By B. Raman
As the Pakistan Army confronts the US on the one hand and the civilian leadership headed by President Asif Ali Zardari on the other in a triangular re-assertion of its primacy in strategic matters, China’s political and military leadership has carefully chosen to bolster the image of the Pakistan Army as the driving force of the all-weather strategic relationship between the two countries.
This carefully modulated exercise is evident from the reports emanating from Beijing on the current six-day visit of Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), to China, which started on January 4,2012.
Gen.Kayani has already had some high-profile engagements in Beijing—including a well-publicised 75-minute meeting with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, another meeting with General Liang Guanglie, China’s Defense Minister, and discussions with senior officers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Attempts have been made by Chinese and Pakistani sources to underline the fact that this is Gen.Kayani’s third visit to China as the COAS in an apparent bid to discourage speculation connecting the visit with the Army’s confrontation with the US on the one hand and the elected Pakistani civilian leadership on the other.
Despite this, it is significant that the reported remarks of Wen in his discussions with Kayani as disseminated by the official Xinhua news agency highlighted the role of the Pakistan Army in strengthening the strategic relationship between the two countries.
The Xinhua despatches as carried by the Party-run People’s Daily and the PLA Daily quoted Wen as having stated as follows: “The premier said Pakistani armed forces have made important contributions toward maintaining bilateral relations and boosting the Pakistan-China strategic cooperative partnership. He pledged to support stronger military exchanges and cooperation between both countries.”
In the past, Zardari had been making frequent visits to China ostensibly for studying the Chinese model of development. These visits and his interactions with Chinese leaders and officials had created an impression that the Chinese felt comfortable with his leadership in Pakistan and would not like this to be disturbed.
The reports emanating from Beijing so far on the visit of Kayani and his interactions with Chinese leaders and PLA officers clearly indicate an attempt by the Chinese, to the satisfaction of Kayani, to underline the continued importance attached by them to the role of the Pakistan Army in strategic matters.
While the Chinese have avoided saying anything that might be construed as marking a distance from Zardari, who is perceived by the Pakistan Army as soft to the US, it is clear that the Chinese feel that it would be in their interest that the Pakistan Army maintains its primacy in strategic and national security matters.
The Xinhua despatches have also reported as follows: “Kayani, who is currently on a six-day visit to China, expressed gratitude for China’s efforts to aid Pakistan’s economic growth and social stability, as well as China’s support for Pakistan’s efforts to maintain its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Developing the Pakistan-China strategic cooperative partnership is a cornerstone of the foreign strategies of both countries, Kayani said.”
There is a significant difference in the report on Kayani’s talks with Wen as put out by the Government-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) and the Xinhua. The APP report said: “Premier Wen said that China and Pakistan support safeguarding of each other’s core interests and thanked Pakistan for its people’s consistent stand on Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang.”
There is no reference in the Xinhua despatches put out so far to the Chinese support to Pakistan’s core interests as claimed by the APP. While there have been no references to Pakistan’s relations with India and the US in the reports on the visit emanating from Pakistan as well as China, it is to be noted that the burden of Kayani’s remarks in Beijing as reported by the Pakistani media has been on Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan.
The APP has reported as follows: “Pakistan is pursuing a holistic concept of internal and external security. Pakistan’s objective is to see a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. If Afghanistan is peaceful and stable, Pakistan will be the biggest beneficiary, Kayani said.”
The Xinhua despatches do not refer to Kayani’s reported remarks on Afghanistan. From a study of the reports on the visit emanating so far, two conclusions emerge regarding the objectives of Kayani’s visit: Firstly, to seek a reiteration of Chinese support for the primacy of the Pakistani military leadership in strategic matters and secondly, to seek a recognition of Afghanistan as a core interest of Pakistan as a quid pro quo to Pakistan’s recognition of Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan as the core interests of China.
While going half way to meet the expectations of the Pakistan Army, the Chinese have taken care to avoid any misperception of their taking sides in Pakistan’s differences with the US and India and in the internal confrontation between the Pakistani Army and the civilian leadership, particularly Zardari.