Choosing my ‘all-weather’ friend

Published: August 6, 2011
The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist who has worked as senior editor at The Indian Express from 1997-2004 and since then has been writing for Khaleej Times, Business Standard and Wall Street Journal

The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist who has worked as senior editor at The Indian Express from 1997-2004 and since then has been writing for Khaleej Times, Business Standard and Wall Street Journal

China’s implied criticism of Pakistan earlier this week, for allowing the so-called East Turkestan Islamic Movement to carry out arms and explosives training and then attacking a restaurant in its restive Xinjiang region, is actually quite similar to India’s accusations that Pakistan allows terrorists to train on its soil and carry out attacks in India.

The big difference, of course, is that China is Pakistan’s ‘all-weather friend’, while India remains, at least in the eyes of the Pakistani establishment, a hostile neighbour. That’s why it hurts so much in Islamabad and in Rawalpindi. That’s also why it caught the attention of the world.

If Hillary Clinton exhorted India to assert its place in the region, then surely Pakistan was allowed to fall back on its chief ally, China? But the truth is that in the 21st century, there’s no such thing as a zero sum game anymore.

Here’s hypothesis one: an alliance between Beijing and Islamabad exists to both contain and counter India’s growing influence in the region. This may have been true a decade ago, but as the economic relationship between India and China grows by leaps and bounds — China is already India’s second largest trading partner after the US — there will be more and more stakeholders in China who will limit the excessive zeal with which Beijing deals with Islamabad.

Here’s hypothesis two: Pakistan is integral in the fight against terror, not only because it controls the land route to Afghanistan which the US and its Nato allies must use to carry everything from heavy machinery to food pellets, but because Islamabad’s leverage with the Taliban gives it an indispensable role in any Afghan outcome.

But the truth is that Rawalpindi’s dreams of returning to ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan can never be the same, if only because Afghanistan has changed beyond belief in the last decade. In fact, India and China have shown Kabul the way to leapfrog into the new world, by using its mineral resources as strategic assets. The Chinese have already won the bid to exploit the Aynak copper mines, now India’s bidding for the Hajigak iron ore mines. Even if the Taliban-Haqqani brothers combine delight in killing Indian workers in the hope of scaring them off from the scene in Afghanistan, is China going to allow instability and chaos to damage its economic clout in that country?

Make no mistake, China’s economic growth is slowing down, which is one major reason why it is so nervous about America’s capacity to beat the recession. Remember, China has more than one trillion dollars in US treasury bonds, which means that Beijing and Washington are locked in an embrace from which there’s no turning back. And this is not hypothesis number three.

Truth is, trade and economics are the new nuclear weapons, and the sooner the rest of us in South Asia understand that, the less painful it will be. Our countries may play the caste or religious card at home or use terrorism as a bargaining chip against each other, but it’s not going to work. The people will rise because they know they deserve better.

It is in this light that the modest measures on trade and travel recently agreed upon by the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan must be seen. If the people benefit by them, shouldn’t they rather than their establishments have the right to decide who is an all-weather friend and who, the enemy?

Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (27)

  • faraz
    Aug 6, 2011 - 10:09PM

    Even a layman like me can’t swallow the fact that free trade agreement with China has ruined our small and medium scale industry, and third rate Chinese products have flooded the markets, and bilateral trade with China runs in a huge deficit. People can be easily be fooled by rhetoric, but why do the so call strategists ignore the cost of this ‘all weather friendship’?


  • harinder
    Aug 6, 2011 - 10:41PM

    You talk senseRecommend

  • Mir Agha
    Aug 6, 2011 - 10:47PM

    Reality may be too harsh for you to admit. US isn’t going to beat the recession, they lost in Afghanistan, China won’t do jack, and Afghanistan is either going the way of being Pakistan’s like it was before the US invasion and/or its going to be mired in internal fighting for the forseeable future with little to offer to anybody. The Afghans will take much delight in taking out all who supported the invasion and occupation of their homeland, mainly the indian government and its people who still cheer on the failed US experiment in Afghanistan. Would also take out the “liberals” in Pak who served as a nice rag for the neocons. I see the indians still have delusions about themselves.Recommend

  • G. Din
    Aug 6, 2011 - 11:33PM

    Coming from this writer, saying what is obvious and well known to everyone is progress to be thankful about. Is there anything in this dissertation we don’t already know?


