Pakistan’s declared “neutrality” on the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been described by the Foreign Office as “based on principles” defending “broad-based, objective, balanced and mutually beneficial relationships with all major powers, including the United States and China.” This stands in contrast to the rest of the world, which has seen a clear divide between the U.S. and its allies on one side and Russia and its partners on the other. While Islamabad has in the past expressed “concerns over the humanitarian situation in Ukraine,” it has carefully stopped short of condemning Russia. This is partly linked to its ties with Russian ally China, which are crucial for its foreign policy. But trade with the U.S. also remains important to Pakistan, forcing it to walk a tight-rope to avoid offending anyone.
America, in keeping with its traditional opposition to Russia, is deeply involved in the Ukraine crisis, having directed over $75 billion in assistance to the war-torn state, including humanitarian, financial, and military support. The hefty funding aims to help a broad set of Ukrainian people and institutions, including refugees, law enforcement, and independent radio broadcasters—and especially the military. As with the war on terror of the past decade, dozens of countries—mostly members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union—have aligned with the U.S. In this scenario, no amount of neutrality from Pakistan will save it from the consequences of a divided world.
“All-weather partner” China has, thus far, avoided outright supporting Russia, releasing a position paper calling for a “political settlement of the Ukraine crisis” through dialogue and negotiation. Vowing to play a constructive role, it added: “Conflict and war benefit no one. All parties must stay rational and exercise restraint, avoid fanning the flames and aggravating tensions and prevent the crisis from deteriorating further or even spiraling out of control.” But as the conflict lingers on, it becomes harder for any state to maintain neutrality. The world today is more connected than ever; what happens in one country is not going to be restricted to its borders alone.