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Alliances shift as Pak scrambles to avoid blacklist
February 28, 2018
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ISLAMABAD: As Pakistan navigates its troubled relationship with the United States and scrambles to avoid being blacklisted for doing too little, too late to stop terror funding, regional alliances are shifting and analysts ponder whether a cozier relationship with countries like Russia will complicate efforts to move towards peace in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Russia, analysts say, is motivated by fears of a growing presence of Daesh militants in neighbouring Afghanistan and has warmed up to Pakistan as well as to Taliban insurgents battling the upstart Daesh group affiliate known as Khorasan Province, the ancient name of an area that once included parts of Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia.

In the latest move to strengthen ties, Russia last week named an honorary consul to Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KP), which borders Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, where Daesh has established its headquarters. The Daesh is also present in northern Afghanistan’s border regions with Central Asia, causing further consternation in Moscow.

Russia’s honorary consul, Mohammad Arsallah Khan, who belongs to a powerful business family in Pakistan’s northwest, said economic development is the best weapon against extremism. To that end he said he will promote increased commerce with Pakistan’s neighbours, including Russia, which currently accounts for barely $500 million in trade.

“I think this whole region is a bit of a mess, which I realise is one of the great understatements. Extremists have been taken lightly before and we are where we are because of that,” said Khan in an interview in Islamabad.

Reflecting on his business-based strategy, Khan said, “when you can give people a way of earning a living, they will turn away from terrorism, away from extremism.”

The appointment reflects a stark turnaround in Pakistan’s historical relationship with Russia.

For some, Russia’s cozying up to Pakistan is a bit of a “poke in the eye” to the US, still embroiled in the Afghan conflict that is now in its 17th year and is Washington’s longest war, costing more than $122 billion, according to its own special Inspector General on Afghan Reconstruction.

Still, Petr Topychkanov, a senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said Russia worries about the US presence in Afghanistan.

Associated Press

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