Pakistan and Russia are trying their best to become friends. Reasons are as simple as they come. Russia needs to sell and Pakistan wants to buy "quick and cheap." Russia recently delivered crude oil to Pakistan through the Karachi port in mid-June. The deal struck was in April to send 100,000 metric tons of Russian crude to Pakistan, more than a year into Russia's war in Ukraine.

The deal has implications beyond trade and economics. Everything that happens with Pakistan has an Indian angle and this is no different. Russia is not part of Pakistan's close circle but it is of India. However, that relationship is supposedly under stress according to some sources, largely US.

The situation also shows that the older version of "friends' forever" syndrome and "my side is your side" model has undergone some change. What is cutely called the global south isn't full of leaders and people who are so dumb that they believe in permanent loyalty to any bloc including the West. Many are striking a balance to keep relations going with Moscow, the West, Beijing and even a few stray extra-terrestrial aliens if they came their way. And the Ukraine war has hastened the process.

Old wars, new friends

Russia and Pakistan were serious enemies particularly during the SEATO-CENTO days of the cold war. It peaked during the 1971 war when Russia supported India and of course the US supported Pakistan followed by China looking for new friends and allies against Russia.

Things however got better during the later stage of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan as their interests found a common point around the issue of counterterrorism and reconciliation with the Taliban. In 2022 when Imran Khan, the then PM of Pakistan visited Moscow, energy was at the top of the agenda. By then Russia had invaded Ukraine. That however is a whole new mess and its outcome is still murky but the situation is uncertain and pushing countries to take very unusual decisions on the run.

The April oil deal was called a "trial run", but obviously more is there in the barrel than that dribbles down. Apparently Pakistan is planning to fill one -third of its tank with Russian crude which means it also indicates a desire to rely less on ME crudes only. Global uncertainty is creating new alignments.

And Russia is not holding back the friendship bottle from pouring hard either. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov marked 75 years of bilateral relations with Pakistan by ending his speech with a "Long live Pakistan-Russia ties" in Urdu. Never mind what Tolstoy would think.

The blossoming of Russia and China's friendship is a classic case of rekindling romance with the ex's. Together both once were part of the "socialist" bloc which broke up in 1961. However mending is on and both are talking arms. That is worrying New Delhi a bit which thinks that Moscow may prefer its new beau China more and cut back on its arms co-operation but that is yet to happen.

New math, old foes

India friendly experts are cautious about the future of Russia's new friendship with Pakistan arguing that it's not a reconfiguration with either Pakistan or India. And the energy equation between Moscow and Islamabad is positive but not necessarily possible to carry on for long. In other words, Pakistan's pocket is torn and it can't pay Moscow for long whose own pockets are in need of a touch of repair.

But the biggest worry in Pakistan could be that too much snuggling with Russia will anger the US and the US controls the IMF and the WB. And Pakistan needs them desperately. So it must abide by the price cap agreed upon by Western countries or face U.S. sanctions. That is apart from standard political handshaking.

US Russia and South Asia

The US is telling that Russia is no longer a reliable supplier due to cash shortage but India is an old hand at the game. India is in a "thick and thin" mode with Russia even now while increasing its defense cooperation with the US. India wants to be certain that the US is a better partner than Russia in the strategic marriage if that happens. It won't behave like a moonstruck teenager and jump in as it also involves matters of payments and prices.

No country in South Asia is going to sign up for an exclusive relationship contract with any supplier cum super power. And it's not just India and Pakistan. Bangladesh has blocked dozens of U.S.-sanctioned ships from arriving at its ports but continues to deal with Russia in Chinese currency.

The pattern is clear. There will only be relationships of convenience and not just from the US side or Russian and the Chinese but the global south cuties as well. No exclusive clause will apply and that makes the old fashioned zones of influence model that much weaker. The global south has quietly on its own gone global while remaining in the South.

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