Pakistan will have to remain cautious as the ramifications of the worsening US-China ties start to loom over South Asia. Pakistan will likely be in a dangerous strategic position due to the hostile U.S.-China ties and the expanding strategic relationship between the United States and India. The future of ties between the United States and Pakistan will increasingly rely on how the country handles its relations with China and India. Comparing a Biden government to a Trump administration, Washington is likelier to treat Beijing more leniently. Yet, a significant improvement in ties with New Delhi appears doubtful, and rivalry with China is expected to continue for years. Islamabad will need to take a balanced stance to preserve strategic parity with China and the United States. Islamabad has an interest in fostering good relations with both nations.
Although if Pakistan would prefer not to support one side in the U.S.-China conflict, the strategic alliance between the two countries may compel it to do so. Thus, Pakistan must keep highlighting the effects of a strategic cooperation between the United States and India that is not conditioned on maintaining regional peace, as well as how this partnership may put Pakistan in an awkward and unwelcome position.
If Pakistan would prefer not to support one side in the U.S.-China conflict, the strategic alliance between the two countries may compel it to do so.
India has decided; it will be interesting to watch how far it is willing to take this partnership. Since 2016, India’s expanding strategic partnership with the U.S., as evidenced by agreements like the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), and the most recent Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), has shown India’s preference for the U.S. In order to confront the growing impact of a shared and imminent military threat from China, these accords opened the doors for long-term strategic and military collaboration between the two governments. Likewise, the necessity to strengthen India’s capabilities as a Significant Military Partner in South Asia to balance China is emphasized in the U.S. Strategy Framework for the Indo-Pacific, declassified in the Trump administration’s closing days. But, because it relies on its northern neighbor for commerce, India still needs help to distance itself from China. China continues to be India’s top trading partner, accounting for 16% of imports, despite the unsolved Ladakh dispute and the growth of social media efforts to boycott Chinese goods. The Indian economy would still suffer from a boycott of Chinese goods in favor of domestic alternatives; thus, severing all ties with China does not seem practical.
The primary objectives of Pakistan’s foreign policy should be to present this crucially developing situation in South Asia to the main international powers and to explain how it may develop in the future.
Although Washington politicians are anxious to strengthen relations with India in order to confront China, Pakistan may be forced to bear the negative effects of the U.S.-India military alliance. To compete with the U.S. military might, China is upgrading its military. This discourages India from participating in a protracted military battle with China. As previously said, New Delhi is likewise in no position to sever ties with China; thus, it could try to prevent a military conflict. The Indian military arsenal, in contrast, might be used against Pakistan, and Islamabad is afraid that New Delhi may be more likely to use its new weapons against Pakistani targets than Chinese ones. Suppose Pakistan modernizes and increases its arsenal in reaction to India. In that case, this is likely to lead to regional instability, a security crisis, and the start of an arms race that might have disastrous consequences.
The primary objectives of Pakistan’s foreign policy should be to present this crucially developing situation in South Asia to the main international powers and to explain how it may develop in the future. With the United States continued military assistance to India, unintentional escalation and accidental wars can occur. Pakistan is aware that there is minimal chance of a reversal in the near future due to the strategic alliance between the United States and India. Yet, the United States wants to continue acting as a regional stabilizer, as it has in the past. In that case, it will need to reexamine a partnership with India as its principal South Asian partner.
Pakistan must purchase cutting-edge military equipment in order to preserve strategic stability with India. Due to the increased chances of developing long-term defense strategies in a hybrid conflict, Pakistan may expand defense collaboration with China, notably in cyber and space infrastructure.
Yet, Pakistan must depend on more than the United States to guarantee its security, particularly in light of the expanding strategic alliance between the United States and India. Because of this, Pakistan must keep its connections to China strong. Also, Pakistan must purchase cutting-edge military equipment in order to preserve strategic stability with India. Due to the increased chances of developing long-term defense strategies in a hybrid conflict, Pakistan may expand defense collaboration with China, notably in cyber and space infrastructure. Autonomous systems, artificial intelligence, air defense systems, and quantum computing might all be used in defense collaboration with China to narrow the strategic imbalance gap.
Along with helping Pakistan’s military modernize, China has restored Pakistan’s prominence by preparing to connect it to the rest of the globe through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Pakistan, a developing nation with many socioeconomic issues, must take advantage of the growth opportunities presented by CPEC. CPEC is crucial for the region as a whole as well as Pakistan’s economy. Outright U.S. backing for India in the energy, technological, and military spheres is likely to push Pakistan to strengthen its economic connections with China to boost its own economic might to compete with India. This might affect ties between Pakistan and the United States by pitting the two nations against each other and closing doors to possible areas of economic collaboration.
China has restored Pakistan’s prominence by preparing to connect it to the rest of the globe through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Pakistan, a developing nation with many socioeconomic issues, must take advantage of the growth opportunities presented by CPEC. CPEC is crucial for the region as a whole as well as Pakistan’s economy.
While collaboration with China would advance Pakistan’s economic and military standing, good ties with the United States as an enduring friend should not be overshadowed. Both nations must recognize each other’s national security issues and take a more impartial stance in order to improve collaboration between the United States and Pakistan. For example, Pakistan shouldn’t support either China or the United States’ stance on problems like Hong Kong or the South China Sea. Similarly, the United States shouldn’t support either India or Pakistan in bilateral security disputes as it seemed to do during the Pulwama/Balakot crisis.
The Trump administration has reservations about the CPEC element of China-Pakistan ties, particularly because it saw strategic flaws in the debt trap and the infrastructure development program. By designating a non-military individual as the project’s leadership, Pakistan may allay such concerns in Washington. Regarding CPEC, the Biden administration should be careful to avoid escalating tensions with China and cease giving Pakistan the absurd “us” or “them” choice. The Pakistani administration must assuage Washington’s concerns while advancing bilateral cooperation in the fields of education, immigration, and health.
The United States’ involvement in South Asia during the last two decades has significantly shaped the security dynamics of the area. Cooperation between the United States and Pakistan is essential because both countries need a workable solution to end years of unrest in the area. Pakistan has been appointed as an important actor in the Afghan peace process, demonstrating that despite the highs and lows of bilateral ties between the United States and Pakistan, Islamabad would always have a special place in Washington’s security calculations. Considering that Pakistan’s changing ties with the U.S. have improved as a consequence of its involvement in the Afghan peace process, it is now time for the U.S. to pay attention to possible regional instability caused by its military backing for India.
The two nations don’t have to move towards disengagement in the modern multipolar world, where China and India’s positions progressively influence Pakistan and the United States’ relationship. Disengagement has the danger of undermining American popularity in Pakistan, luring that country unwittingly closer to China, and eventually jeopardizing U.S. interests in the area, such as those related to Afghanistan or regional stability.
Research Scholar and Academic; Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Pisa, Italy. Dr. Usman has participated in various national and international conferences and published 30 research articles in international journals.