Pakistan-China Relations: What are friends for?

China has proven to be a powerful antidote to concerns about international isolation. Relations with America might be on the decline, but isn’t America on the decline also? Even if America’s decline is more wishful thinking than fact, it cannot be denied that China will continue to have a growing role of economic and military power in the region and globally. With Pakistan-Chinese relations as strong as they are, can we really be ‘isolated’? To many of our fellow countrymen, China is not only a cure for isolation, but a panacea that promises to heal all of our problems. We should appreciate China’s vote of confidence, however we should also be careful to take a realistic view of the relationship and what we are getting out of it.

First, let us take an honest view of CPEC. This is a very sensitive issue since the country’s economic hopes have been attached completely to the Chinese investment which has been termed a ‘game changer’ for the country. There is no doubt that such an impressive investment of over $45 billion will have a positive impact on the economy. However, we should also not be naive enough to believe that China is simply handing this has a gift. Analysts are warning not to get overly excited about how much ‘change’ is coming.

In a new piece for Express Tribune, Cambridge graduate and management consultant Faran Mahmood has warned to be realistic and pay attention to ‘the fine print‘ in CPEC.

Drawing parallels, Pakistan is also repeating same mistakes by awarding contracts to Chinese players without any competitive bidding – with a sovereign guarantee of 18% return on investments.

Moreover, there is no guarantee that Chinese will pump money into our local economy by sourcing materials and labour force from Pakistan. The lion’s share of 400,000 jobs that will be created may go to Chinese labour force – not to mention the hefty cement and construction material import bill that may touch the billion dollar mark.

CPEC is not the only issue where China may be working more to its own benefits. There is also defence which is another sensitive issue that is usually discussed based on wishful thinking than cold hard reality.

In the current trendy narrative, US is moving away from Pakistan and realigning with India while we are realigning with China. This model is based on the view that the world is moving away from a single superpower as America declines and China rises and all sides are being rearranged. It should be noted that some analysts like Mosharraf Zaidi disagree with this view, however it cannot be denied that it is the most popular narrative in Islamabad today.

China has promised to stand with Pakistan in any eventuality. This can be understood as no different than the similar NATO alliances that say an attack on any Western country is responded by all. However, in our case we should be careful about whether we are taking China’s promise as only a defensive protection against foreign aggression or whether we are also taking it as license to continue failed policies of the past.

China has supported our positions at the UN, but have these always been in our interests? By blocking the UN from blacklisting Masood Azhar per our request, hasn’t China actually exposed us as supporting jihadi militants? It also makes it harder to change the status quo of our Kashmir policy which has failed for decades to actually help the Kashmiri people. Is a friend who helps an alcoholic to keep drinking really a friend at all?

China wants to keep India from achieving regional hegemony, and knows that supporting Pakistan will help that strategy. However this is different from having Pakistan’s best interests at heart. America wanted to prevent the Taliban from returning to power in Afghanistan, and supported Pakistan for over a decade as part of their strategy. But does anyone believe America had our best interests at heart? Why are we willing to fall for the same trick twice?

Finally, it would be incomplete to not say a word about the way that certain personalities have been attacked recently. Ayesha Siddiqa is the most recent example, but there are many others also including many famous examples. Each of these people has been attacked for supposedly repeating ‘enemy narratives’ or being overly critical of sensitive institutions such as our armed forces. They are stamped as ‘traitors’ and accused of being enemy agents with the only evidence being that we did not like what they said. No one likes it when their doctor tells them that they have cancer, but no one calls them a traitor for it either. It is understood that by telling you the harsh truth, the doctor is giving you the opportunity to save yourself. Isn’t it the case with these scholars also? Even the claim that they are attacking institutions does not hold up. If Dr Siddiqa points out that there are some corrupt officers, or Husain Haqqani notes that some policies are promoting extremism, the cure is not to get rid of the institution any more than the cure for cancer is to kill the patient! The enemy’s advice would actually be to ignore the presence of the disease which only allows it to spread. It is the friend who wants to heal the patient so that he can become stronger.

 

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