Without trying to play fake Pakistan expert, here’s the story I see. Pakistan is an independent country with its own interests. High on that list of interests is pursuing a rivalry with India, a country with which it has a longstanding territorial dispute and also a pretty profound ideological clash. India has a much larger population than Pakistan and a larger economy. And while Pakistan was generally richer than India on a per capita basis until about ten years ago, that’s no longer the case. So Pakistan needs partners in a standoff with its larger neighbor. For a long time, both the United States and China have been part of that equation of partner-seeking, and the preference of the Pakistani government is to be on good terms with both. But sometimes you kind of have to choose. And what we’re seeing here is that the Pakistani calculus was that a partnership with China is going to be more valuable in the medium term than a partnership with the United States.
There is a broader lesson here. Each state does have its own interests, but they also look into the future for potential allies. For example, many African nations are turning to China because they see it as a chance to cozy up to a superpower. States also like money and their citizens like the sense of security. The U.S. is great at this. In Yemen for instance, we give billions in aid to fight terrorism and have secret drone attacks there, just like in Pakistan. As a result, Yemen's government is propped up by the U.S. all in the name of security. The same is true in Pakistan, it gets aid money to fight terrorism and support from the U.S., but it also gets help from Al-Qaeda networks. In the end, states like money and will go to whoever is willing to help them to pursue their interests.
Since the U.S. sees Pakistan and Yemen as strategic points that cannot be ignored, we play along with their two faced games. Eventually though, the facade is broken and uprisings like the Arab Spring happen revealing the relationships for the superficial ones that they are.
Is the U.S. Pakistan relationship strategic or just a waste?