By B. Raman
All eyes in Pakistan are on the four-day visit to China from May 17, 2011, by Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani. The dates of the visit were finalized some weeks ago to enable him to participate in the year-long observance of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. It has since acquired special significance in the eyes of Pakistani analysts as it is taking place at a time when Pakistan has come under severe criticism in the US for failing to detect the presence of Osama bin Laden for over five years at Abbottabad, the cradle of the Pakistan Army, where the Pakistan Military Academy is located. OBL was killed by helicopter-borne US naval commandos on May 2.
According to Chinese sources, the documents and computer records seized by the raiding party at OBL’s residence do not appear to have yielded any evidence so far to indicate that Osama was in touch with any of the Pakistani agencies. However, the examination of the records and computer documents is still on. In the meanwhile, the Pakistani political leadership, at the urging of the Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has kept the focus more on the security failure which enabled the US naval commandos to raid OBL’s place without being detected by the Pakistan Air Force and the Army than on the intelligence failure that enabled OBL to live at Abbottabad for over five years.
The anger over the clandestine US raid has been widespread in Pakistan and has led to demands for a re-examination of Pakistan’s relations with the US and of the intelligence and counter-terrorism co-operation between the intelligence agencies of the two countries. A resolution passed during an in camera session of the two Houses of the Pakistan Parliament on May 13 has also reportedly threatened to stop the flow of logistic supplies to the NATO forces in Afghanistan from the Karachi port if the US continued with the Drone (pilotless plane) strikes in the two Waziristans and carried out any more unilateral raids by its commandos in other parts of Pakistan.
According to reliable Pakistani sources, Gilani is expected to raise with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao two issues which were not originally on the agenda– namely, the possibility of an increase in Chinese economic assistance to enable Pakistan to resist the US pressure and Chinese military assistance for the strengthening of the air defences near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Even though Pakistan Air Force officials have attributed the non-detection of the intrusion of the US choppers to the USA’s superior stealth technology, there is also a feeling that the air defences on the Afghan border were not as good as they are on the Indian border and hence there is a need to strengthen them.
In the present estranged atmosphere, the US is unlikely to help Pakistan in this regard. The Pakistani sources say that Gilani is expected to request the Chinese for urgent assistance in this connection. Pakistani expectations of an enhanced Chinese role to enable Pakistan to reduce its dependence on the US have put the Chinese in an embarrassing position. Though they would like to oblige Pakistan to the extent possible, they would not like to do anything which could come in the way of the fresh initiatives under way for improving China’s military-military relationship with the US.
After a gap of seven years, Gen. Chen Bingde, the Chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) , is on a week-long visit to the US from May 15. The Chinese would not like any jarring note in the military-military relations with the US during Gen. Chen’s visit due to any special gesture shown by them to Pakistan. The Chinese are also keen that the US Drone strikes should continue since some of the strikes in the past were directed at the training camps of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) in the Waziristans, which were also training Uighur jihadis from the Chinese-controlled Xinjiang province of China.
Since the May 2 Abbottabad raid, the Chinese have maintained a high level of oral support for Pakistan on the counter-terrorism issue, highlighting the sacrifices allegedly made by the Pakistani security forces in the fight against jihadi terrorism. At the same time, they have avoided any dramatic gestures of a concrete nature such as increasing significantly their economic assistance to Pakistan or giving additional military assistance.
While they may give some concrete assistance of a limited nature during Gilani’s visit, they are likely to advise Pakistan to cool it and not to let its relations with the US and its counter-terrorism co-operation with the US reach a breaking point.