China and Pakistan: credibility or nihilism?

Dr Muhammad Ali Ehsan June 23, 2024
The author is postdoctoral scholar at the International Affairs Department of Kazan Federal University (KFU) Russia


I van Turgenev is a Russian novelist, poet and dramatist who ranks as one of the towering figures of Russian literature. His novel, Father and Sons (1862), is regarded as one of the major works of 19th-century fiction. I discovered this novel when I searched for understanding the concept of nihilism and found out that the term nihilism was popularised by Ivan Turgenev and more specifically by his character Bazarov in this novel that I am reading. The reason why I want to understand nihilism as philosophical view is because nihilism means nothingness and I want to understand this philosophy of nothingness. In the last two years we as a nation state have lowered our guard in respecting and maintaining the dignity of human lives. The latest addition to this affair is the incident in Swat where a resident of Sialkot who is alleged to have committed blasphemy has been beaten to death and set ablaze by a charged mob. This is absolute absence of law, absolute absence of rule of law and absolute absence of law enforcement — this is absence of everything, this is what I call nihilism — nothingness.

Bazarov is the character and a doctor in the novel who is a nihilist. The Latin word nihil means nothing and so the doctor claims to recognise nothing and respect nothing. He regards everything from a critical point of view and bows down to no authority, does not accept any principle on faith no matter how much that principle may be revered. Since I am in the middle of reading this novel, I don’t know how it will end but what I do know is that I am enjoying this great work of fiction that delivers into the themes of love, politics and societal change — all factors which are crashing in our society and which warrant our deep national attention so as to become a civilised society and not a bunch of nihilists. I think China, our great neighbour, partner and ally, also has a similar desire. There are rumours making rounds that it has downgraded the status of if its relationship with us from highest priority to priority. It is this subject on which I want to throw some light.

We must realistically understand the vantage point from which China views us and perceives us as a nation state. China is a great power and it is at the giving end. But if we are at the receiving end then for the last two years what kind of signals have we been sending to China? China sees a lack of political and military resolve in how we want to move forward along with it and build our strategic relationship. When you show lack of commitment and lack of resolve what you should expect from a power that is greater to you in all domains and which wants you to play a responsible role in creating an enabling strategic environment to help it ward off some of the other pressing problems and headaches. Russia and China have many issues due to the hawkish foreign policy of Biden administration but it is just not that it is the possibility of yet another Trump presidency that is occupying the minds of the leaders of these great powers and the burning question of how they will deal with it.

In international relations interstate relationships are interests-dependent but friendship between the states is reputation-dependent. What is our reputation today? We must ask ourselves this question? How the world views us as a state? Look at what we did to our cricket? We were booted out of the tournament not because we had a bad team, but because we lacked the resolve to win. This lack of resolve was injected in the dressing room of the team by those who managed their appointment in our cricket administration through nepotism and favouritism. What kind of team a chief selector would choose if his own selection and appointment is questionable? Ouster from the World Cup at the initial stage of the tournament is a great lesson for us to know why we are losing and not winning. If we as a nation show the right resolve, why would China be afraid to move forward with us? I am afraid that our actions have been counterproductive and there has been inconsistency in the behaviour of our state leadership. If we damage our own reputation and show no resolve to set our own house in order, then why should we worry that our reputation is nose diving internationally?

China’s relationship with Pakistan has two positive assumptions, I even call them constraints and these are regardless of who rules Pakistan. One, CPEC is a strategic necessity for China and it will not back off from the project. Two, it is in China’s interest to continue to invest in the political, social and economic survival of Pakistan. One simple metaphor will explain these assumptions. The United States considers Taiwan as an unsinkable aircraft carrier stationed within the striking distance of China. What does China think about us? Any thoughtful, rational and sensible observer would know that Pakistan is the gateway to China’s access to the Indian Ocean. China today trades more with the rest of the world than America does. More Chinese products sail across the oceans than American products. Pakistan’s deep-sea ports are a guarantee to Chinese maritime access to the outside world and even if Malacca Straits is compromised and access to China is denied by the Americans in any future scenario, Pakistan will be the gateway through which China will be able to import oil and gas and continue to run its industries. Thus, it will utilise Pakistani ports to project its economic and, when necessary, military power.

Great powers are not impressed by speech competence or the colour of the suits that the leaders of the ordinary and medium power wear. They are impressed by your commitment and resolve to the joint endeavours that you undertake with them. China may not have said this but let me say this for the leadership of my own country — to gain credibility abroad, go back and resolve credibility at home. In the absence of everything that you say you will do and end up not doing it, you project yourself not as a credible state but a nihilist state — a state that believes in nothingness.


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