China, a friend, shouldn’t be our fantasy

The fanfare over PM’s visit to Beijing comes as little surprise. Frustrated with our most allied ally in the West, there is understandable reason for people to see some hope in the East. But I worry that we are making the same mistake with China that we make with US – expecting a benefactor and not a friend.

Our relations with the US go up and down as the US grants aid or assistance and expects something in return. We look to China which seems to expect less – but gives less also. But there is another point that must be examined more closely which is whether China really expects less in return for its friendship.

Consider the recent US raid over our borders. Many people are furious at the US for this unilateral action, but China also praised the US operation that killed Osama bin Laden.

“We have noted the announcement and believe that this is a major event and a positive development in the international struggle against terrorism,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said about the White House’s announcement that bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader who orchestrated the September 11 attacks, was killed in a U.S. raid, Chinese newspapers reported on Tuesday.

This is no surprise. China’s position on terrorism is basically same as US.

In the eyes of the Chinese government and people, bin Laden was a terrorist ringleader,” said Guo. “But I do think we have to understand that his death does not mean the death of al Qaeda — there’s still the real risk of counter-attacks.”

China is a member of the 15-nation U.N. Security Council that on Monday welcomed the news “that Osama bin Laden will never again be able to perpetrate such acts of terrorism”.

“China has always opposed all forms of terrorism,” said Jiang. “China advocates that the international community enhance international anti-terror cooperation and adopt comprehensive steps to treat both the symptoms and the root causes of terrorism.”

Actually, China – an athiest nation – has been concerned with the Muslims community of Uighurs in Xinjiang, many of which are training with Taliban and other militant groups. We can help China to suppress these groups, but at some point we will be faced with the same problem as we are with the US – our “ally” requesting us to “do more” while militant groups attack us demanding that we do less. This is something that journalist Huma Yusuf has warned about for years.

Uighur extremists and members of the outlawed East Turkestan Islamic Movement have already been blamed for sporadic terrorist activities. But if a militant movement that can trace its roots to Pakistan gains momentum in Xinjiang, the ire that Beijing is currently venting on the Uighurs – by detaining 1,400 of them, closing down mosques and upholding economically repressive policies – could be unleashed on Islamabad instead.

Will be then be complaining about Chinese requests to “do more”? Or will we see dark clouds gathering on our “all weather friendship”?

And it’s not only security matters that we need to be realistic about. We also need to recognize that the reality of our economic friendship with China is not going to be radically different from our economic ties to any other power. Farrukh Saleem explains perfectly that China is a friend, not a benefactor.

Gilani is in Beijing with the biggest begging bowl Jiabao has ever seen in his sixty-eight years. Historically, the highest grant assistance that comes to Pakistan comes from the US that contributes around 38 percent of our entire grant pool. Next comes Saudi Arabia that donates 19 percent followed by the UK at 18 percent and Japan at 8 percent.

Jiabao will not give what Gilani wants — budgetary support. China has foreign exchange reserves of over $3 trillion and Gilani is asking for only a couple of billions but China, as a matter of policy, does not dole out dollars for budgetary support.

China built the 1,300 kilometres Karakoram Highway and China doled out $198 million for the Gwadar Port. Jiabao is willing to invest even more in Pakistan’s infrastructure but Jiabao will not give what Gilani is asking for.

Gilani has air defence equipment — especially for our western borders — on his agenda as well. To be certain, Pakistan is critically short on modern air defence systems. Our man-portable air defence systems, like FIM-92 Stinger and FIM-43 Redeye, depend on the US manufacturers. Our Oerlikon 35mm twin cannons have an effective range of only 4,000 meters.

Since 2004, Uncle Sam’s MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers have been raining hellfire missiles into Pakistan’s wild west. So far, there have been a total of 241 strikes and some of those strikes have killed IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) fighters along with Uighur militants. Would Jiabao help Pakistan down a drone? Would Jiabao go against the rest of world to help us out?

PM’s mission in Beijing is to secure important agreements to aid our economic and military needs. This is a vital task. But we should not mistake our friend China for our fantasy China. Pakistan should be working to make agreements with all the world powers so that we can increase trade and improve our security. This idea that China will replace the US is basically Cold War thinking in which there are two sides to play against each other. But the Cold War is over. In the post-Cold War world China and the US are friends despite their differences, and we need to have good relations with both. Pakistan needs strong ties with China and strong ties with the US also. What we don’t need is another fantasy setting us up for a future in which we find ourselves left with no friends left at all.

Time For Course Correction

In an interesting editorial, The News notes that terrorism lives on after Osama and Pakistan will have to manage the problem.

The bombing demonstrates that the killing of the Al-Qaeda chief hasn’t solved anything. Terrorism lives on, and could grow in the country as anger against the US continues to mount. This is a problem Pakistan has been left to deal with and it is a difficult one to manage.

I think it’s interesting that The News says that terrorism “is a problem Pakistan has been left to deal with”, as if the Americans having killed Osama have abandoned Pakistan to its fate. That’s not the case at all. Actually the Americans would love to help us defeat the terrorists in our borders. According to our own military and intelligence officers they provide intelligence, training, weapons. They have even sent their commandos to kill terrorists here. American did not abandon Pakistan, we have told them to get out.

This is fine. I don’t like feeling like every gora I see may be a pistol packing Raymond Davis cowboy on a mission. But we can’t tell the Americans to leave and expect terrorism to stop without telling the terrorists to leave also.

A couple of pieces in Dawn by two of our best and brightest make the point that it is time for us to face the difficult reality. Huma Yusuf correctly notes that we need to stop looking outside to find the source of threat to our country:

In this context, parliament’s decision on Friday to revisit national security strategies is disappointing because of its focus on foreign relations (particularly the bilateral relationship with the US). What will it take for Pakistan to contend with the reality that its greatest threats are internal rather than external?

And in another column Moeed Yusuf correctly notes also that just as the threats are internal so are the solutions:

It is about time Pakistanis own up to the fact that our own house is not exactly in order. The principal failure is internal, and so is the fix.

Daily Times agrees also saying that “the game is up”, and we need to make changes to the way we are operating before the whole world loses patience.

One thing is clear though: the ‘game’ is up. Pakistan’s military cannot afford to play its usual double game anymore because the world’s, and particularly the US’s, patience has finally run out. Despite their denials and having confessed to incompetence and an intelligence failure, disbelief lingers that Osama was living in a compound near Kakul and yet no one in the army or the ISI was aware of his whereabouts.

We have the opportunity to use 1/5 as a turning point and put Pakistan back on the bath envisioned by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah so many years ago. Decades ago, the nation was hijacked and driven off course. It does not have to be this way. The world is ready to forgive and forget strategic mistakes. We have seen this with other great countries including the US, Germany, Japan, Russia etc etc etc. By correcting the course we can avert a disaster that will come not from some hidden hand, but from our “strategic assets” stabbing us in the back.