  • Max
    Aug 6, 2011 - 11:57PM

    Afghanistan, China, India and Pakistan; It is a very complex rectangular relationship and there are no easy answers or solutions. Oh! Please get over this Pakistan paranoia. Strategic depth was a strategy at one time and it has been long since.


  • Ben
    Aug 7, 2011 - 12:42AM

    The recent terror attack in China’s Xinjiang province, whether or not perpetrated by Pakistani terrorists’ has pleased the prophets of doom who are making preparations for celebrating “total international isolation” of Pakistan. The reason was China’s initial statement but after realizing the ground realities, China turned the tables on these prophets the very next day by declaring total support to Pakistan in its war against terrorists. The fact is that FATA bordering Afghanistan has been volatile ever since opening of a number of unwarranted Indian consulates and intensification of the activities of intelligence network of a very powerful country, the latter being the major reason of strained US-Pakistan relations. Why did they target Xinjiang is a huge question and speaks volumes about who could be behind these terrorists. This also explains “Islamists’” acts of targeted violence against Chinese citizens in Islamabad in 2007, after occupying a sacred place of worship and making the people hostage to this agenda. The other reason for choosing Xinjiang was that the area was already volatile for ethnic reasons. Since those involved in turbulence are Muslims who, in their view, are fighting Chinese imperialism, the common perception is that probably the area is under the influence of al Qaeda or other terrorist activities for gaining political space.


  • LooseSalwar
    Aug 7, 2011 - 3:36AM

    “Truth is, trade and economics are the new nuclear weapons,”

    Lady, you need help.


  • Arindom
    Aug 7, 2011 - 10:28AM

    While Pakistanis go to great length to tell the world of their ” all weather friendship with the Chinese”, the Chinese have heardly ever been heard of using these flattering words for Pakistan – is this friendship a one-way street? I think the Chinese let the Pakistanis live in their own illusion while they themselves focus on totally capturing the 180 mission captive market. Have the Pakistanis ever examined whether their no-open tenders for large projects in favour of the Chinese have given them good competitive rates? All the western export rejects are dumped on Pakistan since the Chinese know they cannot send shoddy products to the West. Moreover the Chinese are not really averse to bribes – so it works nicely in Pakistan.


  • SharifL
    Aug 7, 2011 - 12:48PM

    As usual a sensible analysis, Ms Malhotra. Except that this story about China is not supported by world press. Here in Germany, one of the prestigious newspapers (FAZ) gave a different version, although the paper is normally critical of pakistan generally. According to this paper, China blamed pakistan only to distract attention from freedom fighting struggles in the area and Tibet. But after initially barking at pakistan, it realized the mistake and withdrew the accusations. This does not mean that pakistan should not increase its efforts to fight the menace of terrorism. But giving more freedom to Xinjiang and Tibet should be a top priority for Chinese.
    After all India has supported Dalai Lama for the last 50 years and that has not caused the relationship to worsen. In fact more economic activities is taking place between the two countries now. People turn to fighting when their demands for human rights are totally ignored. The Arab spring is a good example and Kashmir..


  • pakpinoy
    Aug 7, 2011 - 2:08PM

    Some of the comments here are outright remarkable! Pakistan is in this delusional, one-sided, imaginary “love affair” with China!

    China will never make decisions based on the idiotic factors and “reasons” (not really an accurate term since few of Pakistan’s decisions have an ounce of “reasoning” in them…) that Pakistan makes them on.

    China, and the Chinese, are pragmatic, opportunists, highly materialistic, long-term thinkers, patient and slow to react. Maybe that’s why Pakistan loves them — exact opposites of themselves!! However, in the end, the power of economic development and trade will trump all things. China will NEVER sacrifice the booming trade relationship it has with the US or, increasingly, with India as long as both nations are peaceful trade partners.

