By Syed Samiullah
Pakistan occupies a strategically significant position, offering both connectivity and trade advantages while also presenting certain challenges. Throughout history, major powers have consistently sought to strengthen their ties with Pakistan to serve their diverse interests. The United States, in particular, has demonstrated a clear interest in Pakistan since its inception. Pakistan’s active involvement as the leading member of the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) from 195455 showcased its alignment with the United States during much of the Cold War.
However, during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, the United States deviated from its pledge by refusing to provide military support to Pakistan. This decision fueled widespread anti-American sentiments in the country, leading many to question the reliability of the United States as an ally. The disillusionment peaked, impacting the trust Pakistan placed in its alliance.
The turning point came in 1971-72 when Pakistan terminated its alliance with the United States following the East-Pakistan war, resulting in the secession of East Pakistan with India’s assistance. Subsequently, Pakistan sought to improve relations with the Soviet Union, but this endeavor was short-lived.
The dynamics changed in 1979 with the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, driven by a desire for warm-water access. This event prompted the U.S. to reestablish closer ties with Pakistan, a relationship that endured until the defeat of the USSR. The post-9/11 era brought renewed vigor to the alliance, with the U.S. enlisting Pakistan as a key ally in its war on terrorism. However, this partnership experienced fluctuations until 2021 when the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan signaled the end of this strategic cooperation.
President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger utilized Pakistan’s close ties with the People’s Republic of China to initiate covert communications, leading to Kissinger’s secret visit to China in July 1971 following his visit to Pakistan. These interactions eventually paved the way for President Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972, marking the normalization of relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.
In contrast to the U.S., China, a rising economic giant, approaches its partnership with Pakistan in a distinct manner. The China-Pakistan relationship, rooted in historical cooperation, has gained strength with the introduction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Internationally, Pakistan is acknowledged as a crucial player in this initiative, highlighting its significance alongside China. Despite Western efforts to counter the BRI and restrain China, targeting Pakistan due to its role in the project, Pakistan resiliently reinforces its ties with China. As a consequence, Pakistan encounters opposition from the U.S. and other Western nations. The recent stringent conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are viewed not as ordinary measures but as repercussions of Pakistan’s alignment with China.
In the bid to counter China, both the U.S. and Europe have bolstered India’s influence, contributing not only to India’s economic growth but also fortifying its strategic position. Initiatives like the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) and the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII) offer India new prospects while posing challenges for Pakistan due to its economic and strategic alliance with China.
The QUAD, comprising the United States, Australia, India, and Japan, initially centered on maritime cooperation but has expanded its focus to address broader issues encompassing security, economics, and health. Alongside, the PGII, a G-7 project valued at 36 billion USD, was initiated to rival China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
In this context, Pakistan not only finds itself marginalized but also targeted by these groups solely due to its friendship with China. Beyond challenges from the U.S. and India, Pakistan faces baseless accusations from other states. Despite understanding Pakistan’s economic challenges, false narratives, such as claims of selling weaponry to Ukraine against Russia, persist.
Even if hypothetically true, given Pakistan’s struggle for survival and the absence of robust support from China and Russia, such actions could be justified. The prevailing circumstances necessitate a nuanced understanding of Pakistan’s intricate geopolitical challenges.
Examining the alliance between Pakistan and China reveals a profound connection, although there’s a perception that China hasn’t provided the substantial support Pakistan merits. The disturbance and imbalance in Pakistan’s geo-economic position indirectly affect China. To rectify this, Pakistan requires support from China to enhance its global export capacity.
Currently, a notable disparity is evident when comparing the trade volumes between Pakistan and China. Pakistan’s exports amount to no more than 1 billion USD, significantly lower than China’s exports exceeding 15 billion dollars. This imbalance stems from Pakistan’s limited industrial base, causing the gradual contraction of its small industry and resulting in various economic challenges.
China can play a pivotal role in helping Pakistan overcome these challenges by implementing strategic measures. These may include eliminating duties on Pakistani imports, providing special trade incentives comparable to the European GST Plus or American Increase Market Plus, importing small weaponry from Pakistan, and expediting the development of Economic Zones under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Pakistan is in dire need of an immediate and substantial financial assistance package, a financial commitment well within China’s capabilities. The rising inflation rate not only exacerbates the difficulties faced by the average Pakistani but also hampers overall production, business operations, and trade, consequently resulting in increased unemployment and heightened instability.
A financial intervention from China would alleviate the multifaceted economic pressure on Pakistan, fortifying the nation and providing various benefits to China. This support would secure China’s significant projects, enhancing the trust and reliance of other nations on China and its initiatives. Neglecting to address these economic challenges may transform the infrastructure developed during the initial phase of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) into a burden for both countries.
Fundamentally, it is vital for regional powers, specifically China and Russia, to acknowledge that mitigating regional instability aligns with their best interests instead of disregarding it. This becomes especially crucial when the destabilization is initiated by adversaries or competing powers like the US, India, or other Western nations, as it can lead to direct or indirect consequences affecting these countries.
The author is a Research Officer at Rabita Forum International (RFI) and associate Editor of the Monthly Interaction.