A nuclear-powered, volatile Pakistan should not drift to be a vassal state of China — it’s against U.S. and India’s interests
The ousted Pakistan premier, Imran Khan has gone hammer and tongs at the newly formed coalition government in Islamabad led by Shehbaz Sharif. In a huge rally of his ardent supporters held on May 26 in Islamabad, he launched a blistering attack on the incumbent leadership challenging it to advance the scheduled date of the next general election from October next year to an early date. He demanded that the government must declare it by June 1. and declare it by June 1 deadline. Mr. Khan castigated the U.S. for engineering his exit, and claimed Pakistani’s wouldn’t countenance a foreign power deciding who would rule them.
Mr. Khan’s full-throated tirade against the U.S. so publicly made takes the country’s relation with Washington to a nadir. President Biden recently paid a visit to Japan and South Korea to further cement diplomatic ties with these long-time partners in order to bolster a front against a belligerent China. However, he chose not to go to Pakistan which had been its trusted alley for most of the Cold War period and also later when the U.S was trying to disentangle itself from the messy Afghanistan. Sensing an opportunity here, China has stepped in to cash in on Pakistan’s insecurity and has just hosted its new foreign minister Mr. Bilwal Bhutto.
The ignominious and chaotic end to the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan aggravated the distrust between Washington and Islamabad. The U.S. became wary of further involvement in the region. The relation between the two countries have been rocky in recent times as the U.S. continues to nurse the grudge against Pakistan suspected to have played a double game with it for years.
Guided by his historical antipathy against the U.S. Imran Khan bitterly reminds his supporters how the former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, threatened Pakistan to bomb the country “back to the stone age” if it hesitated to join President Bush’s ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s entry into the “war on terror’ as U.S alley cost it dearly. It lost nearly 70,000 lives and suffered a staggering loss of150 billion USD. The protracted involvement in Afghanistan spawned vicious extremism at home plunging Pakistan in bloody terror attacks and political turmoil. To make matters worse for Pakistan, the U.S. began to perceive it as a dubious alley. The ISI (Intelligence outfit of Pakistan army) was seen as an abettor of Taliban attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The discovery of Osama Bin Laden in Abotabad in a house close to an army cantonment confirmed U.S. doubts that Pakistan was hand in gloves with the Al-Queda and other such militant outfits that were hell bent on harming the U. S. in all possible ways. Every Pakistani action in Afghanistan was seen a ploy to bolster the Taliban at the cost of the U.S.-backed Karzai government in Kabul.
Relations between the U.S. and the Pakistan have been on a roller coaster since the 1950s and early 1960s. First, Pakistan was seen as a frontline state in combating spread of communism in Asia. The U.S. lavished millions in cash and weaponry that Pakistan received with gratitude and glee. When Pakistan tried to befriend Egypt and China in 1965, the U.S. was peeved and suspended all its generous aid. The bilateral relations took a hit. Relations were in the upswing again in the 1970s when the Nixon and Ford administrations asked Pakistan to facilitate a détente with China. Later, under Pakistan fell out of favour of the U.S. for setting up uranium enrichment facilities. All military and financial aid to Pakistan was stopped.
Although pushed at gun point, Pakistan sided with America to strafe the Soviet forces out of Afghanistan. Pakistan returned to the good books of the U.S. again. Sadly for Pakistan, the bilateral relations went downhill again, thanks to the Pressler Amendment in the U.S. Senate sanctioned Islamabad for its Uranium enrichment programme. This embittered Pakistan leading it to cosy up to China with added vigor. The Al-Qaeda led 9/11 attacks triggered massive outrage in the country that led to the U.S. led ‘war on terror’. Pakistan had to fight the Taliban who had taken over Afghanistan after the ouster of Soviet forces.
As President Trump hastened to pull out U.S. forces from Afghanistan, bilateral relations again got bedeviled by distrust and acrimony. Pakistan was convinced switching over to the Chinese camp was the only option left for it. Jettisoning the wobbly Pakistan, the U.S. doubled up its efforts to take India to its camp, much to the chagrin of Pakistan. The QUAD, a coalition of the U.S., Japan, Australia, and India was formed to counter China’s growing influence in Asia. India is also one of the participating countries in the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework—just announced by Biden—that is aimed at countering China’s economic influence.
Pakistan, now feels China is its best friend and savior
Pakistan has been gung-ho about the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It’s a massive infrastructure programme that envisages a huge network of roads to link the Arbian Sea with China. Most part of this massive $62 billion infrastructure runs through Pakistan. This ambitious plan puts China in the driver’s seat in the economically-ruined, and politically unstable Pakistan. Politicians in Pakistan cutting across party lines now compete with one another to shower praise on China. Clearly, relation with the U.S. is still valued in Pakistan, but the flavor of the day is China.
No doubt, the Pakistan army calls the shots in the formation and policy orientation of any civilian government in the country. Imran Khan had rode to power on the army’s back. The Army has no desire to seize power now, but it wants Pakistan to revive its once cordial relations with the U.S. With a struggling economy, a huge pile of foreign debt, and a restive NWFP region, Pakistan needs a dependable, all-weather friend. The U.S. fits into this role better than China does. Very crucially, the much-needed IMF emergency assistance will not be sanctioned without the U.S. nod.
It is in this context, Imran Khan tirade against the U.S is seen as inopportune, and ill-thought. If mran return to power, a rapprochement with the U.S. will become very difficult. The all-powerful military’s top commanders realize this.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s shaky coalition government, understandably, wants to mend fences with the U.S. and has begun conciliatory overtures to Washington. Foreign Minister Bhutto is in the same page as his boss, and wants the heydays of the past friendliness to return.
For India, a blossoming relationship between Beijing and Islamabad does not augur well for the future. It’s in India’s interest to see that Pakistan does not kowtow to China. It could multiply India’s security nightmare. Normalizing of Pak-U.S. relations can have a sobering influence on Pakistan’s anti-India elements.