Pakistan: Now or Never?
When former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of the late Benazir Bhutto, agreed in March to form a coalition government in Pakistan, the words of the 19th century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli seemed apt:
Update – Since filing this blog, Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud has said he is pulling out of the peace deal with the government after it refused to withdraw the army from tribal lands on the Afghan border. So were the sceptics right all along? And what does this mean for the government’s new strategy?
Notwithstanding his weakened position at home, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf this week flies to China , the “all weather friend” that has stood by the country through all its troubles.
Unlike its American friends, the Chinese have not blown hot and cold, although there have been challenges such as attacks on Chinese nationals in Pakistan, including the execution of three workers near Peshawar last year and concern that the Islamist fervour sweeping the northwest parts of Pakistan was spilling over to neighbouring Xinjiang, China’s troubled, predominantly Muslim region.
But the Chinese do not give Pakistan lectures on democracy, the dangers of nuclear proliferation – which arguably isn’t surprising since some of it is traced back to the Chinese, according to non-proliferation experts- or threaten to bomb them into the Stone Age , which is what Islamabad says the Bush administration did to enlist its support in its war on terrorism days after Sept 11.
China, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told parliament in his opening address last week, was a time-tested ally and the friendship “was deeper than the Indian Ocean and higher than the Himalayas”. On Monday, a Shanghai shipyard launched the first of four frigates to be delivered to the Pakistan navy, while the Pakistani air force has already inducted a fighter aircraft co-produced with China. Beijing has also helped Pakistan build civil nuclear plants.
Pakistan’s alliance with China is far more enduring that the one with the United States, a scholar writing for the YaleGlobal Online argued last month, characterising the relationship with Washington dating back to 1954 as an intermittent, Cold War marriage of convenience. The current U.S.-Pakistan relationship has been built on security interests and is already looking fragile following the outcome of the February elections when the party supported by ally Musharraf was routed.
Pakistan’s alliance with China, in contrast, is based on permanent strategic interests and immutable issues of geography, including China’s desire for access to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, scholar Willem van Kemenade says in the article. And unlike the sometimes public polemics with Washington over the war on militancy, Pakistan and China are quietly cooperating to ensure things don’t go out of hand in China’s far west.
Indeed, Musharraf will be winding up his visit in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, where he is expected to appeal to local Muslims to cooperate with the authorities and not to be misled by followers of Tibet’s spiritual leader Dala Lama trying to stoke fires there, as B.Raman, a former additional secretary at India’s Research and Analysis Wing, the external intelligence arm, says in a paper for the India-based South Asia Analysis Group.
Former Indian deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani has just released his autobiography and he takes issue with President Pervez Musharraf for blaming him for being “the hidden hand” behind the failure of a 2001 summit between the two countries that ultimately led to a dangerous military stand-off before they talked peace again.
The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The writer is a former High Commissioner of Pakistan and advisor to the late Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan.