The Back up Plan

Forced to re­view its re­la­tion­ship with the US, Pak­istan ac­cel­er­ates diplo­matic re­la­tions with China. Only, it is not clear what this eco­nomic gi­ant wants from its South Asian neigh­bor and how much is it will­ing to give back?

Southasia - - Front page - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

Our cover story this month at­tempts to high­light China’s diplo­matic and strate­gic role in South Asia and an­a­lyze the im­pact of the PAK-US

re­la­tion­ship on China’s in­volve­ment.

The United States and Pak­istan have had spats many times in the past. But like tiffs be­tween lovers, they have been short-lived, with­out any se­ri­ous im­pact on Pak­istan. Af­ter sulk­ing for a while, they em­brace each other again.

This time though, the stakes are higher. Amer­ica is bogged down in the long­est war in its his­tory. It has en­tered the eleventh year of its war in Afghanistan. It has 100,000 troops on the ground with an­other 30,000 from NATO. And, though ev­ery once in a while the gen­er­als try to paint an en­cour­ag­ing pic­ture, the fact re­mains that the US is in a self-made quag­mire. In July 2010 Pres­i­dent Obama re­placed Gen. Mc­chrys­tal with Gen. Pe­treus to head the US and al­lied forces in Afghanistan. Ev­ery­body who mat­tered had been fawn­ing over him for his bril­liant suc­cess in Iraq against Al Qaeda.

There his modus operandi was to raise mili­tias of mostly Sun­nis who would agree to lay down their arms against coali­tion forces, pa­trol neigh- bor­hoods, and fight against other Sunni in­sur­gents. Called ‘Awak­en­ing Coun­cils,’ they were paid reg­u­lar salaries and armed by the US mil­i­tary. They helped the US troops tar­get Al-qaeda in Iraq more pre­cisely and avoid col­lat­eral dam­age.

Bask­ing in his glory Gen. Pe­treus, there­fore, im­me­di­ately set about to re­peat the Iraq recipe in Afghanistan. He tried to raise mili­tias out of Tal­iban in the same fash­ion, with of­fers of money and arms. But this was not Iraq. Afghans have al­ways hated

the gora. In the past it was the Bri­tish; now it is the Amer­i­can. When his ef­forts failed, Pe­treus let loose a spate of night raids by Spe­cial Forces. Their cru­el­ties fur­ther alien­ated the lo­cal peo­ple. Be­sides, an­a­lysts have ques­tioned the au­then­tic­ity of ISAF claims about the num­ber of Tal­iban killed and cap­tured and call them ex­ag­ger­ated.

Pe­treus was so frus­trated that at one time he even fa­cil­i­tated fly­ing in a so-called Tal­iban ne­go­tia­tor on a NATO plane to meet Pres­i­dent Karzai, with­out check­ing his cre­den­tials. It was later dis­cov­ered that the man was an im­poster. The hero of Iraq failed and has been re­placed. But there is no sign of a sil­ver lin­ing in the dark cloud that hangs over the oc­cu­pa­tion forces in Afghanistan.

Lately, there­fore, the US has been turn­ing on more heat on its whip­ping boy, Pak­istan, to pull its chest­nuts out of the fire. US gen­er­als and law­mak­ers alike have been fir­ing broad­sides at Pak­istan. They have ac­cused its in­tel­li­gence agency (ISI) of as­sist­ing the “Haqqani net­work” to at­tack and kill Amer­i­can troops in Afghanistan. These al­le­ga­tions have been backed by threats rang­ing from stop­page of fi­nan­cial aid, to di­rect ac­tion against their per­ceived en­emy in­side Pak­istan.

How­ever, it was the au­da­cious “in­va­sion” of Pak­istan by US Spe­cial Forces on May 2 to kill Bin Laden that trig­gered worst fears about the coun­try’s se­cu­rity. There­fore, Prime Min­is­ter Gi­lani’s May 17-21 visit to China as­sumed spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance and re­ceived wide­spread me­dia at­ten­tion, even though it was a sheer co­in­ci­dence be­cause the visit had been planned long in ad­vance to co­in­cide with the six­ti­eth an­niver­sary of the es­tab­lish­ment of Sino-pak diplo­matic ties on May 21.

In fact, China was the first coun­try to show sup­port for Pak­istan fol­low­ing the raid against Bin Laden which pro­vided a dis­tinct coun­ter­point to the crit­i­cisms from Washington. “Pak­istan and China are close friends and good neigh­bors. Our all­weather friend­ship is deeply rooted in the hearts and minds of our two peo­ples,” Gi­lani said in a speech at a cul­tural fo­rum in the east­ern city of Suzhou be­fore go­ing to Bei­jing. “Pak­istanChina friend­ship epit­o­mizes com­plete un­der­stand­ing, full trust, mu­tual co­op­er­a­tion and har­mony. It is an abid­ing friend­ship based on shared val­ues and ideals,” he stated. Ear­lier in an in­ter­view with China’s of­fi­cial Xin­hua news agency, Gi­lani re­marked: “We are proud to have China as our best and most trusted friend, and China will al­ways find Pak­istan stand­ing be­side it at all times.”

Chi­nese Prime Min­is­ter Wen Ji­abao, on the other hand, ap­prised Gi­lani of his mes­sage to the US to re­spect Pak­istan’s sovereignty and re­al­ize its con­tri­bu­tions, and sac­ri­fices, in the war on ter­ror.

The hearty wel­come Gi­lani re­ceived and the state­ments of sol­i­dar­ity made by both sides irked Amer­i­cans who felt as though they had pur­chased Pak­istan’s body and soul with their money. Repub­li­can Se­na­tor James Risch from Idaho was so roiled, he told the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee that con­tin­ued aid to Pak­istan was “a hard sell to the Amer­i­can peo­ple” when cash­strapped Washington sends help, only to see “the head of Pak­istan go to China and… say ‘you’re our best friend’…frankly, I’m get­ting tired of it, and I think Amer­i­cans are get­ting tired of it as far as shov­el­ing money in there at peo­ple who just flat don’t like us,” he said.

But the se­na­tor should have known the hard fact that Sino-pak re­la­tions have al­ways been on an even keel. They never wit­nessed the like of ups and downs as in the case of USPak re­la­tions. The sim­ple rea­son for this deep trust is that although China has also given eco­nomic, tech­ni­cal and mil­i­tary as­sis­tance to Pak­istan, yet it never sought to in­ter­fere in Pak­istan’s do­mes­tic or for­eign pol­icy or ask for spe­cial fa­cil­i­ties in re­turn.

China is not in the king-mak­ing busi­ness in Pak­istan. Its am­bas­sador does not go about hob­nob­bing with politi­cians of all stripes. Nor does he hold re­cep­tions for les­bians and gays. Nor does the Chi­nese spy agency - if it has one - hold drink and dance par­ties for Pak­istani TV an­chors. Chi­nese spooks do not go about spy­ing in­side Pak­istan. And most im­por­tantly, China does not care about whether it is a Mushar­raf or a Zar­dari as the pres­i­dent of Pak­istan.

Above all, China en­joys suf­fi­cient lever­age with the U.S. It is there­fore in an ideal po­si­tion to as­sist in re­pair­ing frac­tured US-PAK re­la­tions.

China was the first coun­try to show sup­port for Pak­istan fol­low­ing the raid against Bin Laden which pro­vided a dis­tinct coun­ter­point to the crit­i­cisms from Washington.

The writer is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and former editor of Southa­sia Mag­a­zine.

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