It’s no secret that Pakistan has had to tread a fine line between its relations with China and its obligations to maintain good relations with the United States. Pakistan’s officials have long referred to the lofty “middle ground” that the nation must maintain to avoid upsetting either of the two superpowers.
As the globe struggles to deal with a rising polarisation between the US and its allies and China and its side, that may be changing. What is Pakistan’s position on this? If the Discord Leaks are accurate, Pakistan’s foreign policy professionals may be reconsidering their compromise strategy. In light of the now very public standoff between the US, China, and Russia, a wealth of classified communication files that were allegedly leaked by a US military whistleblower on Discord, a popular free chat platform for gamers, have forced Pakistan to face some difficult decisions.
India, Brazil, and Egypt are among the nations attempting to reevaluate and reconsider their options, in addition to Pakistan. Two leaked memoranda have brought Pakistan into the public eye. Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan’s state minister for foreign affairs, discusses Islamabad’s current need to avoid appearing to placate the West in the first article, headed “Pakistan’s Difficult Choices.” Khar believed that Pakistan’s efforts to maintain its relations with the US may substantially undermine the advantages of the nation’s “real strategic” partnership with China, according to leaked document.
The second leaked memo is a communication between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and an unnamed aide. In the leaked memo, it is claimed that the unnamed aide warned the prime minister that his country’s trade and energy agreements with Russia could be jeopardised if Pakistan voted in favour of a UN resolution on the Ukraine war. One is baffled as to why these would be sensational, except from the fact that they are leaked communications of sovereign states that appear to have been known to US intelligence.
Does not every nation evaluate its foreign relations in light of the advantages it stands to gain from them? The obvious example of the US using India as a strategic asset against China is already in front of us. And we’ve already seen how India’s efforts to keep its ties with Russia haven’t been hampered by even that relationship. Pakistan, a nation dependent on aid, is undoubtedly in a much more challenging situation when choose between the US and China. As Khar put it, it is a “difficult choice,” but one that might suddenly be required. Why must our strategic interests in retaining our close, ‘brotherly’ connections with China be sacrificed on the altar of a what-if relationship with the US?
The Discord Leaks is the largest leak of classified Pentagon documents since Edward Snowden. That it came via an otherwise obscure and niche chat app for gamers that also became a site for secure secret discussions also shows the brave new world we live in. Intelligence documents have been leaked before, but the fact that this leak was in the Discord domain since January and was picked up only after it had made the rounds on varying social media sites may be a sign of times to come.
For years, the US intelligence apparatus has kept files on sovereign nations internal communications. That should be more the subject of news than the fact that countries would like to place their strategic interest above those of Western or Eastern superpowers.