The American ruling classes’ fantasies and political imagination about the advent and persistence of a uni-polar World after the demise of the Soviet Union have been under pressure for quite some time. But Russian President Vladimir Putin’s move to invade Ukraine has smashed these fantasies into smithereens. Americans’ political imagination about the existence of a uni-polar world started their life after the Soviet Union dissolved and found its way into the dustbin of history. The practical manifestations and military outcomes of this political imagination were the first Iraq War, intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo, invasion of Afghanistan and the second invasion of Iraq. Suddenly, last week, President Putin made them realise that there could be another military power on planet Earth that could take unilateral military action against an independent country and a member of the United Nations. This country, i.e. Russia, has one of the largest and most well equipped land forces in the world. It is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and thus can veto any collective security measures that other world powers might be contemplating against it.
This is not the rise of another military pole in world politics. It is actually the assertion by an existing pole of its military power in its own backyard. Russia has been involved in some practice of this military assertiveness in the past few years: its intervention in Syria and its promise to its Central Asian allies that it would carry out air strikes inside Afghanistan if there is any spill-over of violence into the region that it considers within its security parameters are a case in point.
Today, in fact, there is a possibility of many regional powers asserting their military strength in their respective regions to resolve outstanding political conflicts in their favour. For their part, Americans have only recently tasted failure in their military adventures and by now must have realised that even extremely lethal military power cannot necessarily turn political games in your favour.
Pakistan is one country whose ruling classes will miss and mourn the lapse of the American uni-polar moment in world politics. Despite the existence of a very critical narrative prevalent in our society of anti-Americanism directed against US hegemony in world politics, the Pakistani state all through its existence has served as a facilitator of American hegemony in our region. Twice our security establishment facilitated the Americans’ intervention in Afghanistan—once as a conduit of military assistance to anti-Soviet ‘mujahideen’ and the second time with the provision of logistics and intelligence support to American occupation forces in Afghanistan. Our military government event considered sending battalions of land forces to Iraq, another Muslim country, after the American invasion in 2003. In return, we received billions of dollars in aid as military and economic assistance.
No event in Pakistan’s diplomatic history would qualify to be described as a bigger public relations disaster than Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent visit to Moscow
So, in fact, our problem at the moment is not that American hegemony in the region should come to an end. Instead, our problem is that we would prefer that the US stop aiding the rise of another country, in this case our enemy India, as a facilitator to bolster Americans’ uni-polar fantasies. China was showing signs of economic growth and expansion since the beginning of the 21st century, with many predicting the size of its economy surpassing that of the American economy by the middle of this century. Military prowess would be a natural corollary. Thus, since 2006, successive US administrations have supported India as a counter to China. The Pakistani state and military started to lose strategic relevance for Americans after US policymakers came to the realisation that Islamic extremism is but a tiny problem if compared with issues related to competition for global supremacy that had by then started emerging on the horizon.
And in this context, the Pakistani ruling elite’s discomfort and unease with Americans is understandable. But showing this discomfort by calling on Russian President Putin hours after he ordered his troops to cross the international border into a member state of the United Nations was an extremely foolish thing to do. No event in Pakistan’s diplomatic history would qualify to be described as a bigger public relations disaster than Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent visit to Moscow. The fact that the Prime Minister met the Russian President only a few hours after the latter ordered his troops into the Ukrainian capital has created an unexpected diplomatic embarrassment for Pakistan. Perhaps the Pakistani Foreign Office anticipated this when it asked the Pakistani ambassador to Ukraine to meet their Deputy Foreign Minister and reiterate Pakistan’s position with regard to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Ukrainian state.
A week ago, the country’s powerful Army Chief was in Brussels meeting NATO military leaders. There are reports in the media that the Army Chief wanted to visit Washington on the same date as Prime Minister Khan was in Moscow. This could not happen, as the Americans refused to receive him, according to Pakistani media. Thus on the whole, it can be argued that our diplomacy was thoroughly mismanaged.
Or was it a case of a pro-Western general and an eccentric prime minister pulling our foreign policy in different directions – and this process resulting in a fiasco on our doorstep?
My fear is that we will lose our political space and freedom as a result of the indirect repercussions of the loss of the American uni-polar moment for our state and its ruling elite. If all the big talk about strategic shifts and new alliances being formed is true, we might find ourselves in the camp of a China-Russia combine. The Pakistani ruling elite is extremely malleable as far as its political proclivities are concerned. After all, political freedoms in Pakistani society in the post-Zia period started to be ushered in after the advent of a neoliberal economic and political model in the English-speaking West. The Pakistani state softened its position towards media and political parties in the post-Zia period.
One fears that they would soak up influences from their authoritarian friends more readily – as it would also suit their natural inclinations.