    Pakistan better find something better to offer China other than 200 million desperate people looking for anyone, anywhere to “love” them…


  • Manna
    Aug 7, 2011 - 3:09PM

    If the India wants to find a way to Kabul from New Delhi then find it from elsewhere., not through Pakistan because without any agreement on outstanding major issues , no such trade will ever take place. World have 192 other countries with which Pakistan can trade. India is not the only option. Giving China’s trade relationships with India is wrong Comparison that Pakistan should do the same with India.This Comparison is absolutely false, because of China’s economy size and mainly that its more one way trade from China as far as finished goods are concerned. Pakistan doesn’t fit into that category. Moreover, Pakistan is not obliged by a Divine covenant that it must trade with India. Instead of blaming Pakistan and other neighbors from time to time, India must concentrate internally why it is so? Its not the establishment but majority of Pakistanis who do not want or favor trade with India until we see progress on core issues. Defeat of Soviets and then now USA in Afghanistan must open India’s eyes and instead of dreaming of achieving what US and Soviets could not achieve, must focus on realities in the region. Its better India recognize it sooner than later. Or if India wants to replace USA in Afghanistan, then be my guest and try it.
    Pakistan and Chinese friendship is more than a usual friendship between nations. People of Pakistan wants and fully endorse it .It has nothing to do with India. Why India is not a friend of Pakistan , this is for India to answer , not us. Fact is China will remain Pakistan’s close friend no matter India and Indians like it or not.


  • Alami Musafir
    Aug 7, 2011 - 3:26PM

    On the same day that you (Jyoti) wrote this piece the Chinese state media wrote:

    “America Needs To Accept The Painful Fact That The Good Old Days Are Over”
    Read more:

    Tsk, tsk Jyoti, you must keep up with the times, and more importantly, the news. Where were you when the global markets crashed on 4th August, 2 days before your piece ?

    When (not if, but when) the dollar collapses, probably within a year from today, all the precious Chinese and Indian reserves will turn to dust. The decades of toil, of scrimping and saving (as well as the smug condescension of people like yourself talking down to the Pakistanis) will evaporate in a puff of hot air. And it will serve you right.

    Please, in future, think before you ink.


  • Alami Musafir
    Aug 7, 2011 - 4:23PM

    “Truth is, trade and economics are the new nuclear weapons”. Indeed so. They are wielded by the US against China and India. Truth is that America became broke fighting Vietnam and on 15th August 1971, the 24th anniversary of Indian Independance, almost exactly 40 years ago, Nixon closed the Gold Window and turned the dollar to a purely fiat currency. Since that time the US has lived on IOUs. Because it has neither gold nor any other tradeable commodity equal to its present enormous debt, it cannot repay its creditors.

    And so, it will “inflate its way out” of its obligations, by secretly allowing, and even encouraging, the debasement of the dollar, while outwardly protesting the dollar’s demise. The dollar’s fate is thus sealed.

    Sadly, the Indians (including yourself, judging from your article), the Chinese, the Japanese, Arabs, Pakistanis etc, who were blinded by the wonderous Western economic science and freely gave of their goods and services in exchange for dollars will soon find out what a fraud this economic science is. Their loss will be so great that it will completely devastate their economies and infrastructure…just as you have said in your statement (quoted above).


  • BruteForce
    Aug 7, 2011 - 7:53PM

    So, Pakistan doesn’t have resources to tackle the Haqqanis in the same area but it will bend over backwards to suppress a budding Islamist movement against China?


  • Mastishhk
    Aug 7, 2011 - 9:18PM

    @ Alami Musafir…Thts precisely the reason why Pakistanis want to migrate to USA in search of better education and life.What exactly do u have in Pakistan to make Pakistanis stay in Pakistan ?????


  • Cynical
    Aug 8, 2011 - 2:00AM


    You don’t need help, because you’re beyond it.


  • Infidel Humanist
    Aug 8, 2011 - 2:21AM

    @Alami Musafir:

    Berating modern economics for the current economic woes is like berating the the Internet because it makes pornography more available. The problem is neither debt, nor is it monetary expansion. The problem is too much debt and uncontrolled monetary expansion based on political expediency rather than sound (modern) economic theory. Also, currency expansion looked at in isolation means nothing. Currencies are relative tools and as long as you are the best-looking of all the ugly sisters, you are fine. The US 10-year bond is still around 2-3%.

