China’s Wel­come Bridge

Enterprise - - Letters -

Amer­i­can and Chi­nese lead­ers like to talk about how they can co­op­er­ate in spe­cific ar­eas even as they com­pete for global in­flu­ence. Pak­istan should be one of those ar­eas. Un­like some of China’s other re­cent ini­tia­tives, this trip needn’t pro­voke un­due con­cern in Wash­ing­ton. Pak­istan has press­ing in­fra­struc­ture needs. Power out­ages -- up to 18 hours a day in some places -- have hob­bled in­dus­try and spurred street protests. The coun­try’s two work­ing ports are near­ing ca­pac­ity. The World Bank has es­ti­mated that trans­port and lo­gis­tics bot­tle­necks cost Pak­istan 4 to 6 per­cent of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct ev­ery year. To the de­gree that Chi­nese-funded projects can help sta­bi­lize the frag­ile Pak­istani econ­omy and lay a stronger foun­da­tion for growth, they are wel­come.

Xi’s plan for a Chi­na­cen­tered Asia is, in this case, a good thing. Past Chi­nese pledges of aid to Pak­istan haven’t al­ways ma­te­ri­al­ized. Now China has strong in­cen­tive to en­sure its projects go smoothly, which will de­mand that Pak­istan fi­nally es­tab­lishes long-term se­cu­rity in some of the coun­try’s most un­set­tled ar­eas, in­clud­ing the restive prov­ince where Gwadar is lo­cated. Chi­nese lead­ers have of­fered to me­di­ate peace talks with the Tal­iban and pres­sured their Pak­istani spon­sors not to play the spoiler in Afghanistan as U.S. forces with­draw. A flurry of at­tacks by Uighur ex­trem­ists -- some thought to be in­spired by for­eign fighters hid­ing out in Pak­istan -- has cast an un­flat­ter­ing light on Islamabad’s own ties to Is­lamist mil­i­tant groups.

None of this is to say that China’s agenda com­ple­ments Amer­ica’s, or that it is en­tirely whole­some. Arms sales and aid for Pak­istan’s civil­ian and mil­i­tary nu­clear pro­grams are clearly in­tended to keep pres­sure on In­dia, which has also been seek­ing a larger role in Asia. Help­ing Pak­istan to de­velop a sea-based nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity (Xi is also ex­pected to con­clude a deal to sell Pak­istan eight con­ven­tional sub­marines, more than dou­bling its fleet) or to deploy tac­ti­cal nu­clear weapons could desta­bi­lize the sub­con­ti­nent. At the same time, Chi­nese sup­port for Pak­istan’s mil­i­tary mod­ern­iza­tion ef­forts is long-stand­ing. There’s lit­tle rea­son the U.S. should ex­pect to change the pat­tern.

What the U.S. can do is seek out ar­eas where its in­ter­ests in the re­gion co­a­lesce with China’s. Bei­jing is con­cerned about a ris­ing tide of Is­lamism in Pak­istan -- par­tic­u­larly within its mil­i­tary -- and yet can’t match U.S. ex­per­tise in train­ing of­fi­cials and sup­port­ing secular ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams. Sim­i­larly, China is happy to have U.S. drones con­tinue to kill Uighur mil­i­tants in Pak­istan’s tribal ar­eas. In the­ory, China even fa­vors closer eco­nomic ties be­tween Pak­istan and In­dia, so that their strate­gic com­pe­ti­tion is bal­anced by a health­ier eco­nomic re­la­tion­ship -- much like China’s own re­la­tion­ship with the U.S. How­ever un­com­fort­able that dy­namic can be, it’s one Wash­ing­ton has no choice but to pro­mote. Sid­diq Ahmed Larkana

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