As the new US administration marched into White House under Trump, Pakistan launched a fresh offensive in Washington. The short-term goal is to use the Administration’s leverage to block a bill that seeks to declare Pakistan as a state that sponsors terrorism, while the broader strategy is to get the Administration to to push India on the backfoot with regard to Kashmir.
Nevertheless, the problem is more complex than it seems. No US administration, including the current one, can grant Pakistan more relevancy in South Asia than a transactional relationship that currently exists. This is because, the alignments and balances of power in the region that includes Saudi Arabia, Iran and China are changing fast and Pakistan unfortunately has already made bad choices in this geo-strategic chess-board.
Pakistan under its military leadership has already pivoted toward China that has made the US, Iran, Afghanistan and India jittery about the current developments. India seriously fears that Beijing and Islamabad are colluding to encircle India to breakaway from the maritime noose that the US has built around China in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. China is striving hard to make Sri Lanka its strategic ally in this equation to keep the Indian Ocean friendly for Chinese vessels and Pakistan is trying to benefit from the situation by having a foothold on what India considers its back-water.
The United States navy is obviously watching this development with unease. Any change in status quo in Indian ocean and the Persian Gulf would seriously damage the US influence in the Middle East and Washington and Delhi are on the same page as far as the supremacy of Indian ocean lines are concerned.
If China has to shake-off the stranglehold, the Gwadar port is key to its aspirations as it would connect China to the world’s busiest energy route through land and if pipelines and other infrastructure could be built. As such, Beijing could outmanoeuvre the US maritime grip not only in South China Sea but in the Indian ocean as well. Thus the importance of CPEC.
By joining the Islamic countries military alliance under Saudi Arabia and awarding control of the Gawadar port to China, Pakistan has already made its choices clear.
For the first time in the entire Pak-US relations history, Pakistan and the US have little in common with respect to their national interests. Through the prism of the US, Pakistan now is only good for delivering intelligence on the Haqqani network and to lure the Pashtun Taliban to the negotiating table. If these deliverables can’t be granted then from Washington’s point of view there is little difference between Pakistan and Iran.
Also disengaging from Washington at this time is fraught with ending the military relationship with Pakistan, which is worth $750 million annually in Coalition Support Fund.
Another stick is that dangling overhead as well is a bill to declare Pakistan as a state that sponsors terrorism. If that is approved , Pakistan would find it extremely hard to trade with the Western world and its isolation would cripple it economically.
Additionally, if that is bill is passed China would be unable to help Pakistan. As opposed to the US, China wouldn’t be able to give that much aid to the Pakistan military. While, Pakistan’s army could ask for security funds for the Chinese working on projects in Pakistan and also the security of the Chinese installation from Gwadar to Kashgir, it won’t be enough for the military that has regional ambitions.
In the long term, in the absence of any strategic relationship with Islamabad, Pakistan would still like to maintain a friendly conversation with the US. This is because Islamabad has known that all roads leading to Kashmir go through Washington. Even if and when a solution to the Kashmir problem is mooted in the world capitals it would be the US and the West who could broker a deal and not Beijing that is seen by Delhi a rival instead of a broker.
Putting all eggs in the basket of Beijing and in the process making Iran and Afghanistan enemies on top of India, Pakistan is soon going to have its hands burnt. Making three out of four bordering countries hostile is going to be a classic recipe for disaster in coming years. The best course would have been to get together with both China and India and carve a respectable partnership with Iran and Afghanistan. Islamabad could even act as a bridge between Delhi and Beijing as it once played bridge between the US and China in the 1970s.
If China and the US get caught in a hot swirl in Persian gulf and South Indian Ocean, then Gwadar and Balochistan could become a battleground for many powers including Russia and as such Pakistan could become another Balkan state. In this scenario, the only question on the minds of the worried world would be what to do with the nukes?