WTO and global connectivity through high-speed ICT made our world smaller,  interconnected, and interdependent more than ever before during the 1990’s. There was a hope that this new unprecedented interconnected and interdependence will bring the world closer to lasting peace and prosperity under shared values like democracy, common goals, and mutual existence.

The promise of a new rule-based international order faced its first challenge after 9/11, and its aftermath also changed global geopolitics. For the last two decades, the world has been grappling with the new realities that emerged from it. With the rise of new power centers in Asia, the US struggles to maintain its leadership position amid its declining power. New global challenges like climate change have pushed the world into the pre-WWI era, where emerging Germany challenged the existing superpower, Great Britain. Only this time is emerging China challenging the existing superpower.

The existence of strategic weapons on both sides will ensure that this situation will not lead to WWI rather this is the beginning of Cold War 2.0 after the previous one ended in 1989.

Bloc politics was the most prominent feature of geopolitics during the first Cold War, and this is what will change in this new iteration of the Cold War. The rise of regionalism has benefited the national interests of many smaller nations in two of the most critical strategic imperatives, I.e., security and economy. Nations in geopolitical hot spots are no longer looking toward global powers for security and economic assistance.

Pakistan remained in the US bloc during the previous Cold War. Still, due to changed geopolitical dynamics, Pakistan faces a tough question regarding its foreign policy choices in Cold War 2.0. Is it possible for Pakistan to balance relations with the US and China like it managed to have during the last five decades when the US Indo-Pacific strategy picked India as the primary strategic partner in the region?

Pakistan gained strategic security after the end of the first Cold War, but due to multiple self-inflicted political crises and mismanagement, economic vulnerabilities remain an existential challenge.  Pakistan seems to have fewer options for striking the correct balance in its relationship with the US and China. Apart from these two primary protagonists, new players like India, Brazil, and Australia are emerging while Russia is trying to make a comeback.

China has been declared a “Pacing Challenge” and a “Consequential Strategic Competitor” in the US National Defence Strategy 2022, not as an enemy. But suppose one examines the strategic objectives of the US, and the diplomatic tool set it employs in the form of regional alliances to limit the Chinese influence in Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific. In that case, one can see the futility of this jargon used in the US document. The US is still pursuing its encirclement strategy, and in reaction, China is forming its alliances in larger Eurasian landmass. More than anything, BRI is, in fact, China’s response to the US strategy.

Multilateralism has grown in the developing world and is now manifested in regional security and economic alliances.

Unlike the former USSR, China has challenged the US not only in an arms race but Beijing is pursuing a global geoeconomic leadership through BRI, bringing closer many nations that were located in close geographic proximity but were in opposing blocs previously. This strategy is opening new opportunities for regional peace as well. The rise of SCO, acceptance of BRI, and growing Chinese political influence in multiple regions are some of the outcomes of this strategy.

Beijing is aware of its strategic requirements to challenge the US in trade, geopolitics, technology, military might, and economy and is shaping its foreign policy accordingly. The US replied to these Chinese moves with AUKUS and QUAD-like regional alliances. Naval power projection from Asia Pacific to Indo-Pacific is the key component of both. India has emerged as a “security provider” partner, while  Islamabad has been caught in this global turf war.

Due to the inclusion of India and China in opposing roles in the US strategy for the Asia Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions, Pakistan’s space to balance its bilateral relations from an independent position has been squeezed greatly. With unfolding events, this choice is going to get tougher. Pakistan’s strategic interests will continue to dictate its foreign policy, but any foreign policy reflects internal cohesion, political stability, economic viability, and institutional strength. Pakistan’s strategic deterrence will back Islamabad’s foreign policy choices in Cold War 2 only if its strength is replicated in other spheres of national powers; otherwise, the country will remain in turbulent waters!

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