Sunday September 26, 2021

Pak-China future

July 26, 2021

The initial cracks that had divided Pakistan and China, and seemingly threatened their long friendship – after the Dasu bus attack which killed nine Chinese workers and injured 31 others alongside Pakistanis also engaged at the Dasu Dam – are healing. This will obviously be a relief for Pakistan, given that it depends heavily on China both in terms of geopolitics and the wider global scenario. China is the major rival to the US as far as global politics go, and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has said the country hopes to keep good relations with both these nations, thereby strengthening Pakistan at a time when relations with its neighbours to the east and west, India and Afghanistan, are strained. Following the Dasu incident, Pakistan and China’s foreign ministers have spoken several times and a delegation from Pakistan went to China to take these negotiations further. It is perhaps significant that DG ISI Major General Faiz Hameed is accompanying the foreign minister, a choice which highlights the significance of security to the future of Pakistan’s ties with Beijing. Beijing has obviously been concerned about the security issue, both because the CPEC runs through troubled areas of Pakistan and because of previous attacks on Chinese engineers and workers in Pakistan.

But CPEC is not the only issue. Pakistan needs China’s support in other areas too, including establishing regional balance at a time when Afghanistan has virtually fallen into civil war and a trickle of refugees which could soon turn into an influx. Simply to offer them any kind of support and also to strengthen its own position in the delicate equation between Islamabad, Kabul, DC, New Delhi, Tehran and also other capitals, it will need backing from Beijing which has commented on the need to bring peace to Afghanistan and stability for the countries that surround it. At the present time, Pakistan needs as many friends as it can gather around it. It needs friends to back it on Afghanistan, it needs friends to back it on Kashmir and to help it out of the isolation it still faces in the world. Economically too, China remains a major partner and CPEC has the potential to change Pakistan’s fortunes if there is success in building the network of rail tracks and roads which make the corridor.

To achieve this, it is obviously essential that Islamabad and Beijing retain warmth and a good understanding. The Pakistan foreign ministry has said this still exists and was never damaged. But the strong Chinese reaction to the deaths in Kohistan and the contradictory reports that first emerged from various official sources in Pakistan, suggested that things may be moving in a dangerous direction. For now, the balance appears to have been re-established. We assume efforts will be made to ensure greater security for Chinese personnel present in Pakistan. Certainly, China is a friend that Pakistan cannot afford to lose and return to normalcy will be highly welcomed by Islamabad in a time where troubles on many fronts appear to be gathering like a dark cloud over the country with economic indicators showing dangerous trends and regional peace in dire jeopardy.