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Change of Roles, Same Situation: Who Will Be the Beneficiary?

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Naveed Mangi

In the realm of international relations, alliances, and partnerships often shift as countries adapt to changing geopolitical dynamics. One such case is the changing dynamics between Pakistan and India, and their respective relationships with the United States and Russia. Historically, Pakistan aligned itself with the United States while India maintained a more neutral stance but had closer ties with the Soviet Union, which later became Russia. However, recent developments suggest a reversal of roles, raising the question of who stands to benefit from these changing alignments.

The recent visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the United States signifies a significant turning point in India-US relations. The two nations have witnessed a remarkable improvement in their bilateral ties over the past decade. According to the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum, the total bilateral trade between the two countries reached $149 billion in 2021, a significant increase from $20 billion in 2001. The United States has become one of India’s top trading partners and a key source of foreign direct investment.

The strengthening of India-US ties can be attributed to their shared concern over China’s rising influence. As of 2021, China is India’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade reaching $88 billion. However, China’s aggressive actions along the disputed border between India and China, coupled with its growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region, have raised concerns in both India and the United States. The two countries have deepened their defense cooperation, with India purchasing advanced military equipment from the United States, including Apache helicopters and P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft.

Sarang Shidore, a senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute, a US-based think tank, emphasizes that the United States prioritizes its interests over democracy and human rights in its foreign policy. As long as the shared concern about China persists, the US-India relationship is expected to continue growing. The United States sees India as a vital ally in efforts to contain China’s rise and maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific region. India, with its growing economy and strategic location, benefits from this alignment with the world’s largest economy and military power.

On the other hand, Pakistan has recently placed its first order for discounted Russian crude oil, marking an important development in Russia-Pakistan relations. The deal, struck between Islamabad and Moscow, includes one cargo to dock at the port of Karachi in May. This move highlights Pakistan’s efforts to diversify its energy sources and reduce its dependence on traditional suppliers. According to Pakistan’s petroleum minister, the country aims to increase its oil imports from Russia in the coming years.

While Pakistan has often attempted to repair its relations with Moscow when its ties with Washington were troubled, the relationship between the two countries has remained largely derivative of Pakistan’s relationship with the US. However, the recent order for Russian crude oil indicates a potential shift in Pakistan’s energy cooperation. Pakistan’s energy demand is growing rapidly, and diversifying its energy sources is crucial for its economic development. Russia, as one of the world’s largest oil producers, can provide Pakistan with a reliable and cost-effective energy supply.

Despite these developments, it is crucial to critically assess the narrative that a shift toward Russia could be more beneficial for Pakistan. Some argue that Pakistan’s alignment with the US during its formative years was a mistake, and closer ties with Moscow could have led to better outcomes. However, this viewpoint overlooks Pakistan’s historic grand strategy, which aimed to secure great power assistance to compensate for the regional imbalance caused by a larger India.

Examining the contemporary Russia-Pakistan relations in the context of the Ukraine crisis reveals that while some cooperation is taking place, it remains modest at best. In 2020, Pakistan and Russia conducted their first joint military exercise, named “Druzhba-2020″ (Friendship-2020). Both countries expressed their commitment to enhancing defense and security cooperation. However, significant challenges persist. Geo-economics constraints, geographical distance, and historic obstacles hinder the development of a substantial Pakistan-Russia partnership.

Geographically, Pakistan and Russia are separated by thousands of miles, with much of it poorly connected by roads or rail. Establishing robust economic and energy ties requires substantial investments in infrastructure and transportation networks. Moreover, Russia’s historic relations with India and its aversion to risking the benefits of that relationship pose challenges to Pakistan’s aspirations of a transformative partnership.

While Islamabad and Moscow may grow closer in certain areas, such as energy cooperation and defense exercises, it is unlikely to result in a comprehensive strategic realignment. Pakistan’s ties with the United States, based on security cooperation, economic partnerships, and people-to-people exchanges, have deep roots. The United States remains a significant source of foreign aid and investment for Pakistan.

In conclusion, the changing roles of Pakistan, India, the United States, and Russia in the global arena present an intriguing dynamic. India stands to benefit from its closer ties with the US, as both countries align to counterbalance China’s influence. Pakistan’s recent engagement with Russia in the energy sector suggests a potential shift, but significant constraints and historical obstacles impede the development of a deep strategic partnership. While both countries may reassess their alliances, it is India, through its strengthening relationship with the US, that appears to be the primary beneficiary of this evolving geopolitical landscape.

As geopolitical dynamics continue to evolve, it is essential for Pakistan and India to carefully navigate their relationships with the United States and Russia, considering their respective national interests and regional security concerns. Strategic choices should be made based on a comprehensive assessment of the potential benefits and challenges that come with different alliances, keeping in mind the ever-changing dynamics of the global stage.