It may or may not be coincidental that at a time when the US ambassador to South and Central Asia was in town — Pakistan’s National Security adviser was hobnobbing with his Russian counterpart in Moscow. Closely followed by the man who can: the COAS. But it is significant. After all, Alice Wells’ second trip to this country in a month has not produced much by way of results. According to media reports the sticking point continues to be, from the Pakistani side, the constant sabre-rattling over needing to do more, more, more to flush out militant safe-havens. For Islamabad, which insists on having done the needful, it remains a moot point. Not least because this country is acutely worried by the rise of ISIS across its western front. This is a concern it shares with Russia. Indeed, the latter has termed the terror group the biggest threat to Afghan security. Not only does this get Pakistan ‘off the hook’ in many regards, there is also much truth to this. Indeed, as Moscow likes to remind the US: without the dismantling of Iraq’s social fabric there would be no ISIS in that country or anywhere else; from Libya to Syria. Thus it is this security paradigm that brings Islamabad and Moscow increasingly closer. Neither wants to see Afghanistan overrun by militants; as this poses risks to their respective homelands and backyards. Similarly, both want to see Washington withdraw from a military occupation that has been on the road to nowhere for 17 long years; an entire generation. For the two sides believe, not without undue reason, that the US presence is fuelling this current cycle of violence. An exit is therefore critical to getting the Taliban to down arms and stop targeting national infrastructure and state institutions. Though this would likely give way to in-fighting among diverse ethnic groups to secure greater pieces of the already fragmented pie. All of which leaves open a vacancy for honest regional broker. It is important to note that Russia has not allowed its traditional closeness to New Delhi to overshadow ties with Pakistan. Making it possibly the only power that would be able to effectively and sincerely assuage Islamabad’s understandable disquiet over the Indian footprint in Afghanistan. And as a bonus, it also enjoys good relations with that other regional player: China. All of which should serve as a warning to Washington to try and adopt a more holistic approach to regional peace. The regional power balance is shifting faster than anyone had predicted a few years ago. There is a need for realism all around. * Published in Daily Times, April 25th 2018.