In international politics, there is no permanent enemy, no permanent friend. What remains permanent is national interest. This is the national interest that drives every nation’s foreign policy, and the success and failure of every nation’s foreign policy is determined by it. Among national interests, the protection of sovereignty and territorial integrity has been the prime focus of every nation. Pakistan is a country at the crossroads of South Asia whose geopolitical significance always makes her relevant in global affairs.
Since its inception in 1947, Pakistan has been in turmoil of great power rivalry. In the 1950s, it decided to join the Western bloc under the leadership of the USA at the expense of severing its ties with the Soviet Union.
Pakistan deepened its relations with the West by joining the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) and the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO). Certain factors drove Pakistan’s historic foreign policy move- the Indian factor being the primary one. A newly independent Pakistan, soon after its independence, found its survival at stake due to the presence of a hostile giant in its eastern neighborhood. Thus, policymakers thought joining the Western bloc would give Pakistan an extended deterrence vis-à-vis India. However, the war of 1965 with India and sanctions imposed by the West in general and the US in particular depicted the failure of this foreign policy initiative. Since then, Pak-US relations have gone through numerous ups and downs, and Pakistan has remained the closest ally of the US to hell.
However, Pakistan’s relations with China remained cordial throughout history, making these ties further firm each decade. After its independence, Pakistan recognized the People’s Republic of China and established diplomatic ties. In the 1970s, Pakistan facilitated the diplomatic rapprochement between China and the USA. With the onset of the 21st century, the bilateral ties between Pakistan and China transformed into geostrategic relations. In 2013, China launched its historic China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project worth $62 billion in Pakistan to promote regional connectivity by building roads, railways, and sea ports. Since then, bilateral relations between China and Pakistan have become immensely cordial.
However, Pakistan is again facing the same dilemma that it has been throughout history. Growing global influence and its challenge to the US-led world order has increased competition and confrontation between both great powers of the time. This bilateral confrontation between China and the USA limits foreign policy options for states like Pakistan, which again is facing pressure to take sides. Now the questions arise: Considering the flawed approach of being part of bloc politics, should Pakistan remain neutral in this confrontation, or should it completely go into the sphere of China, leaving the US aside? The rapid geopolitical transformations demand rational yet timely decisions from Pakistan vis-à-vis its relations with China and the US. Pakistan has borne the brunt of developing its relations with one state at the expense of its relations with others. Thus, Pakistan should not prioritize China over the US and vice versa.
Pakistan should maintain its deep cordial ties with China, as it has remained the most reliable partner of Pakistan. It is currently the country with the most significant foreign investment in Pakistan. It provided economic assistance in need of the hour and unwavering diplomatic support at multiple regional and global forums. It is indispensable for Pakistan to maintain strong ties with China. However, it would be irrational for Pakistan to deprioritize its relations with the US in an attempt to please China. Although Pak-US relations have historically remained transactional, Pakistan should not undermine the significance and impact of the US in international affairs. The United States is the largest export destination of Pakistan. It has an immense say in international organizations like the United Nations, World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, Financial Action Task Force, and World Bank. Without the approval of the United States, Pakistan cannot lend a penny to these institutions, as evident from the recent standoff between Pakistan and the IMF.
Furthermore, the US is the destination of thousands of impactful Pakistani nationals. It is also significant for Pakistan as far as military arsenals are concerned. Although the geopolitical transformations have made India the strategic partner of the US, Pakistan should exercise a proactive and pragmatic approach to strengthen its relations with the United States. In years to come, the widening competition and confrontation between China and the US would pose a significant challenge to Pakistan to choose either China or the US.
Pakistan should adhere to the principle of neutrality while developing its relations with both states and avoid participating in bloc politics.