Leaked documents from the US intelligence community have revealed Pakistan’s assessment on how to tackle the growing tussle between the US and China. The documents, among a trove of US secrets leaked online through the Discord messaging platform, provided a rare glimpse into the private calculations by key emerging powers, including India, Brazil, Pakistan and Egypt, as they attempt to straddle allegiances in an era when America is no longer the world’s unchallenged superpower.
What was significant about the leaked documents was that the US had been able to gain access to the top secret memo written by Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar. Khar suggested that Pakistan must stop maintaining a “middle ground” between China and the US. According to the leaked memo, Khar argued that Pakistan can no longer try to maintain a middle ground between China and the United States. In an internal memo she titled “Pakistan’s Difficult Choices,” Khar, who previously served as Pakistan’s foreign minister, cautioned that Islamabad should avoid giving the appearance of appeasing the West, and said the instinct to preserve Pakistan’s partnership with the United States would ultimately sacrifice the full benefits of what she deemed the country’s “real strategic” partnership with China.
However, it is not clear if Pakistan is willing to publicly take a stance that shows it has joined the China camp. This was reflected in a recent address by Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Syed Asim Munir, who said it was Pakistan’s policy not to become part of big powers’ rivalry. General Munir undertook a visit to China last week, indicating that Pakistan publicly would continue to maintain that it is against bloc politics.
Another leaked document, dated Feb. 17, describes Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s deliberations with a subordinate about an upcoming UN vote on the Ukraine conflict and what the government anticipated would be renewed Western pressure to back a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion. The aide advised Sharif that support for the measure would signal a shift in Pakistan’s position following its earlier abstention on a similar resolution. Pakistan had the ability to negotiate trade and energy deals with Russia, and backing the Western-backed resolution could jeopardize those ties, the aide noted. When the UN General Assembly voted on Feb. 23, Pakistan was among 32 countries that abstained.
The leaked documents provide a glimpse into the internal deliberations of Pakistani policymakers on how to balance relations with the US and China. The US appears to have gained access to these documents, which could have implications for Pakistan’s foreign policy. While the country’s leaders publicly maintain a neutral stance, these leaked documents suggest that there are internal debates about the best approach to take regarding relations with the US and China. It remains to be seen how this will affect Pakistan’s foreign policy going forward.