Having just lost India to the U.S., Pakistan pivots to China, elevating Pakistan-China relations to a brand new level. What has been speculated for years finally took place this week: Pakistan gave up any hopes for improved relations with its once-key ally Washington and declared Beijing as “the cornerstone” of its foreign policy.
Pakistan-China ties have experienced a major boost after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to Washington this week. Islamabad sent a crystal clear message to Washington, its decades-long key ally, following the enthusiastic and upbeat meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Modi.
During this week’s state visit to Islamabad by China’s foreign minister, Pakistan’s top foreign policy adviser Sartaj Aziz declared that Pakistan-China relations are “the cornerstone of our foreign policy.” The downward trend in U.S.-Pakistan relations reached its peak when Trump and Modi shook hands and hinted that Pakistan is responsible for the spread of regional terrorism via its alleged support for anti-Afghan insurgents.
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For months, Pakistan feared that the Trump administration would cut ties from Islamabad for its alleged support for terrorist groups or even impose sanctions against India’s neighbor and arch rival. But Washington opted for a much subtler shift in foreign policy.
US-India pivot gives rise to Pakistan-China relations
After Trump and Modi held their over-enthusiastic meeting earlier this week, it was a clear that Washington was shifting its political pivot from Pakistan to India. Not that the U.S. had not seen it coming, Islamabad was quick to renew its wedding vows with China and declared its long-time diplomatic, economic and military partner “the cornerstone” of its foreign policy.
The U.S. foreign policy shift could not have come at a more opportune time, as Islamabad has arguably a more reliable alternative to Washington in the face of China. Although Pakistan-China relations have for decades been particularly warm, only in recent years the two neighbors turned their friendship into a strong political partnership, largely thanks to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and its successful implementation.
Pakistan can afford losing U.S. to India
For decades, Washington has supplied Islamabad with military equipment and aid, and even today the South Asian nation continues to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. annual support. This time around, however, India is getting an even larger piece of U.S. military pie.
Pakistani officials have been concerned over the growing military ties between New Delhi and Washington after the two announced sales of Predator drones and other military equipment. Even though Pakistan still receives military aid from Washington, it wouldn’t be a nightmare for the nation to stop getting hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. annual support, as Islamabad already sees China as its dominant investor and a defense partner.
Pakistan’s top foreign policy adviser echoed the nation leadership’s sentiments in recent years during the news conference with China’s foreign minister, describing Pakistan-China ties as “strategic,” multi-dimensional and “all-weather.” While losing the U.S. as an ally would be a painful blow below the belt, today Pakistan can afford such seemingly dramatic foreign policy changes thanks to strong Pakistan-China ties.
Can US-India partnership result in Pakistan isolation?
Afghanistan and regional terrorism have become the key topics of discussion between Modi and Trump this week. As the Trump administration continues considering its policy options in the region, Afghanistan keeps fueling tensions in the region by accusing Pakistan of supporting cross-border insurgents.
Islamabad, in turn, vehemently denies the accusations, but now that Washington has sided with India – which also says that Pakistan is responsible for terror chaos in the region – it’s likely that the U.S., which for years accused Islamabad in harboring terrorist groups, would listen to Afghan and Indian calls to punish or isolate Pakistan.
The Trump administration is currently considering sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to tackle the growing terrorism and radicalism threat in the region. It remains unclear how Washington would react to Pakistan’s alleged involvement in spreading terrorism in the region, but during his upbeat meeting with Modi Trump did talk about the importance of eradicating regional terrorism, referring indirectly to Islamabad’s alleged support for anti-Afghan insurgents.
Pakistan hit back at U.S. and India’s efforts to eradicate terrorism in Afghanistan without considering to bring Islamabad onboard to fight radicalism and terrorism in the region. What serves as a yet another indication of Islamabad shifting away from Washington, Pakistan has now enlisted China’s help as a mediator with Afghanistan.
China building military base in Pakistan is ‘pure guesswork’
Pakistan should not be surprised that Washington has written off Islamabad’s help in tackling terrorism in Afghanistan, as this is exactly what Pakistan and China did when they held a series of trilateral talks with Russian on Afghanistan. Both the U.S. and India then criticized the three nations, arguing that they should have been invited to the talks as well.
Some Pakistanis are worried about the rapidly growing Pakistan-China ties. Given the large success of CPEC, which has received a staggering $54 billion in Chinese investments, Pakistanis are concerned that Islamabad is becoming too economically dependent on China. Their concerns largely stem from last month’s report by DAWN that alleged China was planning to colonize Pakistan through CPEC. ValueWalk later debunked the myth.
A Pentagon report earlier this month further triggered worries in Islamabad after claiming that Beijing has plans to use Pakistan as a possible location for a Chinese military base. On Thursday, Chinese Defense Ministry hit back and said the report was “pure guesswork.”
It took Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian several weeks to respond to the controversial Pentagon report that forecasted China was planning to build more bases overseas after erecting a military base in the African nation of Djibouti, and Pakistan was said to be the next possible location for a naval base.
During a regular monthly news briefing, Wu dismissed the report and called it “pure guesswork.” The Pentagon’s report created a headache for India, which is worried that China was further ringing India with its “string of pearls” of military alliances with Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.