Russia not joining CPEC
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif speaks at the inauguration of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor port in Gwadar, Pakistan November 13, 2016.Reuters

In the wake of the much talked-about One Belt One Road (OBOR) or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) summit in Beijing in China, a report in Dawn has revealed that Pakistan, which is a close partner of China in the mega project [read the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor], is all set to 'sell' itself to its all-weather friend in all terms.

A section of the Indian media has also pounced on this point with some even suggesting a country which was created in the name of Islam was willing to surrender itself before a Godless regime.

Also read: Why India's decision to boycott OBOR summit was a foreign policy blunder

The Pakistani authorities hit back at the report, saying the details were taken from a working paper which was to be discussed with their Chinese counterparts. Whether the Pakistanis are really willing to see the Chinese influence grow on their soils will be known in due time but is an external power's influencing Pakistan really a new thing in its 70-year-old history?

Pakistan has been at the mercy of US aid throughout

The United States has always influenced Pakistan to see it cater to its needs – strategic or political. Washington gave Pakistan an aid of nearly $67 between 1951 and 2011. Besides economic assistance, pledging of military hardware has also been a regular feature of the Americans' affection for Pakistan.

In the Cold War-era, having an influence on a strategically located Pakistan was key for the US to deal with the Soviets and other enemies of West Asia and find a bridge with the Chinese [Islamabad had played an instrumental role in bringing the US and China close in the early 1970s]. But the foreign aid dynamics has only made things worse.

US foreign aid to Pakistan: Some points

  • The American economic assistance to Pakistan peaked in 1962 when it went over $2.3 billion.
  • In 2010, the USA's military assistance to Pak was worth $2.5 billion and it included $1.2 billion worth of support funds.
  • US president George H W Bush had suspended aid to Islamabad in the 1990s over its growing nuclear programme.
  • In the 1970s, the then US president Jimmy Carter had stopped all aid to Pakistan (except food) after the latter decided to set up a uranium-enrichment unit
  • The US aid to Pakistan had spiralled after the 9/11 attacks and it was tripled around 2009-10.
  • But Pakistan's failure in rein in resurgent militant groups hostile to the US and the growing camaraderie between Washington and New Delhi saw the aid dropping sharply since 2011.

To see year-wise US foreign aid to Pak between 1948-2010, click this link [Source:  Wren Elhai, Center for Global Development, 2011]

While Pakistan has used the American aid to boost its military preparedness against India instead of fighting the Taliban on its western front, Washington has expressed dissatisfaction over the fact that decades of pouring money into Pakistan hasn't earned them much benefit in return, especially in the wake of the 9/11 attack, and with the relation between the US and India taking an upward turn in the recent times, the traditional friendship between the US and Pakistan has only waned.

Today, as USA's interest in Pakistan has declined, China has made an entry

It is undeniable that the US still blows hot and cold when it comes to Pakistan but for the latter, which has not been successful much on economic terms in seven decades, there is an urgent need to find an alternative source of support. And the Chinese has stepped in to fill in the vacuum.

The Chinese, however, play the game differently than the Americans. Instead of cash which doesn't have a long shelf life, Beijing prefers to invest in infrastructure in other countries to boost its own influence there over the long term.

If the Chinese have made an extensive plan to influence various sectors in Pakistan and given the latter's inability to do things without an external support, Islamabad would not complain much if the country's overall health improves under the innovative Chinese.  But to expect China to take overall responsibility of Pakistan, a country which is not stable, could be unrealistic. Who, afterall, will want to shoot in its own foot?

Pakistan's foreign aid politics is now aimed at its domestic sectors more?

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said recently that the OBOR project will help in finding solution to problems like food and water security and refugee movement besides terrorism. This is a significant statement from the country's premier who will head to elections in 2018.

Pakistan is changing. Like any other emerging democracy, popular say and the media of that country, too, are gaining voices. Unlike in the past when the powerful military regimes of the country could keep foreign policy as their exclusive domain and use up foreign aids in ways they wanted, eventually weakening the civilian administration, the reality in Pakistan has undergone a transformation today.

At least, Pakistan is seeing a debate today on foreign influence

The civilian rulers of the country, which will complete a decade in democracy without any military intervention next year, need to do more than just focus on anti-Indianism for survival. And in this respect, China's blessings in improving the domestic conditions are an urgent requirement. Pakistan was always at the mercy of outside aid – be it from the US earlier or China today. It's just that its democracy is gaining some ground that the question of violation of sovereignty is becoming more visible. That the country is at least debating the topic of external influence is a positive message, even for India.