HIGHER THAN THE HI­MALAYAS

India Today - - COVER STORY -

SHAKY AL­LIANCE

PRIME MIN­IS­TER NAREN­DRA MODI WITH PRES­I­DENT XI ON HIS G20 STOPOVER IN SEPTEM­BER

fac­tor poses new chal­lenges for a sen­si­tive re­la­tion­ship. “We know China and Pak­istan have a long­stand­ing strate­gic in­vest­ment, but what one can say with a de­gree of con­fi­dence is that their strate­gic re­la­tions are cer­tainly not get­ting eroded; if any­thing, they are get­ting stronger,” says Kan­tha, the for­mer am­bas­sador. “For China,” he adds, “the re­la­tion­ship with Pak­istan is clearly im­por­tant, and some now de­scribe Pak­istan as China’s only ally.” For much of the past two decades, the lofty rhetoric China and Pak­istan of­ten used to de­scribe their re­la­tions as “higher than the Hi­malayas, deeper than the oceans, and sweeter than honey” was not of­ten re­flected in re­al­ity. This was, af­ter all, a re­la­tion­ship forged in the heights of the Karako­ram High­way in the 1960s— when the two coun­tries bat­tled a com­mon en­emy, In­dia—and one that has his­tor­i­cally had im­mense strate­gic value, with China of­fer­ing Pak­istan mis­siles and air­craft, and il­lic­itly help­ing its nu­clear pro­gramme.

As China’s econ­omy lifted off in the 1990s, cau­tion and self­in­ter­est, rather than ro­man­ti­cism, be­gan dic­tat­ing its ap­proach to a neigh­bour whose pe­ri­odic de­scents into chaos were viewed war­ily across the Khun­jerab Pass. This was all the more ev­i­dent af­ter the nor­mal­i­sa­tion of ties with In­dia following Rajiv Gandhi’s 1988 visit, when Bei­jing un­der­stood it needed to im­prove re­la­tions with its big­gest neigh­bour to the west—and that to do so, it had to be seen to ef­fect what one of­fi­cial de­scribed as “a bet­ter bal­ance” with In­dia and Pak­istan.

But in­sid­ers in Bei­jing be­lieve this two­decade ‘tac­ti­cal shift’ may now be at a cru­cial in­flec­tion point, with China once again tilt­ing back to­wards its old ‘all­weather ally’. Signs of this change in China’s ap­proach, of­fi­cials say, date back to around 2009, a time when the United States, which had emerged as Pak­istan’s prin­ci­pal mil­i­tary and fi­nan­cial donor, be­gan wind­ing down its pres­ence in Afghanistan. Pak­istan was seen by Wash­ing­ton as a needed ally in its ‘war on ter­ror’, but as the

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