Amidst a sea of hostility, friends are always welcome when they appear on the horizon. The Chinese premier’s words of support will, therefore, be received especially warmly in Islamabad. As he departed from the country, after a visit during which agreements worth around 35 billion dollars were signed, Wen Jiabao put up a robust defence of Pakistan and its fight against terror, directly countering US insinuations that it was not doing enough on that front. This is the first time China has risen to Pakistan’s defence in this manner on the issue of terrorism — and leaders in Islamabad who played a role in persuading Beijing to see things through its eyes must be commended.
The strong gesture of support from the Chinese premier should also make the US think about its own strategies and priorities. The heaping of ceaseless pressure on Pakistan to act against militants can really bring only limited results. What is required is support and practical assistance, which China has extended.
Wen Jiabao’s first visit to the country has gone well — even better than could be expected. This, of course, is important. As things stand now, Pakistan needs to build a network of friends. Its increasingly isolated position in the world leaves it vulnerable to attack. More friends need to stand with China in Pakistan’s corner. Islamabad must step up efforts to ensure this happens. Old allies, such as the Saudis, need to be brought back fully on board. Evidence from WikiLeaks cables suggests there have been tensions. At the same time, new friends too need to be won over. Pakistan, as the key victim of terror, needs to build around it a circle of friends who can help it combat a threat of immense proportions. China’s stance and its diversion from the US line may make other nations think just a little harder about the nature of terrorism and Pakistan’s actions. The drone attacks and related issue of sovereignty need to be addressed as well. Only when Pakistan’s own security concerns are put at rest will an all-out effort be made against militancy. Beijing and Islamabad need to play a role in this together by building an alliance against terror that spreads across the region and the world.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 21st, 2010.