With the evident change in world politics and international alignments, it is undoubtedly clear that the United States is no more the sole superpower, and it faces a challenge to its established hegemony. After emerging as the conqueror of the Cold War in the 1990s, the United States asserted itself in every possible manner and dictated the terms for the conduct of international trade and diplomacy. Although smaller challenges, like regional wars and disputes, did act as a nuisance for the hegemon, they were anything but a potent challenge to its status.
Even the transnational terrorist organizations lacked the capacity to dent America’s status as the leader of the world. However, China is no small nuisance but a potent challenge; at least that is how the United States frames it. To quote the phrase from US National Security Strategy 2022, “PRC is the only competitor with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it.” Thus, the United States itself looks forward to dealing with a challenger in the coming days.
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Understanding the matter better
The reshaping of world politics will certainly cause a reshaping of how alliances will be shifted, and strategic culture will be altered worldwide. Smaller states are destined to be directly and indirectly affected by the turning tide of Sino-US rivalry and they will be required to align themselves according to their respective imperatives. Pakistan’s foreign policy might also be at an “inflection point” like the world. From being the most “allied ally” to being “the most dangerous state”, according to US President Joe Biden, Pakistan has never had a stable relationship with the United States. It has been a roller-coaster ride of close engagement and cooperation at times, to alienation from others.
It was the United States’ interest in the region since the Cold War that made Pakistan a long-term partner. This partnership remained relevant, even enhanced, during the Afghan Jihad and America’s War on Terror after 9/11. As the United States pulled out from Afghanistan, the relationship between the United States and Pakistan has evidenced unprecedented lows. As the United States’ primary concern is “out-competing” China, it has found in India a reliable partner to act as a bulwark against China and counter its attempts to dominate the region unchallenged. This, for Pakistan, is an alarming situation as the United States grows more tolerant towards India and countenances its belligerence towards Pakistan.
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China and Pakistan have not only evolved their relationship organically over the years, but they have also engaged in initiatives like BRI that pave the way for a mutually beneficial relationship. Adding to this is the reshaping of international order and changing international realities. With the American advances towards India and their mutual relationship giving an increasingly strategic outlook, Pakistan has been pushed towards the other pole of international politics. Despite this, Pakistan cannot afford to completely alienate the United States. The United States remains Pakistan’s largest export destination, a source of FDI, and power with influence over global financial institutions, falling out with whom Pakistan cannot afford. So, for Pakistan, the challenge remains not to pick the right side, but to avoid picking sides.
It is evidently a hard choice for those formulating Pakistan’s foreign policy. In a world divided into poles, as it looks will be the course of the world in the future, the states find it truly perplexing to maintain a sense of neutrality and avoid antagonizing either of the superpowers. The ideal foreign policy path would be to avoid the ramifications of being on either side and harvesting the benefits from both. This might look like an easy path to tread on paper, but it becomes almost impossible in practice. Pakistan faces the dilemma of losing the benefits from the other power when it starts cozying up with the first. China’s BRI and Pakistan’s crucial role in it is an examples of such situations.
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Pakistan might find an example to follow from a place it would not like: India. India’s foreign policy during the Cold War appeared to be unacceptable to the United States for its close engagement with the Soviet Union. However, time proved the slogan of “neutrality” and “non-alignment” to be a better course, as India was able to keep a mutually beneficial relationship with the Soviet Union and leverage its neutral position to keep the US at the table so that it does not completely slip into the Soviet sphere of influence. Pakistan needs the same prudent policy-making and execution.
It needs to leverage its position as a mutual ally for both and look for areas of cooperation between both. It needs to act as a bridge between both powers, just as it did in the 70s, and provide them with avenues of positive-sum engagements. The better norms of competition will provide Pakistan relief and boil down to a less-stressed strategic environment for Pakistan. Hence, Pakistan will find solace in a better level of cooperation between both powers. Its foreign policy will need to play its part in avoiding a more bitter Sino-US rivalry.
The writer is working as a Research Officer at CISS AJK. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.