By Rajeev Sharma
The recent Pakistani bonhomie towards India has not happened overnight; rather two external factors like America’s ‘hostile’ acts and China’s tepid diplomacy towards Pakistan are to be blamed.
After decades, Pakistan has promised to give India the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status for trade (a promise that should be implemented by this yearend) and Islamabad has reversed the Musharraf era policy of “Kashmir-first, trade-later”. Asif Ali Zardari recently became the third Pakistani President to visit India and he talked shop and discussed the entire gamut of bilateral relations during lunch hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, even though he was on a private visit to India. Most significantly, during the daylong trip to New Delhi and Ajmer, Zardari never uttered the K word, a rare departure in the Pakistani tradition where the political and military establishments are obsessed with Kashmir. And while Islamabad is smoking the peace pipe with New Delhi, the powerful Pakistani military establishment is keeping quiet, thus in a way concurring with the peace process.
Actually it has been China’s pragmatic diplomacy vis a vis Pakistan, which has come as a heart-breaking reality check for friends of China in Pakistan, that has been the real game changer. Over the past one year, or to be precise, since the May 1, 2011 Abbottabad military operation by American commandos in which al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden was killed, the Chinese have been pursuing a ‘no free lunch’ policy with Pakistan.
In the wake of the Abbottabad operation and many other provocations by the Americans to Islamabad before and after, the Pakistanis were hopeful that China would bail their country out and fill in the American role of a benefactor. That did not happen. The Pakistanis got a rude shock on October 4, 2011 when a Reuters news agency report from Beijing appeared in most Pakistani dailies. The headline for the news in Dawn read: ‘China to keep Pakistan embrace at arm’s length’. The news expectedly evoked concern amongst the Pakistanis, who were led to believe that the all-weather friend China was about to fill the void that was being created by the US. Immediate reaction was that the report could be the work of dirty tricks department of the Americans, namely the CIA, which has scores to settle with the ISI after the Raymond David episode and Pakistan exposed the identity of its key operatives in the country.
Islamabad’s misery was all the more agonising as all the important political and military leaders from Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to army chief and ISI boss, had air dashed to Beijing after the Americans smoked out Osama bin Laden from his lair in Abbotabad. Premier Wen Jiabao and his colleagues had gone out of their way to reassure the visitors of their longstanding friendship and spoke of the “huge sacrifices” Pakistan had made in the global struggle against terrorism.
Washington is in no mood to tolerate any ISI shenanigans, more so when the drawdown of American forces is set to begin. This American anger was reflected in sudden drying up of aid flows to Pakistan. And the Brettonwood twins – IMF and the World Bank –simply ignored urgent pleas for bailout packages with Washington refusing to intercede on Islamabad’s behalf.
Now was the time for the all-weather friend to publicly demonstrate the commitment to stand by Pakistan. But it did not. Instead its egg- heads have held out a homily that Pakistan cannot expect China to pay all its bills. Chinese and American strategic experts, according to Reuters report, attributed the change in Beijing’s stance to a reluctance to ‘turn the limited stake in Pakistan into a heavy security footprint’.
In each of Pakistan’s wars with India, China has been fairly restrained and has refrained from actually providing any military help to Pakistan. China’s relations with India and Pakistan, particularly the trade ties, are a study in contrast. China’s two-way trade with India was worth $65.2 billion in 2010 (now it has crossed $ 70 billion) whereas with Pakistan it was not worth losing sleep at $8.7 billion.
Beijing doesn’t hope to gain from the rift between Washington and Islamabad. “If US-Pakistan relations deteriorate, and the region falls into instability, China will not be able to shoulder the responsibility by itself and other regional actors will have a difficult time cooperating to restore stability,” says Hu Shisheng, an expert on South Asia at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
Prompted by this realism, the discourse on all-weather-friendship between Pakistan and China has boiled down to ‘no free lunch concept’. The friendship is higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, stronger than steel, and sweeter than honey ‘except when something has to be actually delivered’, wrote a reader to Dawn. Another avid reader of the newspaper commented: ‘Pakistan has always remained as a toy of another country…Up till now, it was US, using for its own interest and now it seems that it would be China’s turn. And the whole nation Pakistan enjoys such role play…’
The prescription for a quick turnaround in the Pakistani script is bound to be unorthodox. Pakistan must be self dependent, stand up on its own feet, come out from the shadow of military, and adopt development as a tool to win. Then no wonder Pakistan shall be another Japan. But this is an impossible dream.
China is a pragmatist; it is not hostage to ideology and therefore is not a Soviet Union that used to go the extra mile to keep happy fellow Communist countries and long time allies. Historically, China is no body’s friend. Russia yesterday and Vietnam today learnt this truism the hard way. So much so what Pakistan should do when the great trusted friend began to see it as ‘a liability-financially and politically’.
The way forward for Pakistan, as aptly put by a Dawn reader, is a three-fold path. First, give up its grand vision of itself as the only “Muslim nuclear superpower”. Second, stop looking for handouts from US and China. Third, foster good and friendly relation with India, Iran and Afghanistan.
A reader who goes by the name Tariq summed up in Dawn the situation thus: ‘The Pakistani people have adapted to laziness, corruption, and pompous way of life. They like cash whereas China is not in a position to pay in cash to stand up and be counted, against the tide’. He went on to say: ‘ I continue to be amazed … From 1947 on, Pakistanis have been desperately trying to get close to every nation under the sun except for the one country which is closest to them in terms of culture, ethnicity, language, shared history….India.’.