Pakistan’s Road to China

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Shahid Javed Burki, Project Syndicate

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Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani (L) and China’s Premier Wen Jiabao listen to their national anthems during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 18, 2011. Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s visit to China from Tuesday allows Islamabad to show it has another major power to turn to just as relations with the United States have faced intense strain after the killing of Osama bin Laden.

REUTERS/Jason Lee

Islamabad – Large events sometimes have unintended strategic consequences. This is turning out to be the case following the killing of Osama bin Laden in a compound in Abbottabad, a military-dominated town near Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital.

The fact that the world’s most wanted man lived for a half-dozen years in a large house within spitting distance of Pakistan Military Academy, where the country trains its officers, has provoked a reaction that Pakistanis should have expected, but did not. The country’s civilian and military establishment has been surprised and troubled by the level of suspicion aroused by the events leading to Bin Laden’s death – many Pakistanis call it “martyrdom” – and there is growing popular demand for a major reorientation of Pakistan’s relations with the world. Unless the West acts quickly, Bin Laden’s death is likely to result in a major realignment of world politics, driven in part by Pakistan’s shift from America’s strategic orbit to that of China.

I have personal experience of how quickly China can move when it sees its “all-weather friend” (Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani’s phrase) in extreme distress. In 1996, when Pakistan was near bankruptcy and contemplating default, I went to Beijing as the country’s finance minister to ask for help. My years of service overseeing the World Bank’s operations in China had put me in close contact with some of the country’s senior leaders, including then-Prime Minister Zhu Rongji.

At a meeting in Beijing, after telling me that China would not allow Pakistan to go bankrupt under my watch, Zhu ordered $500 million to be placed immediately in Pakistan’s account with the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. That infusion of money enabled Pakistan to pay its bills while I was in charge of its economy.

China seems to have adopted the same approach to Pakistan today, as the United States Congress threatens to cut off all aid. Gilani recently took a quick trip over the mountains to Beijing, and returned with an offer of immediate delivery of 50 fighter planes to Pakistan. Much more has been promised. Given China’s record as a provider of aid to Pakistan, these promises will quickly be realized.

In the meantime, Pakistan continues to pay the price for Bin Laden’s death, with his supporters striking a town not far from Islamabad just days later, killing more than 80 people. That was followed by a brazen attack on a naval base in Karachi, in which some very expensive equipment, including aircraft, was destroyed. The terrorists struck for a third time two days later, killing a dozen people in a town near Abbottabad. The human toll continues to rise, as does the cost to the economy.

On May 23, the government issued an estimate of the economic cost of the “war on terror” that put the total at $60 billion, compared to the $20 billon the Americans have supposedly paid in compensation. In fact, a substantial share of the promised US aid has yet to arrive, particularly the part that is meant to rescue the economy from a deep downturn.

While Gilani was in Beijing, Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh returned from Washington with empty hands. He had gone there to persuade the International Monetary Fund to release the roughly $4 billion that it was withholding from the $11 billion that Pakistan had been promised in late 2008 to save the country from defaulting on its foreign debt. The IMF’s decision was in response to the Pakistani government’s failure to take promised steps to increase its abysmal tax-to-GDP ratio, which stands at less that 10%, one of the lowest levels in the emerging world.

The Fund was right to insist that Pakistan stand on its own feet economically, but, in early June, Shaikh will present his 2011-2012 budget, in which he wants to ease the burden on ordinary Pakistanis. This has put Gilani’s two-year-old government in a real bind. Whether Shaikh can balance the IMF’s demands with ordinary people’s needs will not only determine the Pakistani economy’s direction, but will also have an enormous impact on how Pakistan and its citizens view the world.

The only comfort that Pakistan has received from the West came in the form of assurances given by US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron following Obama’s state visit to London. In a joint press conference, both promised that their countries would stand with Pakistan’s government and people. Pakistan, they said, was as deeply engaged as their countries in the war against terrorism.

Pakistan will continue to receive American and British help. But the US and Britain find it difficult to move quickly, and strong voices in their capitals want Pakistan to be punished, not helped, for its wayward ways. In the meantime, China waits with open arms.

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Pakistan Moves Closer to China

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

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Pakistan’s PM Yusuf Raza Gilani (C) and China’s Premier Wen Jiabao (R) clap as bilateral companies exchange documents during a singing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 18, 2011.      

REUTERS/Jason Lee

The friction between Islamabad and Washington following the death of Osama Bin Laden in an American operation and the possible acceleration of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will narrow, analysts say, the relationship, already strong, between Pakistan and China.

During the visit to Beijing by Pakistani Prime Minister on Tuesday and Thursday, Chinese leaders will dispose lyrical about sixty years of “friendship” Sino-Pakistan, in contrast to recent criticisms of the West to the “land of the pure.”

The Chinese government was careful not to ask questions about the aid that could have benefited the head of Al Qaida, and gave its support to Pakistan, “at the forefront of counterterrorism efforts.”
This benevolence has not gone unnoticed. “At this crucial moment of history, do not see anyone next to Pakistan, with the exception of China,” said Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s most popular politician in the country.

Pakistani public opinion, exasperated by the U.S. unilateral operation against bin Laden and distrust of Washington, is increasingly convinced that the strategic alliance with the United States since 2001 has had disastrous effects: destabilization and the questioning of Pakistan in the field international.

Hence, the Islamic Republic is tempted away from the United States moving closer to Beijing, has long been a loyal ally in contrast to Washington, who had lost interest in the region after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

According to Talat Masood, a Pakistani analyst, “Pakistan may say: ‘China is with us. Do not believe that we are isolated.”

