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US and Pakistan Relations ‘Subset of US, China Rivalry’

The success of the Afghan peace process, which has been facilitated by Islamabad, will determine the future direction of US ties with Pakistan under a Biden presidency, says a report (For US-Pakistan relationship, all roads go through Kabul).

Therefore, the report adds, “all eyes in Pakistan remain focused on Kabul…to determine what the tenor of what was once a key strategic US alliance in the region will be”.

The policy in USA is driven by their State interests, says an Islamabad-based observer who has been an ambassador. “So there can be minor alterations here and there depending on who the President is,” he says –a view shared earlier by other observers we discussed post-polls.

“One (however) has to be clear what America’s state interests are on global agenda…they will pursue that,” says the former envoy who has served in the Middle East. Secondly, their defense policy for national security policy declares China as their enemy, he points out. “So we will be on the wrong side of the fence when it comes to “containment of China policy”. Historically, according to him, Pakistan’s relations with Washington has been transactional, “and it will remain so depending on the situation in the Middle East or in Afghanistan or situations vis-a-vis,” he says…”but it would be better if there’s a little change with Democrat’s win this time rather than Trump”.

In his view, the new administration will have its hands full for a year or two and Pakistan may not be under focus. “Our multilateral relations should proceed unimpeded.”

According to a Pakistani defense analyst, Afghanistan can be a temporary relief in short term. “But with Indo-US strategic alliance now taking tangible shape, Pakistan will find itself in the other side of the fence,” the analyst adds. His view dovetails former envoy’s. According to him, “this will happen if the Pak-US relations are viewed through Indian lens”…”but I think we can navigate this tricky path and minimize the damage by adopting a pragmatic approach”.

When asked whether US perceptions and relations in the region, particularly with Pakistan could be a subset of US-China strategic rivalry, the Pakistani defense expert agrees. “Indo-US budding alliance is in response to this strategic rivalry”, he says.

A US-China relations and South Asia expert based in Asia-Pacific says it is a relevant point; Highlighting key historical points of US, China and Pakistan relations, he says “in 1970, Pakistan was the conduit for secret communications between Nixon/Kissinger and Zhou Enlai. Until around 1988, Pakistan was a key party to US-China collaboration in Afghanistan” he says. “Once the Soviet forces left Afghanistan, Pakistan’s import in US eyes fell”. In his view, since 1989, China, too, lost its attractions in US view. “From the mid-1990s, both China and Pakistan became negative actors from US perspectives.”

“It may not be beyond the realms of impossibilities that Pakistan faces another “with us or against us” demand from US against China in the near future”, says the Islamabad-based analyst.

Earlier in September (weeks before US Election 2020), Prime Minister Imran Khan tip-toed on the matter. During an interview with Aljazeera, he said Pakistan’s future is linked with China. Having said so, Khan added: “Pakistan does not have to be in any camp. Why can’t we have good relationship with everyone?”.

Will Afghan peace be a game changer?

“There is no doubt that American view about Pakistan post-9/11 was shaped by events in Afghanistan. But lately US perceptions/relations have become the subset of US-China strategic rivalry,” says the Islamabad based analyst.

US approach towards Pakistan, India or for that matter any other important regional players in Asia, have been defined by its larger Asia policy, he says. “During Cold War, as the priority was to contain the Soviet communist state, US engaged China to isolate Soviet Russia and used Pakistan as a bridge in the process,” he says. In his view, US grand strategy post-1995 has been to prevent the rise of any formidable power in Asia and in that context it sees emerging China as a threat. “Therefore, US approach toward Pakistan is defined by China question”.

So it’s a hot mix, a Dubai-based observer tells DesPardes. “Headwinds of an emerging unhinged geopolitical rivalries are in the region, and Pakistan is the ground zero of a new world order great game,” he says.

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