Friends of Pakistan

Who are the closest allies of Pakistan?

Written by arzepak

CHINA

Pakistan holds a unique position in Chinese diplomatic circles. Chinese state media describes Pakistan as China’s only “all-weather strategic cooperation partner.”

TURKEY

Next year will mark the 70th year of Pak-Turkey diplomatic relations., and while Turkey has tried to remain neutral and be partners with both Pakistan and India its recent actions indicate that Ankara has actually picked a side. Earlier this month, Turkey didn’t back India’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), while supporting Pakistan’s membership in the NSG. Turkey has also been vocal about its support for Pakistan’s position on Kashmir.

SAUDI ARABIA

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Relations became stronger than ever as US named Pakistan as a non-NATO ally and provided with billions of dollars in economic and military aid. However, the US-Pakistani relationship had shown signs of strain, with many Americans doubting Pakistan’s commitment to eradicating the Taliban from Afghanistan.

In international diplomacy, every country constantly evaluates the benefit that accrues to it from a relationship. If a temporary benefit is to be gained in a relationship with no visibility of other gains in the long-term, then the relationship is transactional. If there are several benefits possible because of a long-term relationship, then the relationship becomes strategic and the two countries become allies.

Pakistan isn’t in any shape to offer much benefits to other countries. Hence, all relationships are pretty much transactional.

1. USA: After the end of the cold war in the 1990s, the USA saw no reason to engage with Pakistan and scaled down the relationship to a significant extent. However, the absence of such an engagement lead to a massive growth of Islamic extremism in Pakistan. With the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan, the USA is unlikely to detach completely from the Af-Pak region, but will just keep a minimal engagement going to ensure that the religious loonies don’t gain an upper hand. The US would continue to engage itself in nation-building in Afghanistan, some part of it would benefit Pakistan also.

With no major natural resources or human resource skills, it is unlikely that US private companies would invest heavily in Pakistan. US governmental aid and support can only go so far.

In spite of everything else, the USA continues to be the closest ally of Pakistan – the support it offers is much more than that offered by other countries like China or Saudi Arabia.

2. China: Pakistan has two major benefits to offer China -  access to the Gwadar port in Balachistan and being a  nuisance to India. China is not as generous as the USA with aid or investment, so it would do the minimum needed to keep the engagement going while extracting the maximum benefit from the port. Also, when China offers any aid for infrastructure-development to any country, it typically insists that the contracts be given to Chinese companies. All countries do this to some extent, but China does it more than the others do. Hence, the benefit that a country gets from Chinese aid is less than it gets from others.

The point of contention in the Pakistan-China relationship is Islamic extremism in the Uighur region of China. Both countries are suspicious of each other when it comes to this region.

There has been grandiose talk in Pakistan about their presence in a grand Russsia-China-Pakistan military alliance to keep the US in check. Let’s see what happens – the US would cut its assistance programs if Pakistan participates too actively in such an alliance and Pakistan is not likely to get much monetary assistance from such a program as Russia doesn’t have money to spare and China is notoriously tight-fisted.

3. Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia has engaged with Pakistan both at the governmental and private levels. The government is now wary of stoking religious extremism in Pakistan as it feels the effect of the ISIS blowback. In fact, it is likely to take steps to prevent private parties from funding extremist organisations in Pakistan. With the availability of money reducing due to the fall in oil prices, this is unlikely to grow much higher.

Over the last decade, realisation has grown in Pakistani governmental, military and diplomatic circles that internal development is critical to make Pakistan an attractive candidate for alliances with other countries. Hence, there has been some movement in that direction – the country is on the path to democracy, there is action being taken against the growth of religious extremists etc. However, the biggest challenge that Pakistan faces is the lack of a culture of education and sufficient infrastructure to build it. This has led to widespread skill-gap and that is what is holding other countries back from building a lasting alliance with Pakistan.

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