Beijing or Washington – Where is Pakistan Aligned?

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With funding and IMF approval dependent on Washington’s generosity, Pakistan will have to make a difficult decision.

Pakistan was associated with Beijing in one way or another until recently when it treasured the idea of ‘no-camp’ politics. Strong geopolitical undercurrents caused it to lean towards China and expand its reach to Russia as well. All of this was due to geoeconomics. The Army Chief and the then-Prime Minister made it clear in vague terms during the Islamabad Security Dialogue in 2021 and 2022, respectively.

Another element that influenced Pakistan’s decision to take a regional strategy was the United States’ abrupt pull-out from Afghanistan. Islamabad had purposefully established its strategic position by acting as a major facilitator in ensuring that American interests were not jeopardized while they evacuated from Kabul.

However, reservations about Washington persisted; Ex-PM Imran Khan’s absolutely no edict on the lone superpower’s demand for bases and airspace was the basis of the disagreement. President Biden’s government was acting like a wounded wolf, desperate to make a comeback in Southwest Asia’s difficult terrain. However, other Central Asian governments under Russian control, like Kazakhstan, thwarted their objectives. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia were also on bad terms with Biden. The No from Islamabad was enough to create animosity. And, if diplomatic history is of any guide, the White House’s suspicion of the previous administration was too open to make a difference. And with that, the transition of leadership was complete.

So, where do Pakistan’s current associations lie? Is it with China or with the United States? The new political order is under pressure to express the obvious. It’s oscillating between two opposing poles. One of the top priorities is to gain economic credibility from international donors, all of whom are situated in Washington and can provide quick assistance. Beijing, on the other hand, is one of Pakistan’s major game-changers, with a $60 billion investment in the pipeline under the CPEC program. Not to mention the previously nurtured out-of-the-box solution with Russia to get cheap oil and wheat, which is now nowhere to be found. So, how can Pakistan get out of this bind, and what are the choices available to it?

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In terms of CPEC, it has yet to take off, and its slow rate of execution is concerning. Beijing is dissatisfied with the project’s five-year delay. Massive turnkey projects, such as ML-I, are a maze. Only three of the nine special economic zones are fully operational, and the process that would have resulted in industrialization and increased agricultural yields is mired in uncertainty. The same is true of possible passage to India and beyond via Wagah. Pakistan is estimated to have lost more than $40 billion in foreign investment due to its inability to stay up with the money now parked in Southeast Asian countries.

Islamabad is facing increased pressure from the US to separate itself from China. CPEC, on the other hand, has total support from Pakistan’s security and political sectors. What irritates me is how quickly it is becoming apparent. Pakistan will have to make a difficult decision, with funding and IMF approval dependent on Washington’s generosity, Islamabad will never relinquish its Beijing strategy, but it may always stage Macbeth. That, however, would be suicidal.

What Washington is demanding in the name of a new Pakistani policy is too dangerous to deliver: acceptance of Israel, Indian hegemony, and a cold shoulder toward Kashmiris. This is a strategic miscalculation for Pakistan. That would be unacceptable to either the nation or the security establishment. Pakistan must make a strategic decision today in order to protect its long-term interests. The US is just too crucial to be overlooked. However, following it blindly comes with a lot of risks. Similarly, there are cords attached to Chinese and Russian pillows. This may be summarized in a single sentence: rewrite a progressive and reasonable foreign policy.

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