Pakistan’s political leadership consistently reiterated the nation’s stated policy that Pakistan does not want to be sucked into any great power rivalry. Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari during his four-day visit to Japan highlighted and reaffirmed Pakistan’s policy of not subscribing to bloc politics. He said, “As a developing country facing serious economic and environmental challenges, Pakistan has no time for the Cold-War styled bloc politics that appears to be making a comeback”. Before Foreign Minister’s visit, Minister of State Hina Rabbani Khar had already made a similar statement during a notable interview with Washington-based news outlet Politico. She insisted that Pakistan does not want the added “headache” of a new Cold War between China and the United States.
By rejecting the entrapment of bloc politics, Islamabad sets itself apart from the escalating rivalry between the US and China. Moreover, this stance suits Pakistan to maintain a balanced approach, while avoiding unnecessary entanglements that might jeopardize its national interests.
At present, Pakistan is trying to sustain and nurture mutually beneficial relationships with both the US and China. However, the growing competition between these two global powers, coupled with the bipartisan opposition towards China in the US, has presented a precarious situation for Pakistan. An all-out rupture between the two powers will negatively impact Pakistan. A recent statement from the Defense Minister Khawaja Asif serves as an acknowledgment that Pakistan finds itself in a difficult position, striving to maintain equilibrium and navigate the complexities of the rivalry. He stated that it has been very difficult for Pakistan over the last many decades to maintain a “balancing act” in its relationship with the United States and with regional powers like China.
This statement shed light on the fact that preserving national interests and avoiding becoming overly reliant on or overly aligned with either side is indeed a formidable task. Moreover, Pakistan’s recent decision to remain neutral and abstain from voting on the resolution denouncing Russian conduct in the Russia-Ukraine conflict showcases its strategic approach to avoid taking sides in international disputes. In addition to that, Pakistan’s choice to opt out of the “Democracy Summit” in Washington can also be viewed as a balancing act. By skipping the Summit, Pakistan signaled to prevent any potential strain on its longstanding friendship with China, as Taiwan was invited to participate.
Furthermore, Pakistan’s approach reflects a desire to maintain relationships with both the US and China, recognizing the realities and benefits of cooperation with each. The relationship between the US and Pakistan has been characterized as a rollercoaster journey, with its fair share of ups & downs. While facing various challenges in the form of trust deficit & unrealistic expectations both nations have managed to sustain a level of cooperation and collaboration across multiple fronts. The US remains Pakistan’s largest export destination, a crucial military partner, and has recently approved substantial equipment sales of $450 million worth to support Pakistan’s F-16 fighter jets. Moreover, the US has played a pivotal role as Pakistan’s largest economic partner, a steadfast ally in the war against terrorism, and a valuable source of support during times of crisis, such as the devastating floods in 2022. Additionally, the US assisted Pakistan in securing a recent IMF deal, underscoring the depth of collaboration in diverse fields. Indeed, it appears that both the US and Pakistan have made significant efforts to mend their relationship and have successfully resumed a positive trajectory.
On the other hand, Pakistan’s relationship with China is multifaceted, driven by a mutual desire to counter the strategic alliance between the US and India, as well as address China’s regional interests. Additionally, China has proven to be a time-tested friend of Pakistan, offering security, diplomatic, and moral support to protect Pakistan’s territorial integrity and the maintenance of a regional balance of power in South Asia. Furthermore, China has emerged as Pakistan’s primary arms supplier, playing a key role in bolstering defense capabilities. It helps Pakistan enhance its operational capabilities & military readiness. Moreover, China is positively contributing to Pakistan’s economic uplift via the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is valued at an estimated $62 billion. This initiative has so far received $25.4 billion in direct Chinese investment to enhance economic growth, infrastructure development, and connectivity between the two nations. In addition to that, Pakistan relies on China for consistent support in countering the asymmetrical rivalry with India and internationalizing the Kashmir issue – an aspect where the US side has not provided similar backing. These factors highlight the deepening relations between the two Asian neighbors.
The aforementioned realities highlight that Pakistan cannot afford to align itself with a single bloc and opting for a US or Chinese bloc would be a disastrous and self-destructive policy.
Pakistan should continue its policy of maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with both sides without undermining its core national interests.
If ever questioned about which side Pakistan stands on, the answer should be “On the side of national interest”. It emphasizes that Pakistan rejects the idea of subscribing to bloc politics and being entrapped in another great power rivalry.
The Author is an M.phil in Strategic Studies from National Defense University (NDU), Islamabad. He is a Research Assistant at Strategic Vision Institution (SVI), Islamabad. He tweets @Bakarrrr0013.