As US aid and influence shrinks in Pakistan, China steps in

Published 9:24 am Monday, March 6, 2017

WASHINGTON— Pakistani leaders often wax lyrical about their “sweeter than honey” relations with all-weather friend China. There’s no romance about their marriage of convenience with America.

As the Trump administration plots its policy toward a key partner, it will find Pakistan being drawn deeper into Beijing’s embrace and its promise of $46 billion in energy, infrastructure and industry investments by 2030. The money could transform the Muslim nation’s economy.

Washington, by contrast, is losing faith in how much its largesse can influence Pakistan. Many frustrated U.S. policymakers see Pakistan as a terrorist haven that some $30 billion in security and economic assistance since the 9/11 attacks has failed to fix. But an American retreat could have broad implications for its ability to maintain stability in a regional powder keg of extremism, weak governance and various potential conflicts.

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“I get the sense that we are the dispensable ally once again,” Bilalwal Bhutto, a Pakistani opposition party leader and son of the slain former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, said during a recent visit to Washington.

U.S. assistance to Pakistan has been declining since 2011 when American commandos killed Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan, straining relations. And as the U.S. troop presence in neighboring Afghanistan has shrunk, Pakistan has become a lower priority. Aid could decline further as President Donald Trump proposes drastic cuts to diplomacy and foreign aid budgets.