Indian Decade

Pakistan Plays China Card

The ongoing row between the US and Pakistan is a reminder that India must also contend with China.

The war of words between the United States and Pakistan has intensified – and India for one is watching closely as the spat is bound to be a harbinger of things to come in Indo-Pakistan relations.

Ties between the United States and Pakistan have been particularly strained since early May, when US Special Forces killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, deep within Pakistan. US-Pakistan sabre-rattling reached new levels on July 11, when Washington announced its decision to withhold $800 million in military aid to Pakistan, about a third of the planned total. The US move followed Pakistan’s removal of American military trainers and the curtailing of visas for US personnel.

Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan indicated that the suspended aid could be resumed if Pakistan removed these two irritants. But a day later, Pakistani Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar came up with Islamabad’s tough response, warning that the US move would force Pakistan to recall all of its troops from the Afghan border. The Pakistani military establishment exacerbated the situation further by playing the China card, saying that Pakistan could manage without US assistance, and could instead turn to China for help.

Of course the two sides are merely posturing – they need each other too much not to eventually make up. Still, the Indian diplomatic establishment is watching the US-Pakistan row closely because the Pakistan side’s behaviour in this episode may hold a lesson for India.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

That Pakistan has issued such a hard-nosed response speaks volumes of Pakistan-China ties. The two sides have been flaunting their ‘all-weather’ friendship. The fact that Pakistan has now unabashedly waved the China card in front of the United States – perhaps the first time it has done so quite so blatantly – should send a chilling message to the Indian strategic establishment that India will have to also deal with China in any future conflict with Pakistan.

How Pakistan will exploit its relationship with China when dealing with India remains to be seen. Following Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao’s visit to Islamabad on June 23 to 24 for comprehensive talks with Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir, Pakistani State Minister for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar is scheduled to visit India for official talks on July 26 to 27.  

Given the experience at the defence secretaries’ talks, India will undoubtedly be keeping its ears open for any mention of the C word.