It's been an otherwise quiet week here, but I just came across this article at the BBC. With all of the dust that the killing of bin Laden stirred up between the US and Pakistan it's easy to forget the bigger picture. Specifically, what openings (if any) does the increased tension between the US and Pakistan create for other states in the region?
The article specifically mentions that China may be able to use this opportunity to increase its foreign investment in Pakistan. First, I guess it's not immediately clear to me why Pakistani–US relations have to fray in order for China to increase its investment. I suspect the overwhelming majority of US aid to Pakistan is directed at enhancing Pakistan's military and intelligence capabilities. On the other hand, China's investment seems to be infrastructural as well as military. Indeed, the BBC article indicates that China is Pakistan's largest supplier of arms, but does the US necessarily see this relationship as a competitive one? In the context of the last decade or so, Chinese aid to Pakistan could certainly be seen as supplementing US efforts at bolstering the strength of Pakistan's central government.
The US has a very obvious agenda with respect to Pakistan, and I'm not so naive as to believe that there aren't concerns over rival sources of external influence making it more difficult for the US to acheive its goals. That said, I'm not so sure that China's goals might not be very similar. Sure, the Chinese are probably trying to increase their own regional power bloc, and cozying up to Pakistan is a natural way to increase Chinese power vis-a-vis India, but the Chinese government is probably no more eager to see the government in Pakistan collapse than the US government is. In the short term, such a collapse would potentially create some serious problems for the Chinese in securing their western borders. Any such collapse could very well devolve into a protracted conflict that could easily spill over into China's territory. In the long term, this sort of collapse puts a nuclear powered state on China's borders into some potentially very unfriendly hands.
Is this a place where there is some potential for the US to scale back on its commitments with less cost than we might initially think? I think the immediate reaction is to view the situation in terms of dyadic relations between the US and Pakistan. But viewed in the broader regional context, is it possible that the US is (sort of) indirectly helping China shirk what would otherwise be a greater burden to their own government but acting as if the burden is all ours? I know many pundits, politicians, and policy wonks (just one example here) have warned against cutting aid to Pakistan as it would have disastrous effects, but could it be that cutting aid to Pakistan would not really harm the US' interests in the region that much? Indeed, could it be possible that US strategic interests are actually enhanced by such a move, as it may prompt the Chinese to take a greater share of the burden for ensuring that Pakistan remains stable, thus occupying more of their resources and attention?
I'm not a regional expert, so it's certainly possible that I'm missing something. Thoughts?