Choosing your friends: Pakistan, the U.S. and China

September 23, 2008

President Bush meets President Zardari in New York/Jim YoungWhile Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari is in the United States discussing U.S. military strikes across Pakistan’s border, army chief General Ashfaq Kayani is on a far less publicised trip to China to talk about defence cooperation. The timing may be coincidental, but the potential implications of the United States and China playing competing roles in Pakistan are huge.

Pakistan has always seen China as a much more reliable friend, while support from Washington has waxed and waned in line with U.S. interests (Islamabad has never quite forgiven the United States for using it to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and then dropping it when the Russians were driven out in 1989.) 

And nowadays the difference in the approaches of Pakistan’s two giant allies is even more striking.  While the United States and Pakistan argue about U.S. cross-border strikes, China has quietly reaffirmed its commitment to keeping Pakistan stable.

File photo of General Ashfaq KayaniIn a condolence message sent after this weekend’s Marriott Hotel bombing, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said, “As a good neighbour and all-time friend of Pakistan, China will always support the unremitting efforts made by the government and people of Pakistan to safeguard the country’s stability.”

Of course there is no reason to jump to the conclusion the United States and China will become outright rivals over Pakistan — both have a stake in Pakistan’s stability, and in the past both have managed to maintain close ties with Islamabad without tripping over each other. But the current scenario certainly increases the chances of friction.

Add to that the fact that the strategic picture in South Asia has changed dramatically under the Bush administration. The United States has rewritten its relationship with India — which was still seen as in the Soviet camp back in the days of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan –turning it into a crucial ally in Asia and potential bulwark against Chinese influence. It sealed that transformation by reaching a deal with India effectively recognising it as a nuclear power, ignoring any misgivings in China (India’s nuclear weapons programme was developed as much, if not more, as a defence against China as against Pakistan.)

So it will be interesting to see what Kayani brings back from China and Zardari from the United States in the way of promises of support.  Will the United States and China be able to work together to pull Pakistan out of its current crisis? Or are they drifting into a situation where they end up opposing each other?


So much for the western support. Mr Brown while reaffirming his support for Pakistan in the war on terror has just suspended British Airways flights to Pakistan. Other allied states have refused to travel to Pakistan on committed sports tours. they leave the lesser ones to die while providing verbal support. The West can not be releied upon as a friend. This is what experience over the last 37 years has proved

Posted by abdul rauf | Report as abusive

Pakistan shot down an American drone this date, while President Asif Ali Zardari met with U.S. President George Bush. Recently Pakistan shot at U.S. Helicopters during a incursion into Pakistan airspace. One would consider this acts of war, and history shows us that wars have started for less than this. I’m very perplexed as to why this occurs time and time again, and both sides acts if nothing happened. Is it possible that all of this is an diversion, and that U.S. And Pakistan are working closer together then they care to admit? Is it logical that Pakistan would of committed the gravest act of betrayal to its Muslim neighbors to admit they are assisting the west in the war on terrorism?
Or is it possible Pakistan is accepting much needed foreign aid from the U.S., and playing on both sides of the fence?

Posted by P Walker | Report as abusive

(Islamabad has never quite forgiven the United States for using it to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and then dropping it when the Russians were driven out in 1989.)

…keystone of u.s. foreign policy. – when will they ever learn. a carpetbagger is always a carpetbagger. lol

Posted by basho | Report as abusive

As a citizen of Pakistan I suggest that Pakistan should immediately stop taking part in war against terrorism. USA is bullying us and I believe that USA is the biggest terrorist in the world. Whatever the global crises we are seeing whether it is terrorism, inflation or financial crises, for that all USA is responsible. We should stand against USA and their policy. Because of them millions of people have died and millions are without basic necessity around the world. Whatever Pakistan is suffering today, USA is responsible.

Posted by Hasnain | Report as abusive

“Recently Pakistan shot at U.S. Helicopters during a incursion into Pakistan airspace. One would consider this acts of war, and history shows us that wars have started for less than this.”

-Posted by P Walker

Sending in troops ‘uninvited’ into another country would be cocsidered an act of war, I guess common sense doesn’t apply to the US.

Posted by Ali | Report as abusive

There are no friends and no enemies in the real world..everyone are puppets in the hands of situation.
Kayani is probalby visiting China to get the duplicate of F-16s made. This is exactly what soemone in US congress questioned when ush administration seeked a $250M aid to upgrade F-16s to pakistan.

Posted by Om | Report as abusive

Pakistan should lease Waziristan to the US and have them cleanup the culprits. Pakistan doesn’t have the resources to tackle this mess. Also invite China to setup a military base in Gawadar to strengthen friendship and facilitate their trade and globle presence as a power.

