How Russia and Pakistan are supporting one another on Afghanistan

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Russia’s and Pakistan’s defence of one another in the face of third-party criticism is newsworthy

By Andrew Korybko

Russian and Pakistani officials are winking at one another on Afghanistan as evidenced by recent statements. Russian Special Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov said last week that “Pakistan, along with Russia and almost all neighbouring countries, is interested in Afghanistan returning to normality and becoming a reliable trade and economic bridge connecting Pakistan and Eurasia.”

He then added that “Sometimes it seems that when those in Kabul who are supposed to protect their land from the Taliban fail to do that, they start searching for someone to blame and always consider Pakistan to be a suitable scapegoat.” Several days later, The Express Tribune cited its sources to report that Pakistani National Security Advisor Moeed Yusuf and Director-General ISI Lt. General Faiz Hameed told US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan that Russia is also interested in supporting the Afghan peace process and preventing the on-going civil war there from worsening.

That same day, Russia’s publicly financed TASS  its most reputable English-language media outlet which only reports facts and not any interpretations thereof like RT and Sputnik do  ran a story about The Express Tribune’s report in order to raise awareness among their audience of this friendly gesture. Taken together, these three developments are noteworthy in the sense that they show how much Russia and Pakistan are politically supporting one another on Afghanistan.

The Eurasian Great Power is nowadays officially critiquing Kabul’s tendency to exploit Pakistan as a scapegoat in Afghanistan. At the same time, Islamabad is reportedly reassuring Washington of its Russian rival’s peaceful intentions in that same country. This represents a milestone in the Russian-Pakistani rapprochement since it’s the first time that both countries have supported the others’ interests in Afghanistan in the face of third-party criticism.

It’s veritably the case that Kabul regularly uses Pakistan as a scapegoat the same as Washington has previously claimed that Russia has ulterior motives in Afghanistan (e.g. last summer’s Russia-Taliban bounty fake news scandal). That said, few could have expected Russia to officially defend Pakistan from Kabul’s scapegoating just as few could have expected Pakistan to reportedly defend Russia from the US’ suspicions about its intentions. This just goes to show how rapidly Russian-Pakistani relations are improving in recent years, accelerated as they are by their shared interests in Afghanistan.

Observers also shouldn’t overlook the importance of TASS reporting on the Express Tribune’s story about how two of the top Pakistani security officials defended Russia during their latest trip to the US. The publicly financed Russian outlet was presumably so impressed that it wanted to share this good news with their audience in order to inform them of how far Russian-Pakistani relations have come in such a short time. Their story can go a long way towards positively reshaping perceptions about Pakistan and helping others move beyond out-dated Old Cold War-era stereotypes about that South Asian country.

The takeaway from all of this is that it’s time for more experts to pay attention to Russian-Pakistani relations, especially the positive impact that they’ve had on the Afghan peace process. Many influential folks have been ignoring this for far too long to the detriment of their analyses’ accuracy. Their work will always remain incomplete without incorporating this important diplomatic dimension into the insight that they share. It’s impossible for anyone of importance to ignore this relationship any longer if they have professional integrity. At the very least, Russia’s and Pakistan’s defence of one another in the face of third-party criticism is newsworthy.

Andrew Korybko is an American Moscow-based political analyst specialising in the relationship between the US strategy in Afro-Eurasia, China’s One Belt One Road global vision of New Silk Road connectivity, and Hybrid Warfare.

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