One aspect of the cold war was the continuous attempts by the Soviet Union, and to a lesser extent, China, to sow instability throughout the third world. The reasoning was that the more time the West spent dealing with crises in those areas, the less time the West would spend focusing on them. Further, instability provided an in for them to gain influence in troubled nations and regions, either in support of the existing government, or by supporting “armies of national liberation.” Africa and Southern Asia were popular regions for China especially.
In response to displeasure at US policies, Pakistan has turned to China, the other big power in the region, in a possible alignment. But China, while not having motives as pure as the driven snow, is not likely to play along with the traditional two-faced Pakistani policy, where they pretend to be anti-Taliban, and yet via the ISI, provide information and support to the same.
As China has become a far more prosperous nation over the last 30 years, they have greatly increased their reliance on foreign trade, and especially foreign energy. And every student of history knows that nations dependent on foreign access deeply crave stability. And right now, Iran and Pakistan are the keys to relative stability in the Middle East.
Daniel Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations said that on a recent trip to Islamabad he was struck by how openly Pakistani officials talked about China as a promising strategic alternative to the United States. But he also said that travelling to Beijing made it clear to him that the Chinese didn’t return the sentiments.
“The Chinese are simply not interested in playing Pakistan’s game, and they don’t want to be played as a card against the United States,” said Mr. Markey.
What they might be willing to do, however, is cooperate in creating new opportunities to stabilize the region. Instead of the United States, China and others being at cross-purposes there, the regional powers might team up not only in trying to keep a lid on Pakistan’s combustible dynamics, but also on the thorny problem of the endgame in Afghanistan.
I do not think for a second China would be acting in our best interests. But if our interests align in the medium term, is this a realignment we should, if not encourage, at least tolerate?