Dark clouds gathering on the horizon of our ‘all weather’ friendship

Abdullah Monsour

By appearances, Pakistan China relations have always been beyond any doubt. When Chinese dignitaries have visited Pakistan, they have been welcomed like brothers returning home. China too has always supported Pakistan whether by supporting our interests in international forums like the UN, giving stern reminders to neighboring countries not to overstep boundaries, or the $50 billion investment in Pakistan’s economy. However same as brothers can have some buried issues between them, there has been a cloud hovering over our relations with China. At most times it is so small it can be missed as simply shade, but now and again it shows itself as a gathering storm. This storm has always broken before it hit, but once again the clouds are gathering and we should take note.

It will be no surprise that the darkness hanging over us is the cloud of militancy. China has given subtle warnings before that the menace of extremism must be cleaned up, and agencies have even put on a show of taking action against their most favoured militants. While there is no sign that China is displeased with our efforts till date, we could soon find ourselves in a familiar situation due to increasing threats of militants against China. According to reports, militants in Xinjiang have threatened to unleash ‘rivers of blood‘ in the country.

In the past, China has placed the blame for militancy on our doorstep and demanded that we take action against militant camps. In response, some actions have been taken, but the threat still remains. Statements by state officials including PM’s Advisor on National Security Sartaj Aziz suggest that certain militant groups have been spared if they did not pose a direct threat to Pakistan. Such sentiments were confirmed when DG ISPR admitted that agencies had been showing ‘restraint‘ for certain militant groups.

Now we once again find ourselves in a familiar place. Our greatest allies are facing threats from militants who get training and support from inside Pakistan. We can say that these groups do not threaten our interests, but we should have a better understanding of what our interests are. Already we are on the edge of losing America as an ally, if we have not already lost them. Our back up plan was China, but now they are facing the same threats also. Will we tell the Chinese, like we told the Americans, that these groups are not our enemies and taking action against all militants is against our national security? No. Our national security has been weakened and nearly destroyed by this backwards thinking. If we are to avoid total isolation in the world and becoming next North Korea, we need to give up the failed policies of the past and clear the dark clouds before we are hit with a storm we are unprepared to weather.

Arrest of Hafiz Saeed tests state’s credibility

Hafiz Saeed

The surprise arrest of Jamaatud Dawah Amir Hafiz Saeed sent a clear message that military and civilian leaders were serious when they said that extremist groups would be handled with no preferences given. However, as they saying goes, the proof of pudding is in the eating. Having taken the decision to arrest Hafiz Saeed, the state’s credibility is now at stake in how the case is handled.

China, who according to military insiders is the one who pressured for the arrest, will surely be watching how the case is handled. If it is another example of saying one thing while doing another, or if the state has actually turned a corner from differentiating between ‘Good Taliban’ and ‘Bad Taliban’.

Already there are signs that the JUD chief is being given special treatment. Who can forget the infamous raid of Nine-Zero and the treatment of MQM workers by agencies?

Pakistan Rangers raid nine zeroCompare to case of Hafiz Saeed who day after his arrest was releasing videos on social media.

When agencies raided MQM HQ, leaders were taken into custody and remanded for months on end where they were even tortured to death. When Hafiz Saeed was arrested, his own house was declared sub-jail so that he does not face any inconvenience.

Most importantly to note is that JuD has already pulled the same trick that it has always used by getting ‘banned’ to appease some foreign ally and immediately reemerging under a new name while continuing exactly the same activities. Does GHQ believe Beijing is as stupid and blind as America to fall for this trick also?

DG-ISPR officially stated that the arrest was ‘in the national interest.’ This is important because what happens next will speak volumes about how seriously institutions are taking ‘the national interest’ or whether it is nothing but another code word for telling everyone to shut up. So far, there is not much to be hopeful about.

 

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.

 

[SATIRE] Nawab Khan receives a visit from Chinese Viceroy

Imran Khan spanked by Chinese ViceroyNawab Imran Khan’s declared plan to shut down the capital unless his demands are met has been responded with severe displeasure by the Board of the Chinese-Pakistan Economic Company (CPEC). On Tuesday, that displeasure was demonstrated in a rare visit from Chinese Viceroy Sun Weidong at Khan’s Bani Gala palace.

The Chinese Viceroy left no room for misinterpretation as he explained that the Board of CPEC would not allow their investment of tens of billions to be threatened by the antics of a minor provincial chief. With a deeply bowed head, Nawab Khan apologised for the misunderstanding and assured the Chinese official that it was all just a bit of fun and “its planned siege of the city was not meant to derail the present government, the system or create chaos in the country.” While some peasants may be thrashed as part of the drama, the Nawab promised the Viceroy “there would absolutely be no threat to the diplomatic corps.”

Having given his assurance that next month’s protest was never intended to be more than a cheap stage drama, Nawab Kahn stood outside his palace and watched the Viceroy’s caravan drive away. “Sir,” his Secretary Shah Mehmood Qureshi began to say. “Shut up!” responded the Nawab. “Get out! All of you get out!”

“Yes, my Lord,” they whispered and left Khan standing alone on the front steps as a light rain began to fall. As they sat drinking tea in silence, they could hear the Nawab unleash a tirade of obscenities in the distance. Qureshi looked up at his colleague Shireen Mazari who met his eye with a mischievous grin.