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China, US and Pakistan




By Imtiaz Gul

Friday Times, June 05, 2015


Washington and Beijing have conflicting visions about Pakistan. What is Islamabad’s own vision?

Pakistan finds itself at the centre of two conflicting visions – one resonating in Washington, and the other emanating out of Beijing. The former accompanied by usual cynical skepticism, the latter loaded with resolve to help Pakistan.

Pakistan needs stability before it embarks on development projects, insist US officials and think-tankers. No, say Chinese officials and think-tankers; development precedes stability, ie it is the fundamental precursor to peace and stability.

Why invest in a country where terrorists and religious militants are on the loose and are a constant source of threat to locals and foreigners alike, ask Washingtonians. Why not engage with a country that has offered so much sacrifice but got only bashing in return, quip the Chinese in a direct rebuke to US officials.

It’s time to pay back to a country that continues to suffer because of the consequences of geo-politics, HU Shusheng, a researcher at the Chines Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), said at a recent trilateral meeting in Washington, underling that China and Pakistan are bound by a unique relationship.

Pakistan needs to convince others of its sincerity against all terrorist groups, including the India–focused Lashker-e-Taiba (LeT), underline the Americans both publicly and privately. No, Pakistan doesn’t have to prove its sincerity. It has been fighting terrorists and also has been suffering because of it, responded Chinese academics and officials at the trilateral meeting.

Chinese officials – representing think tanks and research institutions – in fact literally went out of the way to denounce the “do more” mantra or what they called “Pakistan-bashing.” You have to stop this and start appreciating what Pakistan has done. The US and its allies need to ponder, Chinese think-tankers underscore, as to what motivated Pakistan to be duplicitous and to adopt a hedging policy vis a vis non-state actors.

During one of the discussions, Liu Xuencheng of the Chinese Institute of International Studies(CIIS) pointed out that Pakistan is caught up in the consequences of geo-politics and outsiders have to help it in these difficult times.

Xuencheng called on outsiders to judge Pakistan through a local perspective and use local processes for solutions rather than imposing those from outside. He also demanded “even-handed treatment to Pakistan on issues such as nuclear proliferation, counter-terrorism cooperation and institutional reform. “Have we done enough to help Pakistan in overcoming difficulties that it faces because of geo-political factors?” he asked.

He agreed too that Pakistan MUST abandon the old policies (that relied on non-state actors) but also appealed to the US, India and others to address Pakistan’s legitimate concerns which had forced it to hedge.

A friendly balance in relations is important between China-Pakistan, and China-India, say Chinese officials and underline that despite all risks being pointed out in Washington and other western capitals, China remains committed and determined to press ahead with the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and help in institutional reforms.

For Dong Manyuan, Vice President of the China Institute of International Relations (CIIR), the China-Pakistan relationship is “so innocent that most countries cannot even understand it.” The international community should try to understand the special nature of China-Pakista relations,” Manyuan said during another trilateral meeting.

Interactions both in Beijing and Washington provided eye-opening insights into how the leadership of the two countries look at Pakistan, quite helpful in drawing some conclusions. The American narrative on Pakistan largely mirrors the Indo-Afghan view, while the Chinese narrative on Pakistan is one of an unconditional and empathetic embrace; it not only trumpets the CPEC as the corridor of regional peace and trade but also underscores the need to lend Pakistan support for institutional reforms and capacity-building to the context of the atrocious Taliban-led terrorism in the country.

On the contrary, the 46 billion dollar investment promise by the Chinese President Xi Jinping appears to have kicked up skepticism and raised eyebrows in the West.

The following comment by a retired US treasury department official at the National Defense University, for example, illustrated the unease that the Chinese promised investments have caused in Washington (at least this is what comes through in repeated conversations).

“Think for a moment China out of that part of the world, would then Pakistan be able to survive on its own?” asked the official in a real-politically naïve way.

This assumptive question betrayed probably the general US sentiment vis a vis Pakistan – a country being still viewed with suspicion and considered as not having done enough in the last decade or so. Such skeptical questioning disregards the fact that besides internal contributory factors, geo-politics has clearly sucked the country into a socio-economic crisis.

The unequivocal Chinese expression of support and solidarity in fact has revived a certain degree of confidence among Pakistanis abroad. But it has also prompted them to ask as to what will change for Pakistan in the years to come.

Most Chinese and US officials, however, agreed that change, in the fundamental issues of Pakistan, will come only from within. They are still skeptical as to whether Pakistan finally has a long term counter-terrorism (CT), counter-radicalization (CR) and economic development (ED) plan. Will China’s big helping hand wake up Pakistan’s ruling elites out of slumber and force them to holistically address the terminally faltering governance and fledgling rule of law – both of which sit at the heart of Pakistan’s multiple crisis?

China is ready to bail out Pakistan but the stinging question – in view of the still raging controversy over the CPEC route – is whether Pakistani leadership is ready to avail that opportunity?

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk