The recent news that Imran Khan has been able to prise 6bn USD in aid from a distressed Saudi Arabia reflects many things:
(1.) the Axis is going to be Saudi-Pak-China with Pakistan emerging as a sort of lynchpin. As with any Great Power in decline the US is going to try and throw its weight around.
(2.) while Trump is an astonishingly effective orator; his latest tweet on the bombing scare scandal at once rouses his base and inflames his enemies, it’s hard to see how he can effectively project American influence.
(3.) 9-11 is probably the most successful attack on the US not because of the actual attack but because of the botched response. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have delegitimised American foreign policy (to some extent) and also show the American reluctance to project troops abroad.
(4.) How does all of this relate to modern South Asia? Well the US-Pakistan relationship simply isn’t what it once was since the US doesn’t have as much use for Pakistan. As a power in general retreat from Asia, the US conceivably has much more in common (and points of vexation especially in relation to H1B1) with India than Pakistan.
(5.) Saudi Arabia and China are counter-cultural power; one espouses hereditary monarchy and the other communism with Confucian characteristics. Like Pakistan they are fundamentally “out of sorts” with the modern world and the ongoing cult (?) of liberal democracies.
(6.) This “Axis of Autocracy” may individually have competing interests (Saudi will ALWAYS maintain a strong relationship with the US, the China has some interest in Iran) but Pakistan binds them as the weakest member (sort of the Italy in the WW2 Axis).
(7.) Pakistan is the most likely stumble from crisis to crisis and especially in the latest “begging bowl incident” Imran was spurned away from both Saudi & China to go to the IMF. Khashoggi’s murder was serendipitous for Pakistan (are we sure it’s not an ISI false flag) as an isolated and under attack Saudi had to immediately shore up its alliance.
(8.) with the renewed impetus from a successful negotiation Imran can now play his hand against the Chinese. Though Pakistan’s foreign policy agenda is destructive (more Habsburg than Prussia); survival can focus the mind.
(9.) The only real way this Axis would be shattered if the “people” rose up and all three nations seem to have inoculated their citizens from the Western winds of liberal democracy. In some ways the Sabrimala Temple incident shows that Modern India is more an enemy of traditional Hinduism than anyone else.