The outcome of General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s phone call to US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman might still be uncertain at this stage. But foreign policy implications of this diplomatic intervention are more than clear. Pakistan’s military and strategic elite does not support anti-Americanism or for that matter the tilt toward Russia and China that is increasingly evident in Pakistan these days. That a new Cold War is emerging on the horizon is beyond doubt.
Pakistan’s recent defense acquisitions from China and Russia to enhance its strategic reach in Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, where Pakistan and China recently held joint military exercises, reflects our country’s tilt towards the two countries. The perception that Pakistan is about to join hands with the new anti-American block was further reinforced when Russia, China and Iran converged to strengthen the new Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Public perceptions were also fuelled by the Taliban’s dramatic victory and collapse of the pro-US Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan in August 2021.
Therefore, General Bajwa’s phone call to Wendy Sherman late last month indicates two things: a) General Bajwa’s rapport with US diplomats and possibly Sherman and Bajwa have been discussing strategic issues of mutual interest for long; b) Pakistani military still depends on the US as a viable option in this time of extreme financial hardship.
Any expectation of a positive outcome from the phone call would be based on wrong assumptions. The US foreign policy making machinery does not work on personal contacts. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan made one thing clear to Pakistan – that the region is of no strategic importance to the US. Pakistan’s expectation that the US would come to its rescue in this time of financial crunch should not be too high.
General Bajwa’s phone call made one thing clear, that fortunately, our strategic elite does not see Pakistan’s persistent financial crisis as an opportunity to double down on their anti-US streak, and, thus, is likely to desist from adopting extremist positions on the foreign policy front.
The indication of this moderation on foreign policy approach started to emerge sometime back with General Bajwa in a speech attempting to project Pakistan as a regional connectivity hub through which intraregional trade could pass. As Pakistan’s foreign policy making processes are not transparent, it is not easy to tell what exactly caused the Pakistani military and strategic elite to dispel the impression that it was joining the anti-US camp in the region — possibly an ill-advised anti-US campaign launched by former Prime Minister Imran Khan in the wake of his ouster from power? Or, maybe not, because whatever happened in his campaign hardly impacted foreign policy or its determinants in Pakistan.
A more plausible explanation could be that Pakistan’s financial affairs are increasingly becoming doubtful. Military acquisitions from China and Russia and their political support on Afghanistan (and even CPEC) have not done anything to make Pakistan a financially viable state. During the Cold War and War against Terror, the country’s financial viability depended on the US and western generosity. Pakistan’s new sponsors have so far failed to be as generous.
General Bajwa’s phone call made one thing clear, that fortunately, Pakistani strategic elite doesn’t see Pakistan’s persistent financial crisis Pakistan as an opportunity to double down on their anti-US streak, and, thus, is likely to desist from adopting extremist positions on the foreign policy front. The Pakistani strategic elite sees dependence on the US as a viable option for survival and don’t see creation of some mythical anti-US block in the region as a solution to its problems.
Imran Khan’s foolhardy campaign will end in a whimper. Financial crisis will not lead to prevalence of extremist views on foreign policy among the strategic elite. We can dream of normal relations with Beijing and Moscow on one hand and Washington on other.