Ursa Redux

Published: March 7, 2018

It used to be easy following and understanding geopolitics. They moved at glacial speed, any changes got telegraphed well in advance (the fall of the Berlin Wall perhaps an exception) and there were few paradigm shifts. Not anymore. The world is shape-changing at speed and accelerating with a Trumpian foot on the accelerator. Pakistan is both caught in and a party to many of the changes both regional and global, and our old adversary Russia is in the frame as it moves to fill in the blanks left by an America that is wrapping itself in the flag — and protectionism.

There is much business to be done between Pakistan and Russia with the expanding market for gas — of which we have a plenitude — and expanded military cooperation. There is even talk of Russia attempting to revive the moribund Pakistan Steel Mills which was constructed with Soviet equipment that was obsolete even at the time of its installation. Diplomats are moving to and fro, military delegations are going to places that few beyond the Pakistan Army ever get to see and the government is warming up lines of communication long sleeping.

It is a chapter in the geopolitical playbook — moving beyond the past to create future opportunity. Pakistan and Russia have been at odds in the not far distant past. The world changed. It is not convenient for either to be at odds now. Line drawn and move on. The threat of Islamic State in Pakistan is real for both countries (as it is for China) and Russia has moved onstage with the Taliban as yet another broker with the word ‘peace’ in their job description. Russian engines are going into Pakistani JF17 fighters, and Russian equipment is long a part of the Indian inventory. Détente is never comfortable for everybody at the table, and India views with a gelid eye The Bear on patrol in an Afghanistan it considered its purlieu post the Taliban regime. As for the Chinese they are inscrutable as ever but will want to ensure their considerable investments in Pakistan are protected. This is an opportunity-rich environment for Pakistan. Grasp it.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 7th, 2018.

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