China poised to become Pakistan’s new strategic benefactor
The United States’ top diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, visited Pakistan this month, along with the chairman the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford. This was the first high-level visit by US officials to the country after the new government in Pakistan assumed office. However, this visit failed to restore normalcy in bilateral relations.
Pakistan-US relations started deteriorating after President Donald Trump assumed office. In a New Year’s tweet, Trump blamed Pakistan for reciprocating $33 billion in US aid with deceit and lies. He threatened to cut down the aid to Pakistan and has made good his claim. Just a few days before Pompeo’s visit, the US announced it would cut $300 million in military aid to Pakistan.
Moreover, the new Pakistani government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan was contemplating applying for a financial bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, Pompeo opposes this proposed bailout package on the grounds that Pakistan would use the funds to repay Chinese loans.
In this context, Pompeo’s visit was very significant for Pakistan. Political pundits attached great importance to the outcome of his meeting with Khan. Pakistan’s new government, however, wanted to give a strong message to Washington that it would not easily bow down to US pressure. Symbolically, it sent mid-level officials from its Foreign Office to greet Pompeo at the airport. However, the tough message given by Pakistan failed to pressure Pompeo and his team.
Pompeo arrived in Pakistan on September 5 and spent only two hours in the country. He met with Khan in a high-level meeting where the military leadership of Pakistan was also present. Pompeo later told the press that he wanted to reset Pakistan-US relations after the change of guard in Islamabad.
At the same time, he told Pakistan’s leadership that it needed to take “sustained and decisive measures” against terrorists who threaten regional peace. He defended the US decision to cut $300 million in aid to Pakistan. In short, the outcome of the visit did not change anything for the deteriorating relations between the two countries.
On one hand Pakistan failed to gain from Pompeo’s visit but on the other hand, its strategic arch-rival India gained a lot. After concluding his quick trip to Pakistan, Pompeo headed to India. There, he not only praised the Indian democratic system but also signed a military communications agreement.
As a part of this agreement, the US will provide India with the latest communication system, which will enable India to transmit real-time encrypted messages to its naval ships and aircraft. The US included India on its favored-nations list for receiving sophisticated military supplies through this agreement. This agreement will increase the defense capabilities of India against Pakistan and China.
This decision will have negative impacts on the strategic equation for Pakistan against India. The two countries have been at loggerheads ever since they were carved out of British India in 1947. Pakistan considers India to be its primary external security threat and blames it for fostering terrorism in Pakistan. Therefore, when the US signs a major military supply agreement with India, it’s considered to be a strong message of adversity against Pakistan.
The Pompeo visit has closed the doors on effective strategic cooperation between Pakistan and the US. This will reinforce the assertion in Islamabad that complete strategic reliance on China is inevitable for the national interests of Pakistan
The Pompeo visit has closed the doors on effective strategic cooperation between Pakistan and the US. This will not only further deteriorate the relations between those two countries but will reinforce the assertion in Islamabad that complete strategic reliance on China is inevitable for the national interests of Pakistan.
First, Pakistan is in dire need of bailout loans to keep its economy running. The US government is blocking one of the options for this bailout package in the form of the IMF, whereas China has offered to provide supplementary loans to Pakistan, in addition to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, to help it out of the financial crisis. In fact, China has provided guarantees to Pakistan for financial assistance that will allow the South Asian country to avoid the IMF option.
Second, the US is militarily supporting India, which is considered a threat by Pakistan. Indirectly, the US is increasing the strategic threats to Pakistan, as perceived by the Pakistani government. In contrast, China is not only actively opposing India in diplomatic forums for the sake of Pakistan but also militarily supporting Pakistan in the form of facilitating production of JF-17 Thunder aircraft for the Pakistan Air Force.
Third, the US government has suspended military aid at a time when Pakistan is facing problems at its western border. Pakistan has started an ambitious project to fence its entire border with Afghanistan, which is 2,430 kilometers in length. Cutting off military aid will affect the capability of Pakistan to continue fencing its porous border with Afghanistan. Given the plight of its economy, Pakistan will be left with no choice but to seek China’s help to compensate for the shortage of resources due to the reduction of US military aid to Pakistan.
Thus the failure of a major breakthrough in the meeting with Pompeo has cast aside the US as a major strategic partner for Pakistan. China is all set to take its place as the principal strategic and financial benefactor of Pakistan. This will massively increase the Chinese influence on the government of Pakistan.
Consequently, it will further reduce the influence of the US in Pakistan, which will not bode well for the latter, because the majority of global institutions are still under the influence of the US.