Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
A reader has pointed to an agreement that Pakistan’s Jamaat-i-Islami, the main Islamist political group, signed with the Chinese communist party during its trip to Beijing a few days ago.
They also promised not to get involved in each other’s internal affairs which according to the report on CBS News was effectively an undertaking that Pakistan’s Islamists will stay away from activities of separatist Muslims in China’s northern Xinjiang region.
While China’s concerns about the Islamist fervour sweeping northwest Pakistan spilling over into Xinjiang have been known before, it does seem a bit unusual for the communist party to strike a deal with a religion-based foreign political party.
If your country is desperate to stave off economic collapse, there is probably no better place to visit, and no better friend to have, than China right now. With $2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, China is sheltered from the worst of the financial storm, so much so that many are looking at it to play a part in hauling the global economy into calmer waters.
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari begins a trip to China on Tuesday on what is being billed as his first official visit abroad – his earlier trip to the United States has been presented as one to attend the U.N. General Assembly.
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.
So has China been a better friend than the United States and is the relationship as solid as ever?