Putin’s Islamabad visit would trigger a South Asian revamp
Most of us are well-acquainted with the game of Russian roulette, even if some of us might not know it by its name. And those who have had the chance to play it, either came out victorious, or end up digging themselves a grave. It’s that lethal game of chance that Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken play in The Deer Hunter, another variation of which led to Kaalia’s demise after Gabbar Singh altered the rules a bit in Sholay. The participants take turns in placing a revolver’s muzzle on their head – after spinning the cylinder, which has three or less bullets – and then pull the trigger. The person who doesn’t die after a round of Russian roulette is, of course, the winner.
Fittingly, the name traces its origin to Russia, which ostensibly gave birth to the game back in the days of the Russian Revolution. Fitting because, Russia is a country that has had its fair share of ‘Russian roulette’ moments on the global – and domestic – political scene throughout the course of its history. From Ivan III taking on the Republic of Novgorod in the late 15th century to Alexander I presiding over the Congress of Vienna in 1815; from the internal metamorphosis during the Russian Revolution, to the 44-year joust with the US during the Cold War, several Russian leaders have spun the cylinder, and numerous epochs have witnessed triggers being pulled in all the proverbial corners of the world. And now another revolver muzzle is on the verge of being pointed at Islamabad in a couple of months’ time, as Russia vies to trigger a revamp in the South Asian status quo.
Vladimir Putin looks set to visit Pakistan and in turn become the first Russian president to set foot in our country since, well since Homo habilis first set foot on Earth. The September summit would be the culmination of a Russo-Pakistan bond that has been strengthening behind the scenes for the past couple of years after the two nations spent over half a century weaving together a callous relationship. Moscow openly backed Pakistan’s full membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation last year, while Islamabad has recently agreed to give IP (Iran-Pakistan) and TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline contracts to Russia – so the Russo-Pak love-in has been quite conspicuous of late. Even so, behind every amorous fit lies an ulterior motive – at least in international politics – which in this little world of fatal analogies would be the revolver that would be pointed towards Islamabad’s head.
With NATO troops ready to abscond from Afghanistan, Russia is all set to join China in the queue to fill that particular vacuum of influence. Even though Beijing heads the said queue courtesy the Aynak copper mine deal in 2008 followed by China Natural Petroleum Corporation’s ‘$7 billion’ oil deal with Afghanistan at the tail end of last year. Another agenda on the Russian menu is ensuring stability in the Central Asian countries – the “near abroad” – which are said to have extremist groups that have their roots in terrorist groups existing in the ‘safe havens’ of Afghanistan and some parts of Pakistan. This is precisely why Russia is vying to exercise its influence in Afghanistan.
The rule of the thumb in International Relations is that if you’re eying Afghanistan, you need Pakistan’s shoulder. It’s no coincidence that the US-Pakistan ties have disintegrated to such a ‘sorry’ state after the former realised that their ‘War on Terror’ in Afghanistan was about as fruitful as smashing your head against a wall, and in turn decided to walk away. So with the Sino-Pak bond historically solid and durable, the onus is on Moscow to woo Islamabad. On the other hand, hobnobbing with Russia could be Pakistan’s proverbial hand gesture to Uncle Sam, one that showcases Pakistan’s demand in the international social networking platform, to its detractors. And this brings us to another very crucial player in this South Asian Russian roulette: India.
India wouldn’t want stability in Afghanistan, for it would mean that Pakistan’s focus wouldn’t be divided on both fronts. If it’s all quiet on the western front, Pakistan’s militaristic wherewithal would hog the eastern front – not something New Delhi would be particularly over the moon about. Now with Russia bonding with Pakistan, Islamabad could point at Beijing and Moscow and flaunt its augmenting friends list, while Moscow can inform New Delhi – historically Russia’s strategic chum – that it has other options in South Asia with India upping the ante on its partnership with the US. Arguably, and ironically, it was the US-India Washington Summit of 2005 – which was held in Putin’s previous presidential era – which has resulted in Russian foreign policy taking a nosedive into new waters; something that is vindicated by the fact that one of the first things that Putin did after taking over from Dmitry Medvedev is befriend Pakistan on a multitude of fronts.
With Beijing, Moscow and Islamabad converging upon a potential strategic union with regards to Afghanistan, the most decisive blows would strike Washington and New Delhi. And so when Russia and Pakistan get together in the bilateral summit this September to play out the latest round of Russian roulette, there’s a fair chance that the players being shot down won’t be sitting around the table at the time.
The writer is a staff member and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org