In the coming years, China’s policy for Pakistan will be driven by multiple factors. First, while the anti-India hedge in Beijing’s Pakistan policy has receded, it has by no means disappeared. Beijing’s role in the India-Pakistan equation could once again come to the fore in the unlikely scenario of an American military withdrawal from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Second, the security of South-western China, specifically for stabilising Beijing’s tenuous hold over Tibet and Xinjiang makes Pakistan an important neighbour. Third, as part of Beijing’s plans to rejuvenate western China, Pakistan’s geography offers a useful, albeit unstable, geo-economic corridor with West Asia and Africa.
In fact, there are striking similarities between the South Asia policies of Washington and Beijing. While seeking to improve relations with New Delhi, both have refused to abandon their traditional policies that sustained Pakistan as a militarily relevant state and legitimised the rule of its feudal elites. Clearly, abandonment of Pakistan runs contrary to both countries’ strategic template for South Asia. This is as much a reflection of New Delhi’s inability to reorient the foreign policies of Washington and Beijing as it is of the latter two powers’ refusal to endorse India’s regional power position beyond mere rhetoric.
Ironically, it is New Delhi that has made the adjustments and compromises to seek an accommodation with its irredentist western neighbour in order to sustain its prized bilateral partnerships with the latter’s benefactors. New Delhi’s post-Mumbai diplomatic offensive is nothing but a half-serious attempt to “isolate” Pakistan without invoking even basic political countermeasures like suspension of bilateral diplomatic relations or imposition of sanctions, for fear of complicating US policy and hence the ensuing course of Indo-US relations.
Given that, for the foreseeable future India’s influence over the political choices that are made in Pakistan will remain perfunctory, Indian strategists ought to systematically and dispassionately monitor the evolving objectives and policies of Pakistan’s benefactors. For example, it is baffling how the transfer of Chinese JF-17 fighter aircraft to Pakistan invites instant condemnation by Indian analysts, while the transfer of F-16s by the US is somehow condoned.