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Asia's Game of Thrones
Pakistan and Russia, BFFs?

President Vladimir Putin is moving to strengthen Russia’s relationship with Pakistan, Bloomberg reports:

Cold War foes Russia and Pakistan are set to hold their first joint military drills on land, a sign that neighboring Afghanistan may avoid becoming the site of another proxy war between global powers.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in need of cash, is seeking to shift away from his country’s decades-old relationship with India — which is also buying more weapons systems from the US. In doing so, Putin is embracing an old adversary that helped Mujahideen insurgents expel Soviet forces from Afghanistan in the 1980s.

“Russia is increasingly concerned about the security situation in Afghanistan and recognizes the critical role that Pakistan would have to play in the reconciliation process between the Taliban and Afghan government,” said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Russia isn’t Islamabad’s only new great power friend; China has been investing heavily in Pakistan too. It’s a shifting balance of power that India won’t like. In the past, India and Russia cooperated in Afghanistan, both working to limit Pakistan’s influence. If China and Russia are moving to support Pakistan, it’s going to have consequences for India’s ability to play the kind of role it seeks in Afghanistan, and could lead to greater India-Iran cooperation as neither country really wants to see a government in Kabul that is allied with Pakistan. Responding to this new regional dynamic will require serious strategic thinking in Washington.

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  • Andrew Allison

    “Responding to this new regional dynamic will require serious strategic thinking in Washington.” Good luck with that!

  • Jim__L

    If Russia can split off Pakistan from alliances with China and Saudi Arabia, that strengthens Russia’s hand immensely.

    • CapitalHawk

      Doubtful. I think that the Saudis and Chinese view the Pakistanis as more important than Russia does. And they have more resources to devote to it.

      • Jim__L

        You have a very good point about the relative importance of Pakistan to various countries. However, Saudi Arabia and China are both experiencing crises of high expectations coupled with diminishing resources that have all their stakeholders clamoring for their “fair share” of a shrinking pie. This is the sort of situation that presents opportunities for an outsider to play a weak hand well.

        • CapitalHawk

          You are correct. However, the Russians are also dealing with an economic slow down of their own and I think they view Pakistan as “would be nice to have”. Ukraine is life or death for Russia. The Caucasus is one rung below Ukraine. Next is Syria (for a warm water port) and after that is Pakistan (for the potential access to a warm water port, if you link it together with the rest of AfPak).

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