Posted by Dawood | Report as abusive

Pakistan is in a conundrum owing tom her support in war on the terror. The war is now inside Pakistan with all its srtegth and deaths. Pakistan is under much pressure by her people and of USA as well. Pakistani people has not yet owned this war. People are killed each day but most of them still regard it is a borrowed war. Indeed it is a borrowed war. But now it is Pkistan’s war because it kills none but her people. The media in Pakistan must play a key role in order to realize the dreads this war is to cause. Now as USA does not look at Pakistan as a reliable partner, in the same thread Pakistan is doubtful about the role of USA for Pakistan has once tested her friendship.
All this maked Pakistani leaders to travel the world in desperate. China being more reliable, though she has her axe to grind, can give some support, emotional as well, to Pakistan.

Posted by zubair torwali | Report as abusive

Dawood has put ‘Pakistan on sale’

Posted by Indian | Report as abusive

“Friends Not Masters” remember General Ayub Khan wrote after being shafted by the US. Before that Liaquat Ali Khan was shafted as well by the US. Pakistan became the Nuclear target after the US U-2 plane was shot over Russia. Again after Russian departure US turned colder shoulder towards Pakistan. Now again the US has a deadly relationship with Pakistan stated as an ally but not Friendly.
The real American hateful sentiments about Pakistan echo the displeasure of Americans their everday life. The real problem stems from the Jewish unease with any Muslim country having any viable source of security against the Zoinist Regime.
Pakistani opponants of the so called Pak- American friendship always said that Pakistan can only have reliable relationship with either China or Russia.

Posted by N. Junaid | Report as abusive

Dear Ali:

As I directly quote you: “Sending in troops ‘uninvited’ into another country would be considered an act of war, I guess common sense doesn’t apply to the US.” I’m thinking you may have taken my words out of context. What I intended to say was, my country (U.S.) should honor Pakistan’s border integrity, as a war can easily start. Russia invaded Georgia, and my country blasted the Russians. My country should practice what it preaches, and that was my point. However, the wonderful thing about my country, is I can disagree with our leaders decisions, speak out against our policy’s, and I never fear reprisals. I may not agree with my country’s policy’s, however I would fight to defend my country, and even your way of life, if this is what my country asked of me. We as Americans have liberated many country’s from tyranny, assisted in rebuilding their country, as we have done in Iraq. The United States of America is an generous country, we ask nothing in return. The U.S. Believes in equal rights for all, as the U.S. Is the world largest contributor to foreign and humanitarian aid in the world. We are not an bully, as some in the Middle East may imply. We care about people, we care about your children and our childrens future free from greed, power, and using religion as an front to fear people into compliance.

Posted by P Walker | Report as abusive

Pakistan does not need to forgive US for leaving them after russians left. It was pakistan that turned the left over from that jehad into taliban and jehadi movements in afghanistan and India. Now they are paying for it. Pakistan has always had the habit of going with the highest bidder and in most cases it was the US. A prostitute really shouldn’t be complaining if the customer does not call on her regularly.

Posted by Vips | Report as abusive

Dear P walker,

Firstly apologies for taking your words out of context, I agree and respect what you have said but in the most part you have the freedoms and right to say how you feel in a western country because you are I assume a white christian, muslims minorities in the west no longer enjoy such freedoms as every word and action is watched and ironicaly also taken out of context to fuel the so called war on terror, by both an overbearing establishment and the media.

What makes things alot more uncomfortable for muslims and ultimately the world is the fact that this reality is now ever more present in muslim countries also, pushed by the with us or against us approach of the west in general.

While the west is fed and I might even go as far as to say indoctrinated the idea that ‘muslims threaten their way of life’, the muslim way of life is already under siege.

Posted by Ali | Report as abusive

Dear P walker,
I agree with most of the things you said about your country.
But I do not agree with the policy of meddling with other country’s affairs. Tyranny or not, one should not invade another country to change the government. If the people in that country really want it, they will get it by their own revolution. Else the people will not be able to connect with the new installed government. Can you give me one example where the change in government by a US coup has been successful to install a popular and stable government?
It is not US’s responsibility and no one appreciates it.
Let UN decide the right path. It is only by consensus that policies become successful.
Please do not mention Iraq, as you yourself have agreed that Bush mislead Americans into Iraq war. Saddam was a dictator, but still Iraq was stable under him and if he was so bad then why didn’t US get support from UN like it did for Afghanistan?
Again entering Pakistan’s border uninvited is not the best thing to do in these frayed times.
As far as Georgia and Russia is concerned. Russia didn’t do any wrong. Unbiased media reports will tell you that Georgia started the war by invading South Ossetia. So in a way Russia reacted in a way in which US itself would have reacted.
Stop having double standards. And stop living the white man’s burden of civilizing the world.
As for donations, yes I would agree US is the largest donor by way of investments in World bank and IMF and as a result tremendous clout in deciding how the aid seeking countries formulate their economic policies which will benefit US. So it is not altogether altruistic but opportunistic. But its fair and don’t think its wrong. Its plain business, just like lobbyists.
Please don’t think I am completely against US. I admire its democracy and its election system. But I don’t agree with its foreign policies. They intrusive and bully like most of the time.
It is governed by self interests (nothing wrong with that) and is not a very reliable friend (something to worry about).

