Pak­istan key in China’s Great Game


The rhetoric reached the heights of the Hi­malayas, the pomp and pageantry evoked that of an op­eretta, but the po­lit­i­cal op­tics de­liv­ered a clearly fo­cused po­lit­i­cal mes­sage: Pak­istan has a firm and re­li­able friend in the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China.

The high-pro­file visit to Pak­istan by China’s para­mount leader Xi Jin­ping brought more than po­lit­i­cal bro­mides from Bei­jing to be­lea­guered Pak­istan; China has put US$46 bil­lion in in­fras­truc­tural in­vest­ment on the ta­ble for its long­time South Asian ally.

The rea­sons for the re­newed co­zi­ness be­tween Islamabad and Bei­jing are plenty: a com­mon bor­der, shared po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests con­cern­ing the dan­gers of Is­lamic fun­da­men­tal­ism and con­cerns in both cap­i­tals that Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal in­roads into neigh­bor­ing In­dia, Pak­istan’s his­toric ri­val, need a coun­ter­bal­ance.

What ties the bow to­gether is China’s am­bi­tious geopo­lit­i­cal New Silk Road and New Mar­itime Silk Road eco­nomic ini­tia­tive con­nect­ing the Mid­dle King­dom with Eura­sia by land and Southeast Asia by sea.

China’s US$ 46 bil­lion in­fras­truc­tural in­vest­ment in Pak­istan is set to build a net­work of roads, rail­roads and port fa­cil­i­ties that are part of the New Silk Road con­nect­ing China to Europe through Cen­tral Asia.

The am­bi­tious plan for a 1,800-mile high­way al­lows the PRC back­door over­land ac­cess to the port of Gwadar but through Pak­istan’s restive Baluchis­tan re­gion.

Though Pak­istan has been courted by Wash­ing­ton as a vial ally in the war on ter­ror and as a key player in Afghanistan, the re­la­tion­ship was of­ten stormy and be­set by po­lit­i­cal mood swings on both sides.

Be­tween 2009 and 2012, for­mer Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton pro­posed a US$7.5 bil­lion eco­nomic pro­gram for Pak­istan that was largely un­fo­cused and part of the Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s widely flawed “AfPak” se­cu­rity pol­icy plan, which was deemed a fail­ure.

Since 2002, U.S. aid to Pak­istan has reached US$31 bil­lion, about two thirds of it is se­cu­rity as­sis­tance, ac­cord­ing to the Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice.

The real ques­tion be­comes whether Pak­istan’s econ­omy will be able to ef­fec­tively ab­sorb so much aid over a short pe­riod with­out waste­ful and mas­sive cor­rup­tion. With­out ques­tion, Bei­jing is play­ing for higher stakes and putting more money on the ta­ble. The un­spo­ken con­cern by the Chi­nese is that Is­lamic rad­i­cal­ism is al­ready spilling across the Pak­istan bor­der into China’s restive Xin­jiang prov­ince where a large Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion is tightly con­trolled by the com­mu­nist au­thor­i­ties.

Ad­dress­ing the par­lia­ment in Islamabad, Chi­nese leader Xi Jin­ping re­called the his­tor­i­cally close ties with Pak­istan, one of the first Is­lamic states to rec­og­nize the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic in 1951 dur­ing its era of diplo­matic iso­la­tion.

“The in­vo­ca­tions of en­dur­ing friend­ship are mu­sic to the ears of a coun­try ac­cus­tomed to be­ing vil­i­fied glob­ally for so many years now,” wrote an ed­i­to­rial in Pak­istan’s ma­jor daily news­pa­per Dawn.

De­scrib­ing Amer­i­can diplo­macy “as an er­ratic and some­what hap­less bro­ker,”

China, ac­cord­ing to Dawn “com­mands the cred­i­bil­ity amongst the lead­er­ship and the pop­u­la­tions of all coun­tries in the re­gion.”

Set­ting up the China-Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor has a clear com­mer­cial logic but equally a mil­i­tary one.

The Port of Gwadar, be­ing de­vel­oped by PRC en­gi­neers since 2013, would be the ter­mi­nus of the long over­land line from Xin­jiang in China’s re­mote and land­locked west.

Yet Gwadar, once ruled by Oman but sold to Pak­istan in the 1950’s, is quite close to the Persian Gulf and Straits of Hor­muz sea-lanes through which over forty per­cent of the world’s petroleum flows.


Through its pres­ence in Gwadar, China seeks to sur­round In­dia.

Sep­a­rate re­ports in­di­cate that China has sold Pak­istan eight sub­marines.

The deal for the diesel Yuan­class subs is re­ported to be US$5 bil­lion.

The PRC is al­ready Pak­istan’s largest weapons sup­plier and equally played a key role in de­vel­op­ing its nu­clear weapons pro­gram.

In fit­ting trib­ute, as Xi Jin­ping’s 747 air­craft left Pak­istani airspace, it was es­corted by eight Pak­istani JF-17 fighters, a mil­i­tary jet co­pro­duced with China.

Bei­jing’s re­newed re­la­tion­ship with Pak­istan has reached a new in­ten­sity and is based on com­mon eco­nomic and se­cu­rity in­ter­ests.

How much th­ese ties im­pact on In­dia and the USA through­out the re­gion is yet to be seen. John J. Met­zler is a United Na­tions cor­re­spon­dent cov­er­ing diplo­matic and de­fense is­sues. He is the au­thor of “Di­vided Dy­namism: The Diplo­macy of Sep­a­rated Na­tions: Ger­many, Korea, China” (2014). Con­tact him at jjm­col­umn@ earth­

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