Stratfor's 2018 Second-Quarter Forecast says that the competition between China and India will continue to play out in South Asia, as China’s spending on infrastructure projects in the region threatens India's position. Pakistan — as China’s strongest ally in South Asia — is a part of this competition.
Pakistan is working to increase its influence in three small South Asian nations – Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives — to tilt the regional balance in its favor against nuclear giant India. And it will likely find a receptive audience, particularly in Nepal and the Maldives, where anti-India sentiment is running high. Meanwhile, China will make its own inroads into the three countries under its massive Belt and Road Initiative, which further challenges India's status as South Asia's dominant power.
On March 5, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi became the first foreign head of government to visit Nepal since the December election of Nepalese Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli. The Nepalese leader gained power in the landlocked Himalayan country by positioning himself as a nationalist and vowing to diversify Nepal's relations beyond India, which was widely blamed for a crippling five-month border blockade that ended in February 2016, during Oli's previous term in office.
Then on March 23, Abbasi hosted Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena as the guest of honor during the Pakistan Day military parade, which commemorates the 1940 Lahore Resolution that called for the formation of an independent Pakistan. Military ties are a cornerstone of bilateral relations between Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Along with China, Pakistan was a critical supplier of arms to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government, helping it definitively crush the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam insurgency in May 2009, ending a 26-year civil war in the strategically significant island nation.
Crucially, both Oli and Sirisena have vowed to support Pakistan's bid to revive the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit later this year. The summit hasn't been held since it was canceled in November 2016 after Pakistani militants attacked India's Uri army base and India pulled out of the summit in retaliation. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan also boycotted the summit in Islamabad that year. SAARC can't happen without India, but now Pakistan is working to build an informal group of countries that supports the association as a way to pressure India.
Finally, Pakistan's powerful army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, will purportedly visit the Maldives on March 31. If it happens, the visit will come at a particularly strained time for India and the Maldives. On Feb. 5, Maldivian President Yameen Abdul Gayoom declared a state of emergency after the Maldivian Supreme Court overturned charges against nine political prisoners. Significantly, those pardoned included Mohamed Nasheed, the pro-India exiled Maldivian president whom India would like to return to power. The ruling was subsequently overturned after two high court judges were arrested, but India has been urging Yameen to reinstate the Supreme Court's original ruling.