The two-month long standoff between India and China in the disputed Himalayan region of Doklam may have ended with both countries pulling back their troops but the diplomatic fall-out will continue to be felt. Relations between the two countries vying for regional supremacy are at their lowest point in decades. India has now accused China of dumping belting fabric and is launching a probe, with China sure to retaliate. India had already been worried about growing Chinese influence in the region, particularly with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the larger One Belt, One Road initiative. It will now want to counter what it sees as a Chinese economic offensive. US President Donald Trump made matters worse when he singled out India for greater involvement in Afghanistan and stressed the importance of strong ties with India. Since Trump has been threatening imposing tariffs and even starting a trade war against China, his praise for India is being construed as a decisive shift away from China in Beijing. This is where Pakistan comes in. At the same time as the visit of a US diplomat to Pakistan was postponed, China’s special envoy on Afghan affairs met with our foreign secretary in Islamabad. There he echoed Pakistan’s line on Afghanistan by noting Pakistan’s contributions in the war against militancy and repeated our assertion that there is no military solution to Afghanistan.
China’s top foreign affairs official, Yang Jiechi, had last week spoken to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and told him that the US must respect Pakistan’s security concerns in Afghanistan. India, on the other hand, is delighted that the US has publicly rebuked Pakistan for its supposed sheltering of militant groups since that is a line India has long pursued. For the US to so publicly side with India makes the explosive situation between India and China potentially even more deadly. China now has more influence in Pakistan than ever before because of US disengagement and threats; China has also ramped up its investment in Afghanistan. India, in the meanwhile, will welcome Trump’s invitation to assist in Afghanistan’s development with open arms. This makes Pakistan and Afghanistan the next flashpoints in China and the US’s battle to be the regional superpower. The leaders of China and India are supposed to meet at the Brics summit next month where they would be well advised to try and bring down the political temperature. The alternative of bringing the two largest countries in South Asia to the brink of military hostilities is almost unthinkable.