Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar is not far wrong when she says her country is committed to strengthening anti-terror cooperation with China, rejecting reports that her country was a haven for militants blamed for an attack in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang. Committed Pakistan is all right, but her assurance about Pakistan not being a safe haven for terrorists will be taken by Chinese leaders with a pinch of salt.
However, Pakistan’s attitude towards the issue is quite different with respect to China compared to how Islamabad responds when the same matter arises with America, and how the latter puts pressure on it with regard to the same ‘safe havens’. That, too, is understandable because the Pakistan Army disagrees intensely with America over the future dispensation of Afghanistan and remains deeply wedded to its rivalry with India. In simplistic terms — more in vogue in Pakistan than China — Pakistan and China have the same enemies: the US and India. Pakistan has profound differences with the US over how the war against terrorism is to be fought and has become overly sensitive to how much the Americans can do in Pakistan ‘to help it fight al Qaeda’. The bilateral equation is all but gone after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. As for the Chinese, they don’t think in black and white as the Pakistanis do. Beijing does not react with knee-jerk policy changes as Washington does. It looks at Pakistan as a strategic partner quite apart from the latter’s potential of becoming overrun by the ideology of the terrorists. It is also not ready to replace the quondam Soviet Union as an ideological rival of the US. Pakistan will be making a great mistake if it thinks that China will fight the US and India for it. What is more of a truth is that China will help Pakistan survive if Pakistan takes the path of peace and free-trading, the Chinese trade mark for the 21st century.
China has been misunderstood in Islamabad. It is not going to dish out cash — of which it has a large reserve — rather; it will help Pakistan complete important projects, something at which Pakistan is not very good. There is big money linked to some very important projects with Chinese cooperation. For instance, there is the JF-17 fighter aircraft deal worth as much as $5 billion. There is Gwadar port, which has been built with initial Chinese investment of up to $400 million and there are two nuclear power plants at Chashma, each worth around $900 million. And there is also a proposal for Chinese help in building a dam on the Indus, with the scheme costing, according to Pakistani officials, as much as $15 billion. China calls the shots in Central Asia and its powerful centralised state apparatus will see to it that no province succumbs to religious terrorism and extremism unlike in Pakistan. The region’s economies are already connected with China and committed at the Shanghai Forum to fight terrorism unlike Pakistan which shelters outfits declared as ‘terrorist’ by the UN (where China voted in favour of the bans). Pakistan’s myth-making about America trying to grab Central Asian natural wealth should be put at rest because much of that has already been appropriated by China.
In 2009, the pipeline taking Turkmen gas to China was opened and, by 2013, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong will be using natural gas supplied by the 1,833-kilometer-long Central Asia pipeline. The other myth that America grabbed Iraqi oil should be corrected as well. China and India got all the fat Iraqi contracts after the Iraqis refused to privatise their oil wells. China is among the most pro-trade countries in the world but Pakistan is still biting its nails over trade with India. And it is the major trading partner and financier of America who fought the Iraq war with Chinese money. It is true that Pakistan has great love for China but Chinese nationals have died working in Balochistan, Fata and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The Lal Masjid episode, if one recalls, was triggered by al Qaeda-linked fanatics who attacked Chinese nationals working in Islamabad. Pakistan-China relations are in danger of being undermined by Pakistan’s total lack of understanding of Chinese thinking and by Pakistan’s refusal to be realistic in its foreign policy.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 26th, 2011.