Posted by Aman | Report as abusive

I like it Walker. You hit the nail on the head.
These pakistanis are exactly that. Zardari in US and Kayani in China—————for what????????
when they get cornered revert to the much hackneyed point of muslim minority all over the world. Is there a lot of peace where there are in majority.
Back to pakistan————they are the root cause for all evil and I think the world needs to take charge of that country now before any mishap takes place and they are completely annihilated.

Posted by reddy | Report as abusive

The as a who and pakistan in particular commited a blunder by fighting aliens’ war and than making their proxy masters to get them on mat. The next lesser chance which can prove a big opportunity lies in Asia. Look at the changing geopolitical map and the strat of the end of American as super power. It will take the giant miminmum 10-15 years to go on a cool pulse. Meanwhile some long term planning with the upcoming power centres for the future strategy is a must.Resisting Soviet which led to their break up was a strategic blunder as to Putin the breakup of Soviet Union is. There should be no illusion that there has to be a countervailing force for the best security guarantee.

Posted by Tariq Javed | Report as abusive

Nuclear Deal with Pak?
Even though india has great track record of nuclear tech,Indo-US deal gone through NSG after such huge push people from US and India.
AQ Khan (father of Pak’s nuclear tech)comes to mind,
I wonder what NSG will do?

Posted by Lakshmipathi | Report as abusive

Dear reddy,
” These pakistanis are exactly that. Zardari in US and Kayani in China—————for what???????? ”
1. what abt ur(india’s) double standard… one hand with Russia and other with US….
We are their for exactly the same reason as u were in Russia in (50′s to 90s) and now its US and Israel instead of Russia…. grow up and before putting ur figure on Pakistan check ur own track record… realize that we all are looking for partners which serve our country’s interest… ur welcome to try out ur propaganda against Pak and China….

Posted by Danish Khan | Report as abusive

Danish Khan
what are your country’s “interests”….. Terrorism?

Posted by Indian | Report as abusive

Islam has been a great unifying force. Jihadis have been created through Islamic doctrines. Priests of every possible religion have fooled their believers and Islam is no exception. We Hindus have taken a very long time to get out of grips of our Brahman priests and I suppose same is true for Christians. Islam is a relatively young religion and I am sure Muslims will also come out of the grips of their Mullahs who promise heaven to young Muslims and whom they take on the path of terror. Muslims need sympathy more than anything. Muslims have to learn how to question their religious preachers. Everything they speak is not the word of Allah.

Posted by Rajendra Kumar | Report as abusive

Well said Rajendra…. holy books and texts of all the religions have been manipulated to suit the leader or king which is now visible in christian(some leaders of US who say “Our god is greater than yours”), Hindu (our great Bharatiya Janata Party who say India is a hindu country… which was centuries back and demolish mosques and churches) and finally to the islamic world (who recognise only muslims as people who hearts only feel the suffering muslims around the world and sont care of the rest). There is lot in this world which one can see only if they come out of the mask of religion (best described in the Indian constitution which though is ideal and not followed correctly because of the worst politicians that our country has).

Posted by Ramesh | Report as abusive

Well double standard of India ?…Yes back off from IPI multibillion project , help US to pass resolution against Iran. Sending 15,000 troops to Afghanistan when EU countries refuse to contribute further more.


Both India and Pakistan poor and corrupt countries …anything for money.

Posted by Uncle Sam | Report as abusive

Uncle sam, you think India will support Us since it got into a nuclear deal… In few weeks time by the time our PM comes back he will get similar deals done with France and Russia(Cold war enemy of US). You know something India never supported any country blindly(not even USSR which was sole reason India developed techly). India will always offer issue based support. Go verify the facts in history. US which condemned the attacks of Russia on Georgia somehow was sleeping when Georgia was attacking south Ossetia. You speak of democracy and create dictators like the Taliban and Mushraff. You criticize Iran for its nuclear programme(Which I agree is doing a mistake after signing NPT) and dont even look at Israel which might be doing the same thinkg under cover and aid it in developing missile tech. I do not say India is perfect nor US is completelty bad(US has very good people who are being misled by their politicians).Every country has to learn from the other one issue or the other. No country can be perfect as long as there is corruption everywhere. But India has the history of being led by great leaders (like Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhai patel, Rajiv Gandhi and not the least our Manmohan singh) and its stance on Democracy and secularism which I feel should expand all over the world and everyone should live in peace and happiness

Posted by Ramesh | Report as abusive

Whoooaaaa cowboy Uncle Sam whoooaaaaa

Posted by Indian | Report as abusive

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