Pakistan’s National Security Advisor, Dr. Moeed Yusuf, during his recent trip to the United States, publicly complained about President Joe Biden “having yet to make a telephone call” to Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Frustrated by lack of direct communication link between the two leaders, Dr. Moeed Yusuf said that if Washington continued to ignore Islamabad, then his country had “other options.”
Mr. Yusuf’s complaint stands in marked contrast to the deepening and broadening of strategic ties between New Delhi and Washington ever since Democrats assumed power following their electoral win in the 2020 elections.
In its diplomatic push to play the India card against the rising power of People’s Republic of China, which the Biden Administration has described its “peer competitor”, Washington sent its Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to visit New Delhi in March and Secretary of State Antony Blinken in July.
These high-profile visits underscore the expanding security ties between New Delhi and Washington under the Biden Administration.
China figured prominently in Blinken’s talks in New Delhi as both countries voiced their shared concern over Beijing’s assertion of its sovereignty over the disputed islands in the South China Sea and promised to work together to strengthen the Quad, an informal security alliance of Australia, Japan, United States and India aimed at containing the rise of China.
To drive the point home that all is not well between Washington and Beijing, Mr. Blinken chose to meet with representatives of Dalai Lama in New Delhi and spoke glowingly about the democratic credentials of the Modi regime.
Responding to domestic critics who regard Modi’s regime as clear threat to the future of democracy in India, Mr. Blinken “soft-pedaled” the repressive rule by Modi and described his dispensation as “work in progress”. He urged Modi’s critics to understand that India’s democracy remained the “largest expression of free political will” anywhere in the world. He went on to describe “Indian democracy as a force for good in defense of a free and open Indo-Pacific”.
New Delhi and Washington also saw their perception converge on the escalating armed violence in Afghanistan. Emphasizing the need for a negotiating settlement the only viable option for durable peace in Afghanistan, Blinken praised New Delhi for its “vital contribution to Afghanistan’s stability and development.”
Buoyed by US support, one week after Blinken’s visit, New Delhi announced deployment of its warships to the South China Sea as part of its bid to expand security ties with “friendly countries” and in an apparent move to join and play a bigger role in a US-led scheme to counter China near Chinese territorial waters. According to India’s navy, as part of their deployment, the Indian warships will also participate in annual joint war games with naval forces of the US, Japan, and Australia off the coast of Guam. “These maritime initiatives enhance synergy and coordination between the Indian Navy and friendly countries, based on common maritime interests and commitment towards Freedom of Navigation at sea,” the Indian navy further said, echoing similar claims often made by the US military.
This development would not go unnoticed by Beijing as the Indian military has traditionally remained wary of antagonizing China, but the temperament has grown harsher following clashes between troops on the disputed border between the two countries last year. New Delhi has since drawn closer to Washington in an attempt to push back against China.
Given the emergence of this Indo-US entente with the aim to counter the perceived threat from China, how should Islamabad weigh its diplomatic options? Unlike Pakistan’s ties with Washington that have seen wide fluctuations and have become totally transactional in the recent past, Sino-Pakistan ties not only have remained consistent but have become strategic especially after the initiation of CPEC project which is seen as vital to Pakistan’s future economic progress and prosperity. Based on rationality, Pakistan’s strategic calculus would dictate that faced with a choice between Washington and Beijing, Islamabad should choose Beijing as its strategic partner. The pursuit of this rational choice does not mean that Islamabad should denigrate its difficult relations with Washington or let these ties wither away at the altar of fluid geo-strategic circumstances. What it means is that Islamabad, should recognize and value its enlightened self-interest as the over-arching factor to determine its future course. The weight of historical evidence clearly suggests that Beijing has stood by Islamabad in the most difficult times. It is worth recalling that in 1962 President John F. Kennedy had written a letter to President Ayub Khan assuring him of American help in case of Indian aggression. Henry Kissinger called it a “Kennedy obligation.” Yet, Washington failed to live up to its obligation when the war broke out in 1965. This betrayal should serve as a constant reminder of who is a true friend of Pakistan.