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Paper 505                                                       08.08.2002

By Dr. Subhash Kapila         

Cornerstone of Pakistan’s Strategic Policies: The cornerstone of Pakistan’s strategic policies for the last forty years has been its undying military relationship with China. The Pakistan-China strategic relationship has been the most predominant and  overriding objective of Pakistan’s foreign policy.  Pakistan’s priorities arise from the unhesitating and willing help extended by China in the building of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and missile arsenal. 

The other significant feature of Pakistan’s foreign policy has been its military relationship with the United States.  However, the Pakistan- United States relationship has witnessed extreme swings with the intermissions marked by lows in relationship between the two countries.

Noticeably, Pakistan never made attempts to reverse the lows in the Pakistan-United States relationship.  It was always the United States, which reclaimed and resurrected this relationship, not for any benign reasons of building up the badly needed democratic structures to Pakistan, but to use Pakistan to serve American strategic and national security interests.

Pakistan’s Strategic Reversal Post 9/11?  Pakistan was in one of its periodic lows in its relationship with the United States till September 11, 2001 and more specifically till the precise moments the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon were rammed into by Islamic Jihadi terrorists. 

Till 9/11 and in the decade preceding the hallmarks of Pakistan’s external relationships and policies were:

* Pakistan-China relationship reached its highest point strategically. China with an incessant flow of blueprints, designs, and components to Pakistan facilitated it’s emergence as a nuclear weapons power with a credible missile arsenal. 

* Pakistan and China’s strategic dalliance was conducted in open defiance of United States sensitivities, and periodic sanctions against both. 

* United States officials, think tanks, and academia had rightly termed Pakistan as a 'rogue state', 'failed state' and the cess-pool of Islamic Jihadi terrorism. 

* Pakistan held sway over Afghanistan through its creation and protégé, the Taliban. 

* Afghanistan under Pakistan’s control was converted into a nursery for Islamic Jihadi terrorism and export of Islamic terrorism not only to India, but wider a field. 

* Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda outfits regularly flitted in and out of Pakistan planning and preparing for their diabolical strikes against the United States. 

Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and IRBMs from China and China’s tolerance of Pakistan’s state-sponsored Islamic Jihad served the mutual strategic interests of both countries, namely:

* China was able to generate strategic embarrassments for the United States through Pakistan. 

* Pakistan hoping thereby to use its strategic delinquencies as bargaining chips with the United States for strategic and economic gains. 

* Pakistan was thus a convenient pressure point for China against the United States. 

September 11, 2001 unprecedented onslaught by Islamic Jihadi terrorists on United States symbolic citadels of its military and financial might occurred due to Pakistan’s tolerance of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda activities on Pakistan soil and from Afghanistan, under Pakistan’s military control. 

Post 9/11, Pakistan under intense American coercion and warnings opted for what apparently appeared to be a complete strategic reversal of it’s policies.  Overnight, the following happened :

* Pakistan abandoned the Taliban.

 * Pakistan hosted nearly 48,000 US troops on Pakistani soil and the use of Pakistani Air Force bases for launching of American military operations against Afghanistan. 

* Pakistan apparently allowed its strategic convergences with China to lapse.

The United States very gracefully sanctified Pakistan’s strategic reversal with glorified labels of ' strategic partner in global counter-terrorism War ', 'frontline state'  and in  the process beatified and accorded political legitimacy to the Pakistani military dictator, General Musharraf.  

Against such a backdrop, the moot question arises and has escaped due analysis in public debate is whether Pakistan’s strategic reversal post 9/11 signaled an end or a dilution of the Pakistan-China relationship.

Pakistan’s Strategic Alliance With China Remains Unchanged:

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and Pakistan’s apparent willingness to be embraced by the United States, it was logical to assume that Pakistani strategic alliance was on the way to dilution if not a total change. Pakistan seemed to be enjoying the American embrace once again. 

However, by the spring of 2002,unfolding events started giving clear indications that Pakistan’s strategic alliance with China stood unchanged. These unfolding events were:

* Pakistan’s continued receipt of IRBMs and missile assemblies from China, and China-facilitated supplies from North Korea. 

* Pakistan’s signing of a defence pact with China with the focus on joint defence research and production. 

* Exchange of high-level defence visits. 

* Pakistan’s invitation to China for development and construction of her strategic naval base at Gwadar on the Makran coast. This Pakistan-China defence project has far wider strategic significance for two reasons. It gives China access and basing facilities in the Indian Ocean and in close proximity to the Straits of Hormuz.

None of the above developments in Pakistan-China strategic relationship post 9/11 contribute in any way to the United States global war against terrorism or bringing back Afghanistan to normalcy. On the contrary, these Pakistan-China developments as in the period prior to 9/11,create strategic embarrassments for US. Further, these developments and specifically the Chinese involvement in the Pak naval project at Gwadar are strategically destabilizing to South-West Asia region – a region strategically crucial for United States national security interests.

Policy Implications for the United States

The United States does not seem to be alive to the strategic implications of a reinforcing Pakistan-China strategic alliance. Post 9/11 the Pakistan-China strategic alliance remains undiluted. On the contrary, it stands greatly reinforced and poses the following questions in terms of policy implications for the United States: 

* Is a Pakistan-China reinforced strategic alliance complementary to United States strategic interests in South-West Asia or Central Asia? 

* In the event of a United States-China strategic confrontation sometime in the future, which side would Pakistan opt for? 

* Does Pakistan have the potential and would it willingly allow the United States to develop it as a pressure point against China? 

The likely answers to the above questions would not be in the favour of the United States. The United States in its policy formulations has to develop other options to deal with the Pakistan-China strategic alliance.


 The Pakistan-China strategic alliance did not emerge as a matter of convenience. It emerged out of strategic compulsions of both Pakistan and China and the ensuing strategic convergences. Pakistan-China strategic convergences continue to exist. 

The United States need to note that unlike the Pakistan-United States strategic relationship, the Pakistan-China strategic alliance was not born from Cold War compulsions. To that extent it will prevail and Pakistan’s strategic relationship with China will continue to be the cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign and strategic policies.9/11 has not thwarted Pakistan’s slide into Islamic fundamentalism. In that context also, it is China, which continues to be perceived in Pakistan as a bulwark against an over-domineering United States. 

(Dr. Subhash Kapila is Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached on e-mail at <>)