Russia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan should work more closely together in pursuit of their common multipolar goals in order to strengthen the interconnected Central Asian-South Asian space.
Most of the world seems to have forgotten about Afghanistan following the commencement of Russia’s ongoing special military operation in Ukraine, but Moscow remains very interested in helping that war-torn country recover from its two decades of Western occupation. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the following just the other day, which raised hopes about the future of economic ties:
“We see promising areas for developing cooperation and direct contacts between business circles. First of all, it is agriculture, energy, as well as transport, taking into account Afghanistan’s high transit potential. In general, the more than 140 enterprises built by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan remain the backbone of the Afghan economy, and this creates additional opportunities for increasing our cooperation in the trade and economic sphere.”
Despite being ruled by the Taliban, which Moscow still considers to be a terrorist group, Russian-Afghan relations have impressively been on the rise since the US’ chaotic evacuation of the country last August. That’s because the Kremlin is pragmatic enough to recognize the ground realities there and respond accordingly. This outcome is mutually beneficial and can actually advance the interests of others too.
To explain, there’s hope that Russian-Pakistani relations will remain on track in spite of that South Asian state’s scandalous change of government in early April that its former premier claimed was orchestrated by the US as punishment for his country’s ties with Moscow. Newly inaugurated Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto reciprocated Russia’s latest outreaches and said that he wants to maintain positive momentum.
Their ties have recently become comprehensive but are still mostly concentrated on Afghan, agricultural, connectivity, and energy cooperation, which not coincidentally happen to be exactly what Lavrov wants to expand with respect to Russian-Afghan relations. In fact, while Pakistanis feel uncomfortable being “hyphenated” with Afghanistan, this might actually benefit their ties with Russia.
To explain, the Afghan-Pakistani economic space is a closely connected one, especially since these are neighboring countries. February 2021’s agreement to build a Pakistan-Afghanistan-Uzbekistan (PAKAFUZ) railway could even connect Russia’s economy with Afghanistan and Pakistan’s upon its completion by linking up with Russian railways in Central Asia.
That would provide a major boost in Russia’s agricultural and energy exports to both of them due to this new connectivity corridor. It’s with this multilaterally beneficial vision in mind that Pakistan should actually prioritize the further comprehensive strengthening of ties with Russia, especially in the economic sphere, in spite of speculative US pressure upon the new authorities to slow down the pace.
From the Russian perspective, it would be useful to consider proposing a trilateral framework for coordinating Afghan-Pakistani-Russian trade and other matters of shared interest such as security cooperation. All three sides should therefore work more closely together in pursuit of their common multipolar goals in order to strengthen the interconnected Central Asian-South Asian space.