Pakistan’s Chinese Gambit

Pakistan’s relations with the United States are troubled, and Islamabad may be turning to China as a result. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani just ended a 4-day visit to Beijing, which turned into a love fest. The visit commemorated 60 years of Sino-Pakistan relations. (China has been a key Pakistan ally in the latter’s struggle with India over issues such as Kashmir).

The US incursion against Pakistani sovereignty in the Abbotabad raid on Usama Bin Laden’s compound set off a round of condemnations on both sides. The US charges that Pakistan backs some factions of “Taliban” such as the Haqqani Network based in North Waziristan, which strikes at the Karzai government and US & NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan. There is popular pushback against US drone strikes on Pakistani soil. The relationship was further soured by the Raymond Davis case, in which a CIA operative shot two Pakistanis dead in broad daylight in Lahore and then a US extraction team from the consulate ran over another Pakistani and killed him trying frantically to save Davis from arrest (in which they failed).

Pakistan wants China to build for it a naval base at Gwadar, a deep water port now managed by Singapore, but to which Chinese engineers and Chinese capital made key contributions. (There are 10,000 Chinese working in Pakistan nowadays.) The port was 75% financed by China.

When the lease on the port ends, China is being asked to step in to manage it. Pakistan is offering itself to China, in other words, as Hong Kong West. If China has standing access to the new naval base for its own growing fleet of military vessels, that opening would give it a new position in the Arabian Sea near the strategic Persian Gulf, which has nearly two-thirds of the world’s proven petroleum reserves and a significant amount of natural gas, as well.

China will also give Pakistan 50 JF-17 Thunder fighter jets . China and Pakistan co-produce these jets, but the 50 being proffered have more sophisticated avionics than the co-produced version. China will also provide Pakistan with “J-20 stealth jets and Xiaolong/FC-1 multi-purpose light fighter aircraft”, though talks are in train about how exactly they will be paid for.

Pakistan will thus have some 260 Chinese jets, and these aircraft are the core of its air force.

On August 14, China will launch a satellite into orbit for Pakistan. The two countries are being vague about its use but it can hardly be irrelevant to Pakistan’s military competition with India.

Two branches of China’s Industrial and Commercial Bank opened in Pakistan during Gilani’s visit to China.

There is also an economic basis, and not just a strategic one, for an increasingly strong Sino-Pakistan alliance that casts the relationship with the US into the shade.

Pakistan and China do $9 bn. a year in trade with one another each year, and Gilani wants it to rise to $15 bn by 2015. In contrast, two-way annual trade between the US and Pakistan is only $5.4 bn. a little more than half that of China-Pakistan. Likewise, US investments in Pakistan in 2010 seem only to have been 1/3 those of China.

Even the Muslim fundamentalist group, the Jama’at-i Islami, is urging closer ties with Communist China as a way of escaping Pakistan’s dependence on (“slavery to”) the United States.

The main thing the US has going for it in Pakistan is its provision of foreign aid (“strategic rent”). If Congress abolishes that, as some representatives have called for, then the Islamabad-Beijing marriage may become even stronger.

Awaz tv reports: