Pakistan has once again stated the obvious hinting at an indispensable rapprochement between China and the United States — the two global superpowers. Islamabad’s policy-perspective is to stay aloof from camp politics, and be free from the power blocs that had literally pained in the past decades. After being part of various Cold War alliances with Washington, as well as its allied-ally, Pakistan was left high and dry. The biggest price it paid was in the form of siding with the US on its contentious war on terrorism that bled Pakistan to the core, resulting in a loss of more than $150 billion. And, now, both the reigning major powers are looking up to Pakistan for being a participatory ally to further their own agendas.
The spat was evident as Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin snubbed US secretary of State Anthony Blinken on his remarks that Pakistan should first engage in a rescheduling of loans with China, before asking for financial assistance from the West. This came in the backdrop of Islamabad’s SOS in the wake of the recent unprecedented floods that have devastated its economy to the tune of more than $10 billion. The flip side is that the Americans are sceptical of Beijing’s funds in Pakistan, especially under the flagship CPEC initiative. The mantra that Chinese loans are inundating Pakistan’s economy is the new narrative of the West, with the express intention to create bad blood. Washington and Beijing are in a power duel and Pakistan falls is in booby-trap as a convenient and accessible friend.
Foreign Minister Bilawal Zardari, nonetheless, is on the spot as he remarked that Pakistan can best act as a bridge between the two power stakeholders. It played this role in the 1970s, helping the President Nixon administration reach out to the Chinese capital, then called Peking. That mediation enabled Washington to reform it into One-China policy. The rest is history, as Pakistan was forgotten and abandoned time and again. In the new era, when the globe is again slipping into bipolarity, Pakistan has to watch its national interests and there is no such thing as alignment.
Islamabad has a lot to offer as a strategic partner to both the US and China. It sits at the crossroads of CPEC-BRI transition, linking Central Asia and Afghanistan to the warm waters through Karachi and Gwadar. Likewise, Islamabad is the most sought-after strategic partner for Washington when it comes to brokering peace in South West Asia, and keeping the Taliban-led Afghanistan free from turmoil. In such a capacity, how can Pakistan be a biased actor on the global stage? Time for China and the United States to reorient their relationship with Pakistan in an irritant-free bilateralism.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 1st, 2022.