It comes as no surprise that Pakistani authorities are looking toward China after the US State Department decided to suspend security assistance to Islamabad on Thursday. China has been a close regional ally of Pakistan
for decades and has often provided the South Asian nation with much-needed financial and diplomatic support. Currently, Beijing is spearheading a nearly $60 billion (€50 billion) China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), whichis part of its international One Belt One Road initiative. Pakistani officials say the project would boost the country’s economy
and help alleviate its energy crisis. Now China also has the opportunity to replace the US as Pakistan’s biggest security financier. But it is unclear whether Beijing would be interested in increasing military aid to Islamabad. Also, assuming that China is willing to fill the void left by the US, would its security assistance be equivalent to what Washington had been offering to Islamabad?
Pakistan finds itself in a tight spot after US President Donald Trump’s January 1 tweet, in which he lashed out at the Pakistan for taking billions of dollars in US aid in exchange for “lies and deceit.”
“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing
but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
It was not an empty threat. The US State Department on Thursday announced the White House’s decision to suspend security assistance to Pakistan worth around $900 million. State Department spokes woman Heather Nauert said the decision signaled growing frustration in the White House over Pakistan’s failure
to target terrorist networks attacking US troops stationed in Afghanistan. But China’s own concerns about Pakistan-based Islamist militants are no secret. With the US out of the picture, China could actually dictate its terms to the Pakistani military
and government over the extremism issue. What can China offer? A day after Trump’s Pakistan tweet, Geng Shuang, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, came to Islamabad’s defense. “Pakistan has made great efforts and sacrifices for combating terrorism and made prominent contributions to the cause of international counter terrorism, and the international communitys hould fully recognize this. We welcome Pakistan and other countries’ cooperation on counter terrorism and in other fields on the basis of mutual respect and their joint commitment to the security and stability of the region and the
world. ” Geng said at a press conference this week. “China stands ready to further deepen cooperation with Pakistan in various fields to bring greater benefits to the two peoples.” He added.
But can a strategic partnership with China be a substitute for Pakistan’s ties with the US? After all, US troops are stationed in
Pakistan’s neighborhood, Afghanistan. The US military bases are spread across the region, and Trump is willing to lend more support to Pakistan’s archrival India.
“It is true that China is helping Pakistan a lot, but I do not think it can replace the United States. The US has also not sought to sever bilateral ties completely; it just wants Islamabad to pay heed to its demands,” Hasan Askari, a Lahore-based security analyst told.
According to a South China Morning Post report on Friday, Trump’s decision to cut Islamabad’s aid is an opportunity for Beijing. “In South Asia, there is one clear winner from Donald Trump’s tweet tantrums this week: China, which suddenly finds its leverage over Pakistan multiplying as a result of the US president’s mood swings,” wrote Umair Jamal. “A month ago, Pakistan pulled out of a mega-dam project under the CPEC, citing the tough financial conditions China set for the project. Should Pakistan become more isolated internationally, as Trump has threatened, it would make it far easier for China to advance the project.” Jamal added.
Some experts say that Pakistan will now be at the mercy of China. Previously, Islamabad had leverage over both China and the US regarding jihadis in the region; it has now lost it. Beijing can now force its strictest conditions
on Pakistan in terms of security and economicmatters.