There is an ongoing churn in the regional dynamic that is in large part driven by two linked actions of the US — one being the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the other being the pivot in the direction of the Pacific region. Regional players are adjusting accordingly, and Pakistan and its close ally, China, no less than others. At the forefront, once again, is Chief of the Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, who has been doing a lot of travelling in the service of the state in the last two months. He was in Beijing last weekend, coinciding with the visit of President Barack Obama to India. He was there at the invitation of the Chinese to meet and share a range of views and information with the Chinese civilian and military leaderships. The mood music over the two-day visit was mellow and though there was none of the effusive body language that there was between President Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, all the indications were that the visit had gone well for both sides.
China has been a good friend to Pakistan for many years. During the course of the visit, it was reiterated that China had a consistent policy towards Pakistan and that the concerns of Pakistan are the concerns of China — and with extremism and terrorism at the forefront on the minds of both governments, there is little doubt as to the subtext of that comment. Counter-terrorism and the long-term defence relationship are to be enhanced. The Indian swing away from Russia towards the US in terms of defence procurement was noted, which will have far-reaching implications. Pakistan and China will be expanding their military equipment development programmes that have been jointly conducted for more than 20 years. Intelligence is to be shared, a vital aspect of the relationship, particularly relative to unrest in the ethnic Uyghur provinces of southwest China. There were no surprises but a sense of methodical adjustment to existing relationships to take account of an evolving world. General Raheel was doing much the same in Kabul, London and Washington recently, and we should expect the maintenance work to continue.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 28th, 2015.
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