By supporting India’s application for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the USA signaled as clearly as possible that it was backing it in Asia. This move also told Pakistan that its attempt to curry favour with the USA was not going to work any longer. Of course, the US move was not About the Indo-Pakistan rivalry, or even the Sino-Indian one, but about the choices it was having to make in its pivot east.

Its frictions with China might have arisen anyhow, but its eastern pivot has highlighted these issues. At the moment, the main issue appears to be over the various island disputes China has, the most prominent being the one with Japan over the Spratly Islands. Back when the USA had not executed its pivot, Japan was an important component of the ring the USA had thrown around China, and it still is the fulcrum of the USA’s security arrangement for the area. However, the USA has also managed to form a friendship with India, which has lost its best friend after the USSR collapsed.

The centerpiece of this newfound friendship was the 2008 civilian nuclear accord between the two countries. The bipartisan nature of the accord can be seen from the fact that while it was agreed by the Bush Administration, the Obama Administration has followed it up, and the backing for India’s NSG membership is a similar bipartisan action, with the next President being committed to this.

Pakistan may well be upset by this US move, but it is perceived not just as duplicitous but as an ally of the USA’s rival, China. From the US point of view, Pakistan has perhaps put too much reliance on China. Both have border disputes with India, which have led to wars, China in 1962, Pakistan in 1965. Both have not engaged in a joint attack, not even in Pakistan’s 1971 War, when Pakistan was losing its eastern wing. However, this remains one of the USA’s fears. To the possibility of conventional conflict, all three powers are now nuclear.

In this context, the pro-India nature of the Kabul regime becomes more understandable, as it shows that the major geopolitical impact of the US invasion there was to convert a relatively pro-Pakistan regime into a pro-Indian one. This alone should have convinced Pakistan that the USA was veering around to an alliance with India.

The US-India nuclear accord has got an incomplete parallel in Pak-China nuclear cooperation. Apart from China doing its best to block Indian entry into the NSG, there is the Chinese readiness to build nuclear power plants in Pakistan. Apart from the CHASHNUPP projects, China is also going to build two 1.1-GW plants in Karachi by 2020. Thus it is reasonably clear that Chinese firms are already benefiting from the kind of opportunities that a civilian nuclear accord with the USA might afford US firms. However, China has refused Pakistan a formal civilian nuclear accord. At the same time, it has opposed Indian membership of the NSG.

Another dimension of Sino-Pakistan cooperation with an Indo-US parallel is defence. Pakistan and China have reached the stage of joint development, exemplified by the JF-17 Thunder fighter. However, Pakistan still sought F16s, which Congress more or less shot down when it asked Pakistan to pay for the planes itself, not at the subsidised rate available under the aid package. It is worth noting that India has already rejected the F16s offered to it, but it and the USA are going to go for joint development. Before joint development can take place, India must sign a number of general agreements with the USA, which it was not agreeing to so far, because it saw them as infringing Indian sovereignty. Those objections are gradually being overcome, and once those agreements are signed, Pakistan will see its arch-enemy engaged in joint development with its superpower ally.

Pakistan should realise that the USA has added the dimension of the relationship which it had prided itself on monopolising: the military. There also needs to be soul-searching on what this means for Pakistan’s dependence on the USA as a suppliers of arms, when the main target of those arms is to be India.

The Pakistani leadership thinks it has the option of turning to China, but it has not thought through the consequences of China and India settling their differences. A decision point is approaching, in the shape of the ageing of the Dalai Lama, who will be 81 in July, and who has been the symbol of opposition to China since he fled it in 1959, after which he formed a government in exile in India. At the moment, India and China have their opposition to each other locked in place because of him. However, after him, everything will be up for grabs. As the Dalai Lama is succeeded only by a reincarnation, there is room for manipulation. Another office filled by reincarnation, the Panchen Lama, now has two claimants, respectively recognised by the Chinese government and the Dali Lama’s followers.

Pakistan thinks that the other symbol of Pak-China friendship, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, is a sort of cash cow, whereby the Pakistani government gets its hands on Chinese money. At the moment, the USA has not got any such project planned, which would cause the USA to gift India cash. The Chinese New Silk Road project has an Indian component, and may well provide the path for a convergence of Chinese and Indian economic interests. That is another point at which Pakistan might find itself ditched.

One way of avoiding this would be for Pakistan to re-orient itself, abandon the Kashmir cause, and follow only economic interests. It might have to go an extra mile, and accept Indian hegemony, of the sort it exerts over Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and is preparing to exert over Afghanistan. The BJP government is accused of a jingoistic nationalism, but in that it is no different from Congress. The only difference is that the BJP does not have the socialist veneer that Congress had because of Jawaharlal Nehru. Instead of socialism, it has Hindu chauvinism, combined with a rampant capitalism. It is no wonder that it is so popular among the Indians in the USA. Because of this popularity, and the need of US politicians to court the Indian vote, Indian governments, whether BJP or Congress, get favourable treatment from the USA. Pakistan, on the other hand, despite its constant kowtowing, is seen in Washington through Indian eyes.

Pakistan’s policymakers should understand that not only is the policy of looking to the USA unfruitful, but so is the fallback position of looking to China. There seems no alternative to the solution of Pakistan’s problems than to think out of the box, and opt for solutions involving the rest of the Islamic world.

             The writer is a veteran journalist

and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.