Pakistan has, in recent years, felt constantly slighted by the world. The frequency and lethality of terrorist attacks have scared away visitors, including cricket teams — and its political and military leaders are no longer as cultivated by world powers as they used to be.
The presence of Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil was a severe breach with Western governments that is yet to be fully bridged. United States President Barack Obama avoided visiting Pakistan during both his trips to India, de-hyphenising the relationship in ways Islamabad may not have appreciated.
But with its gift of geography, it is difficult to keep Pakistan away from the thick of global geopolitics. Sensing the opportunity, China has earnestly set out to compensate for the US’ tilt towards India.
Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Pakistan this week, likening the trip to visiting the home of his own brother. And like a generous brother, Mr Xi arrived bearing significant gifts.
The visit reportedly ‘finalised agreements or broke ground’ on $28 billion worth of infrastructure projects — out of total of $46 billion that Beijing is expected to invest in the country.
The projects pertain to developing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which will connect the Xinjiang province with the port of Gwadar, which Beijing has built, in the Arabian Sea.
Chinese investments will improve Pakistan’s infrastructure by building road and rail networks, dams, pipelines and significantly scale up its power capacity adding 8,400 megawatts in due course.
India has plenty of reasons to be concerned of these developments.
Mr Xi’s Pakistan initiative points to Beijing’s urgency in pursuing its twin projects of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
The former ‘focuses on bringing together China, Central Asia, Russia and Europe; linking China with the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean through Central Asia and West Asia’ while the latter ‘is designed to go from China’s coast to Europe through the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean in one route, and from China’s coast through the South China Sea to the South Pacific in the other’.
These are ambitious projects that are bound to transform global trade flows and extend China’s global influence, notwithstanding the military dominance of the US.
India will keenly watch how this surge of Chinese interest will shape Pakistan’s behaviour in the neighbourhood. New Delhi will hope that Beijing consistently prods Islamabad to tackle extremism since that alone can assure durable, secure economic corridors.
Indian policymakers have a lot of reflecting to do on the strategic effects of Mr Xi’s benevolence.