China has been Pakistan’s most consistent supporter for over half a century, but always with the instrumental purpose of maintaining a counterweight to India rather than out of ideological or cultural affinity. No wonder the relationship has frequently disappointed Pakistani hopes. China stood by when Indian troops helped dismember Pakistan during the 1971 rebellion in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). China helped Pakistan get nuclear weapons in order to weaken the Indian nuclear threat to China, but then lobbied against Pakistani adventurism that risked triggering a war with India. It encouraged Pakistan to sponsor jihadist militants to attack the Soviets in Afghanistan, but then pressured Pakistan to rein in the jihadists who were targeting Chinese rule in Xinjiang. Today, China needs Pakistan to anchor Chinese plans to develop infrastructure in South Asia and Central Asia, but China will not get deeply involved enough in Pakistan to fix the instability that renders that country a risky venue for investment. Given the frustrations of both sides, the relationship described in this exceptionally well-informed and insightful account does not yet qualify as an “axis.”
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