As state visits go, this one ranks as an unquestionable newsmaker. President Xi Jinping of China concluded a two-day visit to Pakistan on Tuesday, during which he promised his country’s all-weather ally $46 billion worth of investment in energy and infrastructure projects. This, to give some perspective to the many zeros in that amount, is reportedly three times more than the figure Pakistan has received in foreign direct investment in the past eight years.

Xi’s trip was an occasion for celebration for Islamabad and at the same time it was an opportunity for the two nations to flaunt their closeness. Prior to leaving Beijing, Xi said he felt as if he was going to visit the home of his own brother. Reciprocating the camaraderie, Pakistan sent a fleet of JF-17 fighter jets, which it jointly developed with China, to escort Xi’s plane into Islamabad. At the capital’s airport the reception party included the country’s two power centres, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army chief Raheel Sharif, as well as President Mamnoon Hussain.

China and Pakistan have maintained close military and economic ties largely due to their mutual needs. For Beijing, it is important that Islamabad remains one of the countries supporting its rise in the shifting global geo-economic order, and for Pakistan, financial and military infusion from China is necessary to counter a fast-growing India. So strong is this brotherhood that Pakistan recently leased out its China-built port in Gwadar to Beijing for a period of 40 years.

The port in Gwadar is just one instance. Pakistan, for sure, needs China’s money.

Sharif came to power on the promise of fixing the chronic electricity shortage plaguing the country and lifting the nation out of its economic mess. Neither can be accomplished unless he finds more money than the country’s military complex can splurge away, and this intersection of the political and the strategic has facilitated a steady infusion of foreign funds into the country.

Strategic-economic jugglery

Over the past year, many strategic partners have lined up to show Pakistan their munificence. The United States is close to releasing nearly $1 billion worth of military equipment because Pakistan’s military forces need to be strengthened for their operation, called Zarb-e-Azb, against terrorist groups such as the Tehrik-i-Taliban in North Waziristan and elsewhere.

In March 2014, Saudi Arabia gave $1.5 billion in financial assistance to Islamabad to bolster its rapidly declining foreign currency reserves and to cement their historic security ties. (In return, Riyadh’s demands from Islamabad became clear recently when Pakistan was automatically added to the Saudi-led coalition bombing the Houthi rebels in Yemen.)

Adding another element to this strategic-economic hotpot, Moscow has become the latest power to court Islamabad, altering a relationship that was dormant since the Cold War. On April 16, the Pakistani media reported that Moscow and Islamabad had agreed to hold their first ever joint military exercise. Two days later, Moscow announced that it will invest $2 billion to build a 1,100-kilometre pipeline for transportation of liquefied natural gas between Karachi and Lahore. All this comes just months after Sergei Shoigu became the first Russian defence minister to visit Pakistan in November last year. More bonhomie between them is likely to emerge as Pakistan looks to buy Mi-35 gunship helicopters from Russia, a type also operated by the Indian Air Force.

This strategic-economic jugglery by Islamabad may benefit it in the immediate future, but in the long-term this play could lead to interesting scenarios, particularly given that Beijing and Moscow are growing closer and there are increasing possibilities of them working together to outmanoeuvre Washington in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Despite China’s big splash and Russia’s growing engagements with Pakistan, New Delhi has only a moderate cause for anxiety. The joint statement issued by Pakistan and China on the occasion of Xi’s visit seemed balanced, dodging regional matters and largely concentrating on the bilateral dynamic. This is a good precedent for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much-anticipated visit to Beijing next month.