Next week, all eyes will be on New Delhi as the American foreign affairs chief, Mr. Anthony Blinken, will be there on his first official trip to India. In itself, this will be the third visit by a “cabinet-level” official of the Biden Administration to India in six months. Mr. Blinken has been preceded by the US Defense Secretary, Mr. Lloyd Austin, in March and, by the US Special Envoy on Climate Change (a former Secretary of State himself), Mr. John Kerry, in April. Around these visits, a flurry of diplomatic activity has gone on, including the American president has interacting with the Indian Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi. Not too long ago, President Biden has even called the Indo-US ties the “defining relationship” of the 21st century. So then, what explains this spiralling bonhomie? As Pakistanis, we are predisposed toward knee-jerking our understanding of this diplomatic activity into Afghanistan. Yet, I will argue that Afghanistan forms only one small part of the Blinken visit. The real purpose of the visit lies farther northeast in China and that carries far greater strategic import for Pakistan than one would initially judge. It is true that the US and India share a commonality of interests in Afghanistan. In particular, they are both interested in undermining, if not preventing, a potential Taliban regime in the country. Further, they are both looking to not only maintain an influential role in Afghanistan, they are also looking to counteract influence of both China and Pakistan here. Naturally, Afghanistan will come up and the US Department of State presser on the Blinken visit mentioned “shared regional security interests” as one of five main matters that would come under discussion in New Delhi. Here then, it will, indeed, be interesting to note what the two sides say or do in the Afghan context. However, it is three other points listed that warrant our attention. Here, the Department of State presser also lists the following as part of the agenda: “Indo-Pacific engagement”, “continued cooperation on Covid-19” and, “addressing the climate crisis”. Of these, “Indo-Pacific engagement” is the clearest cut reference to China. Earlier this year, the US convened the first-ever (online) summit of the “Quad”, a freshly formalizing grouping of the US, India, Japan and Australia, that has containing China as its raison d’etre. In late 2020, the “Quad” had undertaken their first-ever joint naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal, lending credence to the impression that the “Quad” is an emerging “Asian NATO”. Now, in his visit, Mr. Blinken is expected to lay groundwork for the first in-person summit of “Quad” leadership later this year. In addition, just a month ago, at a G-7 summit, the US had announced the so-called “Build Back Better World” (B3W) Initiative as an ambitious global project to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Secretary Blinken should be expected to discuss the B3W with India to try to identify key areas and ways of working together on it. Taking cue from the above mention of the “Quad”, we must review the State Department’s mention of “continued cooperation on Covid-19 response efforts”. Back in March, at the first-ever “Quad” summit, the US and allies had entrusted India with producing more than one billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines. These were to be supplied to Southeast Asian nations as part of an American-led influence campaign in China’s immediate neighbourhood. It is another thing that soon after India was beset with its own devastating third wave that has killed millions. In turn, that calamitous event had shifted New Delhi’s focus toward combating the virus at home. Now, with India’s Covid-19 situation being much improved, Mr. Blinken would look toward reinvigorating the old American idea of using India’s substantive vaccines production capacity to enhance its influence in Southeast Asia through “vaccine diplomacy”. This should be important to Pakistan because this would channel large amounts of finance into the Indian economy as foreign direct investment, possibly triggering a boom. In other words, this initiative is strategically important because this is American “aid” being supplied to India under the garb of foreign investment. This brings us to the notion of “addressing the climate crisis”. Just like its Covid-19 initiative, the US will be looking to funnel inordinate amounts of finance, technology, scientific knowledge and expertise into India in the name of climate change mitigation. In this context, India stands to benefit from foreign investment and through technological development. Like all things economy, inward financial and technological flows are likely to send the Indian economy into a boom and have substantive ‘ripple effects’. While the intent is to prop up India as a regional powerhouse to check China, an economically stronger and bigger India poses a significantly greater challenge to Pakistan. To give just one example, an economic boom is likely to precipitate greater investment into Indian armed forces (e.g. through higher defense budgets or through access to, and adaptation of, cutting-edge technologies), which, in turn, has very direct strategic implications for Pakistan. There is, in fact, a rather specific context to both of the above. India and US have, in the recent past, moved away from more straightforward economic engagement. This is because during the Trump presidency, the US foreign policy took on a decidedly domestic politics-focused, domestic constituency-rewarding outlook. Here, President Donald Trump put “America First” to “Make America Great Again”. He disrupted longstanding trade agreements with friends and allies and, started numerous trade wars. One such was a trade war he picked with India. This trade war has reduced in intensity under President Biden but has not entirely gone away. Just the same, today, more than ever before, the American public is deeply invested in American foreign policy. This is because, having undergone financial shocks, it is expecting economic boons to come out of American foreign relations – a definitive legacy of the Trump era. In this context, President Biden is unlikely to favor full and open trade with India. Here, he, amongst other American policymakers, anticipate a near-certain trade deficit and are likely to continue to stonewall a more comprehensive trade deal. Therefore, trade is not even amongst the agenda items listed by the State Department for the Blinken visit. Why was mentioning that important? Because the fundamental American need for engaging India to counter China has not gone away. Since more mainstream trade is tied toe-to-toe, the US is banking on roundabout ways of economically and financially supporting India. Hence, the “vaccine diplomacy” and climate change projects. However, both of these are either time-sensitive or just generally not ‘mainstream enough’ to help the US build the sort of relationship with India that it needs. So, what does this mean? This means that the Indo-US relationship has become, will remain in the near future and, over time, grow increasingly security-focused. In other words, the main path forward for the US with regards to India is through defense cooperation. This will mean more joint military exercises, enhanced military exchange, defense trade and deepened intelligence sharing. It is no surprise then that the US Defense Secretary preceded the Secretary of State in visiting India. None of these will benefit Pakistan in any way. All of this will eventually be to the detriment of Pakistani geo-strategic interests. Whatever military capabilities India develops supposedly against China, are and will remain far more potent strategic threats to Pakistan. Therefore, in the final analysis, the upcoming Blinken visit should be watched from the standpoint of China, initiatives designed to buoy up India against China and projects designed, overtly or covertly, to undermine China in anyway. These should be the main story for Pakistan. In the long-run, these initiatives – despite their current China-focus – will be the things that would impact Pakistan the most strategically – not the sideshow, Afghanistan.