Pakistan must join the Valdai Club’s proposed nuclear powers talks

The Valdai Club, one of Moscow’s top think tanks which President Putin annually speaks at, published a piece last week proposing a nuclear powers dialogue between Russia, China, India, and the US. In his article titled “We Need To Talk: The Necessity Of A Four-Way Dialogue Between Russia, The United States, China And India”, Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov suggested that the creation of a permanent format for consultations between them that would contribute to global stability. His reasoning is that these are some of the world’s strongest economic and nuclear powers.

The well-respected expert also noted that they’re all connected by various conflict nodes: “Russia and the United States confront each other in Eastern Europe, where the United States supports the NATO presence and is helping to expand the bloc to Russia’s borders. The United States is in sharp competition with China in the Pacific, and is increasing pressure over Taiwan and shipping in the East and South China Seas. China and India confront with each other in South Asia and have an unresolved border conflict that has pushed both countries to view each other as opponents.” His proposal is therefore a sensible one and should be taken very seriously.

Nevertheless, it’s incomplete without Pakistan’s participation. Although the South Asian state doesn’t have the same future economic potential as those other four countries, it’s reported to have even more nuclear weapons than India with whom it’s in an intense decades-long rivalry and already fought three wars. In addition, Pakistan is a Chinese ally, hosts the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) flagship project of Beijing’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI), and is integral to the post-withdrawal scenario in neighbouring Afghanistan which affects all four of them. Simply put, Eurasian stability cannot be secured without Pakistan.

Although US-exacerbated Chinese-Indian tensions are officially bilateral in nature, it’s impossible to remove the Pakistani factor from either of their strategic calculations. The unresolved decades-long dispute over Kashmir’s final political status despite several UNSC Resolutions on the matter consistently remains the greatest threat to stability in South Asia. It’s also of global concern considering that Pakistan and India are nuclear-armed powers. India is irritated by CPEC because it regards that megaproject as traversing through territory that New Delhi claims as its own. It also fears CPEC’s grand strategic impact of granting China direct access to the Indian Ocean.

From the American and Russian strategic perspectives, Pakistan is uniquely positioned to facilitate their economic diplomacy with Afghanistan-Central Asia and South Asia respectively. The planned Pakistan-Afghanistan-Uzbekistan (PAKAFUZ) railway will become the backbone of CPEC’s de facto northern expansion (N-CPEC+), which can also be referred to as the Central Eurasian Corridor (CEC). The US can use it to expand influence in Afghanistan and Central Asia after its impending withdrawal from the former while Russia can similarly use it to more directly connect with South Asia, including India.

It deserves mention that Pakistan unveiled a new multipolar grand strategy in March at the inaugural Islamabad Security Dialogue. Islamabad plans to prioritise geo-economics over geopolitics in an attempt to become the “Zipper of Eurasia” by connecting the supercontinent’s top regional integration blocs. These include Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union, the joint Russo-Sino Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). This vision conforms with the grand strategic interests of Russia, China, India, and the US, the latter of which can use Pakistani-based production facilities to trade with all three.

To summarise Pakistan’s geostrategic importance to Eurasian stability, the country is: party to the supercontinent’s most dangerous territorial dispute (the Kashmir one with its nuclear-armed Indian neighbour); an inextricable part of Indo-Sino military calculations; integral to the post-withdrawal scenario in Afghanistan which affects Russian, Chinese, Indian, and US interests; irreplaceable in terms of China’s BRI and associated access to the Indian Ocean; and the “Zipper of Eurasia” for connecting its top regional integration blocs. The Valdai Club’s promising proposal for a permanent nuclear powers dialogue must therefore include Pakistan.