China’s official media reveled in recent days to denounce “the arrogance” of Westerners.

“The American media do not consider Pakistan as a true ally worthy of respect but as an instrument of U.S. interests,” the Global Times newspaper.

China is the main supplier of weapons to Pakistan, as an important counterbalance to India, that closer ties with the United States.

New Delhi and Washington signed in 2008 a historic agreement on civil nuclear cooperation. Beijing, concerned to preserve the balance of forces in the subcontinent, Islamabad closed several contracts to build nuclear reactors.

The positions for Pakistan China on Taiwan and Tibet are another factor that explains the support from Beijing to Islamabad, says Kerry Dumbaugh, the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA).

“China used Pakistan as a lawyer or a vector towards the Muslim world,” he said.

Beijing also needs the cooperation of Pakistan against the Islamist threat in the Muslim region of Xinjiang (western).

According to some observers, China is convinced that Islamabad will increase by 2015, its influence in Afghanistan, taking advantage of U.S. forces withdraw from the country.

In addition to Beijing’s interest to calm reigns in the region, especially in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan. The main energy consumer worldwide through the area expected to bring oil from the Middle East through a pipeline between Xinjiang and Pakistan’s Gwadar port.

The rapprochement between Islamabad and Beijing to the detriment of the West has its limits, says the Pakistani expert Hasan Askari: “America and the West remain unavoidable due to its cutting-edge technology and weight at the World Bank or International Monetary Fund.”

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Pakistan Has Lost its Dignity and Self-Esteem

May 5, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Imran Khan, Independent UK

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Everyone began asking: whatever happened to the Pakistani army and its intelligence?

The people of Pakistan woke up yesterday morning to be told the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed. But this news did not come from any of their leaders – not the Pakistani President, not the Pakistani Prime Minister, nor the Pakistani Army chief. Instead this news came  from US President Obama, when he appeared on television and informed the world how the US had been gathering intelligence about a town two hours north of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

Pakistanis were dumbfounded especially when no statement was forthcoming from their government in the wake of the Obama speech. The big questions that everyone began asking, and for which no answers have been forthcoming, were: who allowed the Americans to come to Pakistan and carry out this attack? And whatever happened to the Pakistani Army and its intelligence?

We were all still wondering when we heard, much later, contradictory information being disseminated from the Government of Pakistan and the Western media (with the Indian media outrightly accusing ISI of supporting terrorists). Many hours later the Pakistani Prime Minister claimed that all the intelligence had come from Pakistan, but the US administration and the Western media said Pakistan was totally out of the loop with no information sharing on this action.

All this has led to other serious questions being raised in Pakistan.

For instance, if the Pakistan government or the army had this intelligence, why did we not take out Bin Laden ourselves? Why did we have to rely on the Americans coming over from their airbases in Afghanistan? Equally disturbing is the tremendous level of distrust the US has for the Pakistanis, which led it to jam the radars during the duration of the operation.

There is not just confusion that prevails in Pakistan, but also a national depression at the loss of national dignity and self-esteem as well as sovereignty. There is no answer to these questions and this simply allows allegations from the West and from India to go unchallenged that Pakistan has been protecting Bin Laden and other terrorists; that Pakistan knew he was here and kept him safe.

The president, the prime minister and the army need to address this immediately and if, as they claim, they had the intelligence that led to the killing of Bin Laden, why it was not done by Pakistani forces?

Until this happens, Pakistan will suffer a great loss of credibility – and this from a country that has the fifth biggest army in the world and a hefty defense budget.

The reason we will not get these answers, of course, is that we have the most corrupt and incompetent government in our history.

And just how did it come to this? On 11 September 2001, Osama bin Laden was in Afghanistan and there were no suicide attacks in Pakistan. Fast forward 10 years and there are 34,000 Pakistani dead, the economy has lost $68bn according to President Zardari himself, a massive figure if you consider that the country has received a total of only $28bn in aid from the US.

In the past decade, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and we have created insurgent groups like the Pakistani Taliban.

Meanwhile, in 2010 across Pakistan there were 500 bomb blasts and today the major financial hub Karachi is aflame with people dying on a daily basis as a result of terrorism. The largest province in area, Balochistan, is prey to a violent insurgency.

Back in 2001 and 2002, the US attacks in the Tora Bora region forced some of the al-Qa’ida leadership across the porous 2,500km border with Pakistan; a border which the local tribes always traversed at will.

This was not a situation of war. What Pakistan should have done at this time was to use the tribal people to capture the fleeing members of al-Qaeda.

Instead, we got ourselves into a situation where the Army, under pressure from the US, commenced military operations against its own tribal people, which is what led to the revolt of the tribals and by 2004 Pakistan was dragged into the conflict with huge levels of collateral damage, and ultimately leading to the creation of the Pakistani Taliban.

After yesterday’s attack Pakistan is in great danger. There will be a backlash and there will be added pressure for the Army and the ISI to do more. Will we now be going into North Waziristan in pursuit of other insurgents?

The truth, of course, is that Pakistan cannot afford any of this. It cannot afford the inevitable extremist backlash; it cannot afford the targeting of its troops; and it certainly cannot afford the economic consequences.

We, the people of Pakistan, no longer have a government that represents us. It is time for Pakistan to get out of this war – and to recognise that if we continue along this path we are doomed.

Pakistan can no longer afford the human and financial costs and must, along with the rest of the world, realise that ultimately the solutions to these problems are political – and the weaker the state becomes, the less likely it will be to tackle the menace of extremism.

The US has won its battle against Bin Laden, but the war remains open ended.

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