The US-China Cold War is building up just as the South Asian region is undergoing phenomenal changes. One direct impact has been ejection of India from Iran’s major strategic projects, especially in and around the Chahbahar Port – which, let’s not forget, was mean to rival Gawadar in the long run – at a time when Tehran and Beijing have inked a $400 billion pact. This provides Pakistan with a rare opportunity to reassert its regional influence but for that it would have to play its cards very carefully.
Washington has no doubt made it a top policy priority to confront China in the last days of President Trump’s first term. The closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, which the Chinese called outrageous, is a decisive thrust and it is no surprise that such a move came after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while in the UK recently, called for a global coalition to confront China. The Chinese, to their credit, realise full well that it is regional groupings that matter most in the present context, since they allow countries to tap into each other strengths and resources. That is why its deal with Iran, which is also pretty unfairly sidelined by America, makes so much sense. With the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and now this pact, the Chinese are at the centre of the biggest projects in the region and all parts of the alliances they build in the process will benefit from them. Beijing is also good friends with Moscow, so its partnerships in the region are already creating a large crescent though should be able to meet its own needs and protect its own interests when it matters.
Pakistan, though as close to China as possible, is still not in any such meaningful regional grouping. One reason is that over the years the government of the day always saw it fit to sit in a camp far, far away simply because it took care of our most basic need – money. But now that the world is changing and India is clearly America’s best friend in the region, Pakistan needs to finally settle the question of its own long-term position. And while there is no reason to move away from Washington at all, especially since both still need each other for various reasons, there is now a need to make more reliable regional alliances as well.