By Samuel Baid
One cannot blame those Indians who are puzzled with the latest development that their decades-old friend Russia, joining the company of their arch rivals in the world – China and Pakistan. There are other Indians who reason that Russia under President Vladimir Putin wants to cast away the burden of Cold War years and begin anew. According to a section of Pakistani public opinion, Russia is drawing close to Pakistan in reaction to a growing India–US relationship. The hangover of the Cold War years has not cleared yet and President Putin is undoubtedly an ambitious man. He seems to be trying to revive the super power status for Russia that the defunct Soviet Union enjoyed. It intervened in Syria militarily to bomb the rebels who wanted the end the Assad regime, which the erstwhile Soviet Union supported during the Cold War years. Russia had stood firmly for secular and nationalist Arab governments in Iraq, Syria and Libya while the US and its allies in Europe were hostile to them. In Syria we saw the replay of the Cold War years in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab spring. Russia’s intervention in Syria was strongly resented by the US and some European countries who had been supportive anti-Assad rebels with arms and money. Russia revived its early relations of the Soviet Union with China, which apparently told Moscow: “If you love me, love my dog”. Thus appears to be the spectre of a new Pak-China-Russia alignment.
Russia just did not bother about the unhappy reaction in India or the feelings in Afghanistan when it announced its friendship with the Taliban. Was President Putin trying to be pragmatic? Moscow’s earlier experience with Pakistan was not encouraging at all. During the Cold War it had tried in vain to cultivate Pakistan. It invited its first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan to visit the Soviet Union. But he ignored the Soviet invitation and instead went to its arch rival, the US.
In the 1950s, when Pakistan had joined US-led military pacts, the Soviet Union offered to build steel mill in Karachi, Pakistan accepted the offer, but without giving up its hostility towards it. As an ally in the US-led anti-Soviet military pact, Pakistan gave the US espionage facilities against the Soviet Union in Peshawar. It also used its national carrier, the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to do espionage on China for the US. China chose not to protest in pubic because Pakistan was and still is the most effective weapon in its hands against India.
During the Cold War years which ended with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1989, Pakistan was allied to anti-Soviet forces led by the US. In the new emerging Cold War Pakistan is in the company of a country against which it fought a US-engineered jihad in Afghanistan for the years (1979-89) calling it a “Godless” to defeat which was the duty of all faithful Muslims.
Twenty five years after the end of the Cold War, Pakistan still wants to benefit now even as the new emerging scenario has promises for it. Last year Russia has helped Pakistan to enhance its chance of candidate membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in its Tashkent Summit; held a joint military exercises with it ignoring India’s complaint about attack on an Indian Army camp in Uri by terrorists from Pakistan, a fact which the Russian ambassador in New Delhi had acknowledged and also hosted in Moscow a three nations Pakistan, China and Russia meeting to discuss deteriorating security condition in Afghanistan and the activities of terrorists including those of the Islamic State (IS).
Afghanistan, which was kept away from the meeting, strongly protested and called it blatant interference in its domestic affairs. The meeting virtually freed Pakistan from the US pressure for taking action against the Haqqani network which launches terrorist attacks in Afghanistan from Pakistan’s territory. Russia disclosed it maintained contacts with the Taliban. It also supplied arms to the Taliban. Some Taliban even claimed they had Russia’s help in occupying the Afghan province of Kunduz last year. At the trilateral Moscow meeting, China and Russia as permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) wanted the UN to remove some Taliban names from the sanctions list so that they could take part in Kabul-Taliban peace talks. This means such peace talks could not be called Afghan-owned. The Taliban insist on the ouster of foreign troops from Afghanistan to participate in peace talks. If Russia supports this condition Afghanistan would eventually turn into a battleground between the US and Russia. The stand of these three countries on the Taliban cause a suspicion that there is a conspiracy to counter not only the US and India’s role in Afghanistan but also to belittle the mandate of the elected Afghan government.
Actually, all these three countries – Pakistan, China and Russia – want to use the Taliban as a tool to push their separate interests in the region. Russia, which hardly had any interaction with Afghanistan after the ouster of the Soviet troops from there in 1988, does not have and empirical knowledge of the Taliban, as a post-Afghan war phenomenon. Comparatively, China has better knowledge of the Taliban because its interest in Afghanistan’s mineral wealth and association with Pakistan. Of the three, Pakistan, being the creator of the Taliban, knows the best. But none of them has appreciated a fact that, as true Pathans, Taliban do not play the role of anybody’s mercenaries. Pakistan created them and installed them into power in Kabul in 1996 but could not use them against India in Kashmir nor could it make them agree to accept the Durand Line as the international boundary between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Taliban have also not obliged Pakistan by being pushed to peace talks with the Afghan government.
Against the background of Pakistan’s experience once cannot hope that President Putin can use the Taliban force to counter the Islamic State’s on its behalf in Central Asia, which Russia still considers as its backyard. The same applies to China. The Taliban cannot be expected to fight Uighur Muslims of Xinjiang whom China has been trying to de-Islamise as well as to kill the liberation movement in this largest province of China. These three countries involvement with the Taliban for their own vested interests will reverse all the progress active by Afghanistan in the last about 15 years.
The commitment of these three countries against global terrorism is questionable. For them terrorism is what only affect them. For example, the Uri terror act against its close friend India did not bother Russia. But it held military exercise with Pakistan which sponsors such terror acts as a state policy. China, on the other hand, defends Pakistani terrorists like Masood Azhar in the UN. And Pakistan, less said is better.