By Rajeev Sharma
There are quite a few things which India’s neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka and Nepal, and even Bangladesh, can learn from China’s relationship with Pakistan. It will give them at least a clear understanding of the folly of siding with Beijing against India and give up the habit of flashing the `China card` every now and then as a blackmail tactic.
For the last decade or so, China has been aggressively moving into South Asia with the primary motive of encircling India and containing its growing reach and power. China views India’s neighbouring countries as effective foil against any possible threats on its weak and troubled south-western flank. China’s Pakistan relationship was principally built on the premise of keeping India engaged in South Asia and restrict its influence outside the region.
Exploiting Pakistan’s historical hatred and distrust, China has managed to create an atmosphere of fear and military conflict in the region by supplying military weapons and nuclear technology and material to an impoverished Pakistan foolishly chasing the mirage of achieving some semblance of military parity with India. Thanks to China, Pakistan today has over 100 nuclear weapons, and enough missiles and other arsenal not only to destroy South Asia but also large parts of humanity many times over. These missiles and capability might act as deterrents but also divert crucial resources to sustain the military machine over a long period of time.
Thus overburdened by military expenditure and policies, Pakistan today faces an existential threat not from India but from its own follies. With the fastest growing population in South Asia, and most of them young, Pakistan’s resource crises are likely to become even more acute in the years ahead. According to Pakistan’s Planning Commission, close to 200 million people in the next decade or so will require and demand educational and employment opportunities. To reach anywhere near catering to such requirements, Pakistan needs to grow at a rate of 7 per cent every year for the next 15 years. This will mean heavy investments in the infrastructure, power and energy resources and on top of it creating an atmosphere conducive to invite foreign investments.
Till as long as the Americans were taking care of their bills, Pakistan had no such worries. They thought their relationship with China—deeper than the deepest seas and higher than the highest mountains—will see them through in case the Americans played truant. And then there was of course the Muslim brotherhood—Saudi Arabia and UAE. Not long ago, they had everything going for them, at least that was what they thought. The souring of relationship with the Americans was sudden and it took just the incident of locking up a CIA contractor Raymond Davis early 2011 to unravel what was considered as a strategic bond. Then came the US Special Forces entering Pakistan early May last and hunting down Osama bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad. The divorce thereafter was rapid with each partner trading charges and refusing to see any reason in continuing with the relationship which in any case was based on mutual convenience.
With the Americans turning off the funding tap, and domestic anger rising in both the countries against each other, Pakistan quickly turned to China. President Asif Ali Zardari went first and then his Prime Minister and then the Army chief, all seeking immediate and substantial help from China. The Chinese leadership was happy to receive them and listen to their pleas. The Chinese then sent them back with reassurances and nothing else. Pakistan wanted about $1 billion plus in aid and loan. The Chinese said they were willing to give them $500 million as aid and that too not immediately. The Chinese advice was to mend relationship with Washington and, most importantly, talk to India.
Not that the Pakistanis were not aware of how the Chinese used their so-called friendship for business and strategic expansion. The Pakistani businessmen have been suffering at the hands of the Chinese business houses for quite some time. By dumping cheaper goods into the market, the Chinese businessmen had driven indigenous manufacturers and suppliers of electrical and electronic goods, manufacturing tools, farming implements and various other products. The Chinese business houses have been ruthless in their systematic campaign to capture and then rule the Pakistani market. The fear and animosity ordinary Pakistani businessmen feel towards the Chinese businessmen is amply reflected in the enthusiasm there is in Pakistan about opening trade with India.
On top of it, China has also been cold towards Pakistan’s request to help in tiding over the energy crisis. First there is no way that China can transport petro products and gas to Pakistan, nor can it link up the power grids. Second, China is not too keen to become `another Uncle Sam` for Pakistan and carry the burden of 200 additional millions. So long as Pakistan met Chinese needs, the relationship remained “all weather“ but when Pakistan sought help, the Chinese told them to go elsewhere, and worse to their sworn enemy, India. Pakistanis have been slow to realize how deep their relationship with China went and have been quick to see the reality, perhaps more readily than other countries in South Asia.
Take for instance, Sri Lanka’s wooing of China or the other way around. Sri Lanka, in its bid to cover up its bloody tracks in its `war against LTTE` where hundreds of innocent civilians, women and children included, were brutally hunted down simply because they were Tamil, had been leaning towards China to bail it out in the international fora. The Chinese, whose own record of human rights is abysmal, have been more than happy to side with Sri Lanka in such matters.
But what Sri Lankan leadership and people must open their eyes to is how China deals with its close friends. Pakistan is a good example to begin with. As long as Colombo serves China’s short and long term interests, primarily of containing India and having a toe-hold in the crucial Indian Ocean, the Chinese would go out of their way to be with them and at least make it seem like standing by them. But look a little ahead when, for instance, business interests are likely to play a spoil sport. Both China and Sri Lanka earn considerable export revenue from high-end garment markets in Europe and the US. This market is likely to shrink in the near future due to the economic downturn in most of the countries which exported garments from Sri Lanka and China.
Added to this is the fact the Chinese are now slowly moving into the high-end bracket of garment industry where Sri Lanka had considerable edge. The low end markets have been traditionally dominated by Pakistan, Bangladesh and China. But with the export market getting squeezed, there would be a scramble for the high-end market, leaving some of the best friends fighting for this pie. Sri Lanka will then perhaps learn its first lesson in dealing with China.
Similarly, Nepal too might come around to the fact that it will have to turn to India in times of need. China may give them aid, may build grand buildings, bridges and roads but when it comes to allowing ordinary Nepalese to earn their livelihood, they will have to go to India. If there is a food crisis or any other such problems, Beijing is too far away, even if willing (which is highly doubtful), to step in with immediate help.
There are quite a few lessons Nepal and Sri Lanka can learn from Pakistan, particularly how China treats its “all-weather` ally.