Former Pakistani Ambassador to the US and current Director for Central and South Asia at the Hudson Institute Husain Haqqani, writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly South Asia Brief as well the Asia Program deputy director and senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center in Washington Michael Kugelman, and senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London Raffaelo Pantucci all recently published articles about Pakistan.
These were correspondingly titled “Pakistan’s Pyrrhic Victory in Afghanistan”, “Pakistan’s Regional Diplomacy Dilemma”, and “China is a habit that Pakistan cannot break”, which were released at Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and Nikkei Asia respectively. Messrs. Haqqani and Kugelman both published their pieces on 22 July while Mr. Pantucci released his a day later on 23 July.
I responded to each of them in my articles titled “Husain Haqqani’s Dire Predictions For Pakistan Are Based On Serious Fallacies”, “Korybko’s Response To Kugelman: Pakistan’s Dilemma Isn’t That Dramatic”, and “Korybko’s Response To Pantucci: Pakistan’s Multi-Alignment Policy Is Promising”.
While doing so, I noticed some similarities between their works. They all focused on Pakistan’s troubled political relations with the US, which they agreed made the prospect of improved ties unlikely after America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. Messrs. Kugelman and Pantucci also touched upon the recent terrorist attack that killed nine Chinese nationals.
These experts concluded that it complicated relations with China. Another noticeable observation is that Messrs. Haqqani and Pantucci neglected to mention February’s agreement to create a Pakistan-Afghanistan-Uzbekistan (PAKAFUZ) railway and the US’ “New Quad” with those three countries, unlike Kugelman. Additionally, none of those three experts talked about Russian-Pakistani ties.
Pak-Russian relations: An important point missing from the 3 analyses
It was relevant for each of them to reference Pakistan’s troubled political ties with the US, but it’s their respective omissions that arguably resulted in them producing inaccurate conclusions. Messrs. Haqqani and Pantucci didn’t discuss PAKAFUZ or the US’ “New Quad” with those three countries.
Without including these two significant interconnected developments in their analyses, it was predictable that they would conclude that there is little hope for improving ties with the US or reducing perceived disproportionate dependence on China. It would be interesting to see how their conclusions might change if they produce forthcoming works that incorporate PAKAFUZ and the “New Quad”.
To his credit. Mr. Kugelman touched upon both of them though he still reached a similar conclusion, which gives his work more credibility than his two peers’. Still, his piece can also be described as incomplete because it didn’t talk about the rapid Russian-Pakistani rapprochement.
This largely unexpected geostrategic development has been over half a decade in the making and was initially driven by shared security concerns stemming from Afghan-emanating threats, specifically ISIS-K. It has since evolved into a promising partnership with strategic contours, especially after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s trip to Islamabad in early April for the first time in nine years.
Both countries are now coordinating their political and security activities related to Afghanistan, intensifying anti-terrorist military ties, cooperating on the Pakistan Stream Gas pipeline, and exploring the potential to utilize PAKAFUZ for comprehensively enhancing their relations.
It is important to point out that Russia aspires to use this project to fulfill its centuries-long goal of reaching the Indian Ocean Region as well as to complete its envisioned Greater Eurasian Partnership (GEP) while Pakistan wants to strengthen its relations with the Central Asian Republics through what can be described as its CPEC+ vision of expanding the Belt & Road Initiative’s (BRI) flagship project north.
Why did experts fail to mention the rapid Russian-Pakistani rapprochement?
Russian-Pakistani relations enable Islamabad to enhance its balancing capabilities between China and the US, thus giving it a credible chance to avoid the regional diplomatic dilemma that Mr. Kugelman described. It would be interesting to see how his conclusion might change if he produced forthcoming works that incorporate the largely unexplored implications of this diplomatic development when it comes to Pakistani grand strategy.
Whether he does or not, though, one can still describe his piece as more insightful than Messrs. Haqqani’s and Pantucci’s since he at least referenced PAKAFUZ and the “New Quad”. This observation suggests that Mr. Kugelman follows regional developments more closely than his peers.
That is not to say that there is nothing that anyone can learn from following the other two experts, but just that Mr. Kugelman is more up to speed on recent events than those two so readers can likely learn more by following him if they had to prioritize.
Nevertheless, all three of their analyses could arguably have been improved by incorporating the impact of the rapid Russian-Pakistani rapprochement on Islamabad’s grand strategy. It’s unclear why none of them mentioned this, but it might be due to several reasons.
Firstly, Western-based experts are not all that aware of the Russian-Pakistani rapprochement since it does not receive much coverage in their part of the world or the sources that they presumably rely upon. Secondly, there really is not even much written about this in non-Western sources either, including Russian and Pakistani ones.
Humbly speaking, I’m one of the only experts who closely covers this development, which I’m so passionate about that I’m even finishing up my Ph.D. on it at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO, run by the Russian Foreign Ministry).
And thirdly, even among those who are aware of this, many among them downplay its mutually beneficial geo-economic dimensions through PAKAFUZ as well as the impact that it has on Pakistan’s balancing act between China and the US.
Russian-Pakistani rapprochement: The need to present a complete analysis
To rectify this serious shortcoming in the available analytical literature, I propose that my three peers consider writing about Russian-Pakistani relations more, or at least consider including this emerging strategic development in their works whenever they feel that it is relevant.
I would like for us to have a more comprehensive understanding of each other’s views even if we still end up reaching different conclusions and disagreeing with one another on some key issues. There aren’t many experts on Pakistan in the world so we have an obligation to make our work as complete as possible in order to more effectively enlighten all those who read it.
I acknowledge that sometimes my own work is incomplete, but this self-awareness is why I felt compelled to inform my three peers whose work I individually responded to over the past week that theirs is similarly incomplete through their shared omission of the impact that Russian-Pakistani relations have on their analyses.
I am genuinely interested in reading any of my three peers’ forthcoming analyses that might incorporate the issues that they left out of their prior works. All three of them did not include the influence of the rapid Russian-Pakistani rapprochement on everything (even if only to dismiss it for reasons that they would hopefully explain in that case), while Messrs. Haqqani and Pantucci also didn’t talk about PAKAFUZ or the “New Quad” at all.
Since Mr. Kugelman appears to be more up to speed on recent developments than the other two, he might publish a pertinent piece before they do, but it’s still his choice whether or not to do so since he’s presumably a very busy expert with many other professional obligations and specific research foci in the region.
I humbly believe that I’m speaking for the wider audience of those abroad and even within Pakistan itself who are interested in learning what those three prominent experts think about the impact that Russian-Pakistani relations have, both in general and in particular when it comes to their recent conclusions about Islamabad’s alleged challenges.
Andrew Korybko is a political analyst, radio host, and regular contributor to several online outlets. He specializes in Russian affairs and geopolitics, specifically the US strategy in Eurasia. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.