs of an economically challenged population. Development of the project CPEC at a steady rate is making the country ever more attractive for a wide variety of international partners, some of which have traditionally been aligned with Pakistan, and others which are entirely new and unprecedented.

From the Chinese perspective, the major geo-strategic advantage of the CPEC is providing economic and social development to Western China to remove the imbalance between both Eastern and Western China and raise the living standards of the people of this region. Sustenance of economic growth by adopting the shortest trade route to the Middle East and Africa will have financial dividend for China to the tone of over US$110 billion annually. China will have a favorable position in the Indian Ocean region. It will surely provide a great safeguard against the possible South China Sea route disruption and will overcome its Malacca Dilemma. Further, China and Russia’s shared interests are to counter U.S. hegemony as they already share many multilateral platforms and institutions such as BRICS and SCO to strengthen their strategic partnership. Russia, with its Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) initiative, and China, with its One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, are seeking to revolutionize world trade and integrate world economics through trans-regional connectivity and mutual cooperation. It is seen that all three participants stand to benefit from this troika greatly. Not only Pakistan, but Russia and China too are not only protecting their core national interests but advancing their shared experiences and complementing one another.

Encountering Impediments on the Way

The formation of the Russia-China-Pakistan Troika is a welcome initiative, however it has been questioned and looked upon with suspicion by many including Afghanistan, India and the US, with particular reference to Russia’s growing interest and involvement in the peace process. While Russia’s outreach towards the Taliban appears to be political, the apparent deepening of ties between Russia and the Taliban has been an issue of concern for Afghanistan and the US who are concerned that “Russian support may lead to or include weapons or funding.” The United Sates expressed concern over the meeting with Taliban by Russian representatives, as well as for being excluded. Also, the Afghan government expressed displeasure over the meeting and questioned why Afghanistan was excluded from the discussion. Apart from the government, Afghan parliamentarians also lashed out at all three states for excluding Afghanistan and felt that it was a “direct interference in Afghan internal issues.”

The trilateral Dialogue has taken place at a time when relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan are at their lowest following a series of tensions revolving around perpetual mistrust, Afghan Taliban, vicious blame game, reignited border clashes and repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan. While Pakistan has expressed its willingness to extend every kind of cooperation for lasting peace in Afghanistan and has agreed to revisit its policy on repatriation, authorities in Afghanistan have been less forthcoming, and it appears that until such contentious issues are addressed, particularly those of security and border management, relations will continue to plummet. Apart from improving ties with Afghanistan, the presence of the Daesh has become a major issue of concern for Pakistan after the group claimed responsibility for the attack on the Pakistani consulate in Jalalabad, Nangarhar, on January 13, 2016 – which is the groups’ first attack on Pakistan, thus adding to fears of the possible spread of the group in Afghanistan, and subsequently, Pakistan.

On the other hand, India view Pakistan China Economic Corridor as a factor tilting the strategic balance in South Asia and the alliance of Russia, China and Pakistan as a threat to India’s vision of Regional and Global hegemony. India expected to benefit from the new craze of US Islamphobia and further its designs by painting Pakistan a rouge nation. Despite Indian belief that large arm orders will keep Russia away from Pakistan, with the troika there are clear signs Russia, not with standing is moving away. Thus the emerging Pakistan, China and Russia block signal a new and enhanced threat from not only US, India and Afghanistan, but also to some extent from Iran. Pakistan will be subject to pressures.

Pakistan and Russia also, could face some hurdles during the course of improving bilateral relations. India may use pressure tactics or strive to strengthen its ties with Russia to the level so that Moscow does not feel the need of an extra market for its arms sale. Since America is highly apprehensive of Russian naval presence in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, the Trump administration will use backstairs influence and pressure to stop Islamabad from jumping onto the Russian bandwagon in the region. Washington will capitalise on the International Monetary Funds (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) to prevent Pakistan from fostering its security and economic relations with Russia. The Indo-American bloc could expedite its support to Pakistani-based terrorist and insurgent groups so that they will create instability and uncertainty in Pakistan. The Pakistani authorities, however must keep their eyes opened for such eventualities and devise strategies to reverse it.

Making Substantial Headway

It is common that whenever new bonding is formed many hurdles retard the process. The friendship between Pakistan and China may not demand too much attention, but the fledgling relation between Pakistan and Russia requires attention. Both countries should not let their historical legacy, divergent objectives and the designs of India and America create obstacles on the way of bilateral relations. For a better relation, wide-ranging discussions between members of civil, military and economic institutions is required aimed at building trust, promoting transparency and help increase meaningful cooperation on a wide range of issues between the two countries. A long term strategic partnership along with incentives to Russian companies in order to improve Pakistan’s energy sector, accelerate its industrialisation process, build infrastructure and improve agricultural productivity is foremost. Moreover, Pakistan should assure Russia that its partnership with Uncle Sam will not derail its relations with Russia in the foreseeable future.

The vision behind the CPEC lies at the heart of President Xi’s two signature initiatives namely, the Silk Road Economic Belt in the North and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road in the South that would connect China by land and sea to Central and West Asia, South Asia, and onward to Europe, thus serving as strategic and national interests of both China and Pakistan. The irritants created are petty and tactical in nature and need to be removed by the Pakistani government. Meticulous planning on issues pertaining to terrorism, domestic politics, geographical constraints, the people’s concern and manpower, financial aspects, international conspiracies and politics, and regional security must be given due consideration by all stakeholders.

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About Dr. Lubna Umar 10 Articles
The author is the Editor of Mélange Intl. Magazine and The Asian Telegraph & Research Associate Center of Pakistan & International Relations (COPAIR).