    Austrian economics is not the solution to the modern world’s problems, just like the Caliphate is not the solution to the Muslim world’s problems.


  • Amir
    Aug 8, 2011 - 11:43AM

    I think too many Indians have made it through this Pakistani website as well. Pakistan and China have way too many mutual interests and both nations can’t afford to ruin this friendship. China needs access to warm waters of Arabian Sea and Pakistan needs business investment and development offered by China. China is even launching a Pakistani satellite into orbit next week. Both countries need each other, but Pakistan has very few friends in the region so Pakistan needs China more than China needs Pakistan. And U.S. and India can not be trusted because today in 2011, U.S. and Pakistan have no mutual interests we have conflicting interests in Afghanistan, and India will always be our arch-rival. India and Pakistan have conflicts everywhere be it in Kashmir, Bangladesh, or Afghanistan.


  • Amir
    Aug 8, 2011 - 11:52AM

    @Mastishhk: There are about 3 million Indians in the USA while there are less than 200,000 Pakistanis in the USA. So who is desperate to migrate to USA in search of a better education and life?


  • malik
    Aug 8, 2011 - 12:08PM


    Just because there are more Indians in US than Pakistanis does not mean that Pakistanis are NOT desperate to go to US.

    The numbers only indicate that US is more willing to take Indian students than Pakistani students. I think you should ponder the reasons for this.


  • pakpinoy
    Aug 8, 2011 - 12:09PM


    Nice try but you picked a fight on the wrong topic! Let’s see, why would there be so many more Indians in the US than Pakistanis…hmmm…thinking, thinking…oh yeah, because India produces thousands and thousands of skilled workers, especially in the IT sector!

    The second reason is pretty darn simple as well. How many Indians, as compared to Pakistanis, are involved in international terrorism??

    Next time you may want to think through your answers a bit more thoroughly.


  • Alami Musafir
    Aug 8, 2011 - 2:08PM

    @Infidel Humanist
    Its easy to get entangled in the details of economic theory and lose sight of the wider perspective. Also which fund manager will stick his neck out and opt for non-dollar assets, when in size terms the dollar greatly predominates the asset pool, and also because markets are slow moving herds. The dollar’s end is near for the reasons I’ve given and its consequences are more important than quibbles about Austrian economics, the theory vs practice of economics etc. Pure unsullied virginal economic theory only exists in heaven. Down on Earth it is used as a fig leaf to mask neo-colonialism, as a means to exploit the ‘lesser races’, obtaining their labour and resources for free for your own gain.

    Your argument is akin to the pharmaceutical industry arguing that ‘true pharmaceutics’ have only benefits without side-effects whereas the ineffectiveness and/or side-effects of actual medicines is due to misapplication of this pure theory.

    IMHO the basis of economic planning should be the cost of labour, should take account of the needs of unborn generations when depleting resources etc. But thats far beyond the current topic.


  • Amir
    Aug 8, 2011 - 9:46PM

    @pakpinoy: Indians drive taxi cabs and work in dunkin donuts and 7/11 in USA. You Indians always talk big behind the computer but in real life you are nothing. That is why there are more poor people in India than all of Africa and you people all rush to USA to serve your American masters coffee and donuts.


  • BruteForce
    Aug 9, 2011 - 8:47PM


    I guess you haven’t heard of the Mittals, the Sabeer Bhatias and the Indra Nooyi’s of the World.

    Indians are the richest and the most educated and the most thriving of ALL the nationalities in the US. We are too darn smart says the NY Times.

    educate yourself before you speakRecommend

  • Amir
    Aug 10, 2011 - 1:16AM

    @BruteForce: “You cannot go to a 7-11 or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent…. I’m not joking.” –Joe Biden


  • Observer
    Aug 10, 2011 - 5:56PM

    She is right. Looks like you need some help inunderstanding basic concepts.


  • Observer
    Aug 10, 2011 - 6:10PM

    Funny but nothing wrong from all strata making their future in U S. Tho
    Is also an achievement. To 711s and Dunkin Donuts, add all the gas stations and all the motels, now increasingly Holiday Inn Expresses. These are big achievements. These people will move onto bigger investments and do even better for themselves.


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