SPEAKING FREELY US pivot puts Pakistan in a bind
By Hamza Mannan
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
China is scheduled to overtake the United States as the largest economy in the world, going on most indicators, by around 2025. The US is planning to move 60% of its warships to the Asia-Pacific region by 2020.
Correlation doesn't always imply causation, but it’s hard to say Washington’s pivot is not linked to China’s growth.
During the past several years, actions taken by Beijing have been
interpreted by policymakers in the United States as signaling the arrival of China as a global superpower.
Not only has China sanctioned US companies attempting to deal with Taiwan, it has also voiced opposition to South Korea’s joint naval exercises with the United States and clashed diplomatically with Japan and other regional states over contested territory in the South China Sea.
China has certainly arrived, and it doesn't lack the chest-thumping triumphalism that’s characteristic of states vying for hegemony.
In 2012, Washington launched its "pivot to Asia" in response to what is perceived to be the rise of China. Six out of 10 Americans believe that the US government has handled relations with China poorly, and 67% of Americans see the rise of China as potentially destabilizing.
The move is likely to have serious consequences on the long-term relationship of both countries with Pakistan.
For one, Beijing has had deep footprints in establishing Pakistan’s inadequate infrastructure, from financing the construction and now assuming full authority of Gwadar Port in resource-rich Balochistan, to expanding and maintaining the Korakaram Highway.
Moreover, China came to Pakistan’s support in the fallout from Osama bin Laden fiasco in Abbottabad in 2011. All of this suggests that the thinking in Beijing hinges on the philosophy of securing long-term relationships with neighboring countries at the expense of short-term costs.
Similarly, the relationship between Washington and Pakistan seems to be improving. Last July the US apologized for a cross-border friendly fire incident the previous year and in September President Asif Ali Zardari met with then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session to rejuvenate the frayed relationship.
Soon afterwards, both countries signed a Bilateral Investment Treaty to increase trade ties. In spite of having boycotted the Bonn Conference, Pakistan also seems likely to have a solid stake in the future of Afghanistan with the help of Washington.
Richard Olson’s confirmation hearings as ambassador to Pakistan underscored the fact that Washington seems to have turned a corner in acknowledging the sacrifices made on the part of Pakistan in the continuing wars. Lastly, not too long ago, $688 million in Coalition Support Funds were reimbursed to the country. Despite what the 24-hour media cycle may tell you, the bond is surely strengthening and things are looking bright.
The time will come when Pakistan will have to choose in the tug-of-war between Washington and Beijing, between democracy and authoritarianism, between influence and development. At present, Pakistan seems to be walking a tight rope, a position that isn't novel in its history.
At the end of the Cold War, politicians in Islamabad chose amicable relations with Washington and rebuffed attempts made by Moscow to increase ties. This time however, the decision will have more pronounced effects across the region.
Pakistanis across the spectrum seem to have an aversion to dependency, yet seem to find themselves entrenched with deep structural ties decade after decade. Ahmad Rashid, who the late Christopher Hitches called Pakistan’s “most daring journalist,” stated in a talk given at the University of California, Santa Barbara that the root of Pakistan’s problem extends to the fallout from the Cold War.
Following the Cold War, emerging economies such as Malaysia, Singapore and India learned to administer their own policies, and maintained no such long lasting and ancillary relationships. Pakistan, on the other hand, has been dependent on both Beijing and Washington to project its voice on the global stage.
Both Washington and Beijing are entrenched in the region, fighting an unacknowledged preparatory war of influence that is likely to embroil both Pakistan and its historically dependent relationship on both countries.
Which side it chooses will have a consuming impact on its politics for decades to come.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Hamza Mannan is a political science student at the University of California. His research interests lie in charting the effects of urbanization on ethnic politics in Pakistan.