15.01.2024 Author: Phil Butler

Pakistan and the Coming Indo-Pacific Bandwagon Effect

Very soon, Pakistan will be forced to cease any ideas of adopting a so-called “hedging” strategy to survive and thrive in the new multipolar world. With China, Russia, and the growing BRICS contingents in focus (particularly Iran), it should be clear that critical Indo-Asian nations and a handful of smaller states will soon hop on the Russo-Chinese bandwagon. The U.S. and its allies have but one chance to remain key partners and maintain economic and geostrategic security. Acceptance of the rising multipolar world community and cementing policies that secure a place within this community is the only path the United States and the Europeans should pursue.

Winners, Losers, and Hedging Bets

Farhan Hanif Siddiqi, Associate Professor and Director of the School of Politics and International Relations at Quaid-i-Azam University, made a report last year entitled “US Indo-Pacific Strategy and Pakistan’s Foreign Policy.” The purpose of his report was to frame the United States (US) Indo-Pacific strategy and how those policies create future challenges for Pakistan’s foreign policy. The professor’s assessments of U.S. policy concerning nations in the Indo-Pacific region are helpful for the layman to understand the current geopolitical dynamics. However, his suggestion that Pakistan undertakes a hedging strategy instead of balancing and bandwagoning strategies is wrong. The main reason hedging strategies won’t work is because the United States has been and needs to continue to be a hegemony, according to the current leadership in Washington. Balancing or any form of riding the fence will soon be impossible. The liberal order cannot concede anything else.

Hedging, for those unfamiliar with the relatively new international policy term, are strategies using a mix of cooperative and aggressive elements. The professor and those who think like him seem to have forgotten that the world has been practising, for the most part, widespread balancing policies to deal successfully with America’s hegemony. Since the end of the Second World War, American dominance was the root cause of the balancing and bandwagoning policies worldwide. It can be argued that during the Cold War, Russia and later China played critical roles in adopting these policies. And clearly, our theorems and policies have not moved any further along, even if we deploy new terms like “hedging.” Dr. Siddiqi’s report supports my contention that India and Pakistan will be forced to pick a side soon, though this is not his intention. To quote the learned professor:

“Since 2019, the United States (US) has stressed support for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific  (FOIP) with the Department of Defense laying out its Indo-Pacific Strategy report. The report brings forth the American vision of a future international politics premised on the rise of China as a geopolitical competitor.” 

So, the proposed strategies Siddiqi outlines in the rest of his paper are a blueprint for what could be called “third-order nations” to keep a chip in the world’s geopolitical games without losing strategically or economically. Hedging, or taking a neutral position in the conflict arising from the birth of a multipolar era, will be impossible given the context of the various American policies aimed at total supremacy over the past 70 years. The United States has abused almost every nation that sought to jump on Uncle Sam’s bandwagon. And now the chickens have come home to roost. It was inevitable, given that hegemonies have proven unsustainable since before written history.

A Promise Delivered

An excellent example of interpreting the failures of emerging nations adopting hedging strategies can be gleaned from examining a 2005 paper by Professor Denny Roy, now a senior fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu. In “Southeast Asia: Balancing or Bandwagoning?” Roy argues that most of the emerging states in the Asia Pacific region had adopted a form of hedging by maintaining a modest level of defence cooperation with the United States

“The region bandwagons with China only to the extent that it desires trade with China and seeks to avoid the costs of alienating the region’s rising great power. These findings suggest the region is far from passive, the United States is still a relevant player and acceptance of China is premised on Beijing’s adherence to the promises made in its recent diplomatic campaign.”

This was almost two decades ago, let’s remember. So, the relevant questions are, “Did China come through on those promises?” Secondly, “Would Pakistan (and others) be best served by aligning with a multipolar alliance of powerful nations such as the BRICS cadre represent?” On the first point, China has primarily delivered on most of its promises through the Belt and Road initiative and dealings with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). China began reducing tensions in the region back in the mid-2000s and has only accelerated the process over the past few years. By 2005, most Asian nations realised that China posed no immediate security threat. This weakened the U.S. position further. Only recent developments in the South China Sea have put a damper on China/ASEAN cooperation and bonding. And the United States’ security profile over Taiwan has been a lever in this regard. This friction-based strategy will eventually fail once China and Taiwan reach the inevitable and mutually beneficial reunion point.

Where Pakistan-US relations are concerned, all forms of cooperation and diplomacy have plummeted since the United States exited Afghanistan. The implications there are damning for the American side, that only used the Pakistanis during the war against the Taliban. Meanwhile, Pakistan continues consolidating its relations with China through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). If we insert the old definition of “bandwagoning” as aligning with more powerful nations to avert an attack, Taiwan, Pakistan, and many other states have been forced to concede much to the U.S. However, as defined by Professor Roy, the new definition, “a policy of picking the winning side,” is the crux of my argument here. The United States and its allies are losing badly. We can see this through the desperate measures the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations took toward the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and now the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Asia regions.

In the Blink-en of An Eye

Some may remember that in 2019, Pakistan was one of 50 countries that backed China’s policies in Xinjiang. The Pakistanis signed a letter to the UNHRC celebrating China’s “remarkable achievements in the field of human rights.” The letter said, “Now safety and security has returned to Xinjiang and the fundamental human rights of people of all ethnic groups there are safeguarded.” China’s joint military exercises with five ASEAN nations were more recent proof of my contention. The “Aman Youyi 2023” exercise off the coast of Zhanjiang in South China’s Guangdong province saw ASEAN members Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos take part in a unique and meaningful security cooperation that Washington a bloody nose and revealed America’s waning and antiquated geopolicy in the region. To make matters worse, Joe Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently designated Burma (Myanmar), China, Cuba, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as “Countries of Particular Concern for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”

These are not the words or policies of a nation willing to accept a new order of things. As Pakistan gyrates closer into China’s orbit, and when Russia, China, India, and the other BRICS create a more extensive and more cohesive bond, hedging bets on the US or balancing the razor blade of the hegemony’s crisis-powered geostrategy won’t be feasible. For the world to win, the world has to be on the winning side.


Phil Butler, is a policy investigator and analyst, a political scientist and expert on Eastern Europe, he’s an author of the recent bestseller “Putin’s Praetorians” and other books. He writes exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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