Pakistan’s increasingly “close and effective defense ties” established with China during the past decade will allow Islamabad to “fill the gap” arising from the prospect of reduced military aid from the United States, a senior Pakistani official said on Sunday after reports emerged of cuts of up to $800 million in U.S. aid.
Amid tense relations with the United States, Pakistan officials have increasingly pointed towards Beijing as the country’s natural ally, offering the possibility of becoming at least a half-substitute to ties with the U.S.
On Sunday, The New York Times reported that the Obama administration was suspending and in some cases canceling up to $800 million in annual military aid and equipment to Pakistan – more than one-third of the $2 billion earmarked for security assistance annually to the South Asian country.
The U.S. decision would mark a significant punitive measure by Washington which in the past has sought to build up close ties with Pakistan’s armed forces (notably the Army and Air Force) in its campaign to defeat al Qaeda and the Taliban in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.
But relations have continued to deteriorate since the May 2 raid by U.S. Navy SEALs in which Osama bin Laden was targeted and killed in Pakistan’s northern city of Abbottabad.
U.S. officials withheld information from their Pakistani counterparts until after the raid, mainly over concerns that sympathizers of Islamic militants within Pakistan’s intelligence and military services would have alerted al Qaeda ahead of the attack.
Stung by the U.S. decision, Pakistan’s influential military ordered more than 120 American trainers deployed in the country to leave.
On Sunday, the senior Pakistani official who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity following the Times report said, “This tightening of U.S. military aid was expected. That’s where our long-term relations with China will help to meet this gap.”
In recent weeks, Pakistani officials have pointed towards China’s increasing role in the past decade as its main supplier of military hardware, as Pakistan established closer ties to the U.S. campaign against terror following the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
During the past decade, Pakistan began jointly producing the JF-17 Thunder fighter plane with China. The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) plans to eventually introduce up to 250 of the JF-17 fighter planes – the largest deployment of any aircraft in its history.
Earlier this year, the Pakistani government also publicly announced its approval for the Pakistan Navy to begin negotiations with China for the purchase of up to six new submarines, in a move that – if successful – will become the largest single hardware order by the Navy.
Western diplomats, however, said that Pakistan’s worsening relations with the U.S. will only cause harm to its interests irrespective of the extent of the support that it receives from China.
“The US has a long history of giving economic and military assistance to Pakistan, which by far outpaces China in dollar terms,” said one Western diplomat in Islamabad who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity. “Worsening ties with the U.S. could push Pakistan towards isolation.
“I don’t think it’s wise for Pakistan to be playing down the importance of the U.S. as a partner, just because there have been some defense deals with China,” added the diplomat.