Pakistan - China Relations

China is Pakistan's most steadfast partner
By Farhan Bokhari, Special to Gulf News
Gulf News, April 13, 2008

Pakistan's long-standing ties with China are set to receive a symbolic but important boost this week, when the Olympic torch arrives in the country on the last leg of its eventual journey to Beijing for this year's Olympic Games.

This forthcoming event follows an ongoing visit to China by President Pervez Musharraf for high-level talks on a range of bilateral issues. In a highly symbolic gesture, Musharraf will also be paying a visit tomorrow to Urumqi, the capital of China's northern, predominantly Muslim Xinjiang province.

The visit to Urumqi will underline Pakistan's active determination to respond to China's concerns over militancy by Uighur separatists, who in the past have allegedly tried to build ties with hardliners in Pakistan.

Pakistani officials, however, now claim that they have moved to block all mountainous passes, so as to stop the flow of Uighur separatists into Pakistan.

It is clear that Pakistan places a big premium on its ties with China, and for good reason. China has been Pakistan's most steadfast partner, as a supplier of key defence items in times of greatest need. In the years when Pakistan was placed under sanctions by the United States, Beijing continued to help Islamabad by keeping the supply lines open.

After Pakistan's maiden nuclear tests of 1998, a number of Western countries immediately moved to slap sanctions on Islamabad, punishing it for defying international pressure to refrain from carrying out the tests. China, however, was the only friend of Pakistan which kept its support intact.

Difficult times

The Olympic torch comes to Pakistan at a difficult time for China, just after the riots in Tibet brought condemnation from most of the Western world. The case against China has been given momentum by the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, many of whom have lived in Dharamsala, India, for decades. The Dalai Lama has become the focus of the global drive against China on the contentious question of Tibet.

While India says it wants to improve relations with China, Delhi's actions have been far from friendly towards Beijing in this difficult hour. Little has been done by India to fully curb the protests on its soil, which provided some of the strongest images in the drive against Beijing. If indeed China's plans for holding a smooth Olympics this year are affected, part of that would happen as a result of the activism in India against Beijing.

For Pakistan, staying the course without becoming embroiled in any controversy against Beijing is vital. This is necessary for maintaining a long-term and durable relationship. Besides, there are a number of other avenues where Pakistan can build and promote its relations with China.

One of the more obvious avenues is tied to the way the two countries continue working together to promote their arms industry. Earlier this year, at the Singapore Air Show, there was much interest in the JF-17 Thunder fighter jet jointly produced by Pakistan and China.

According to the authoritative Jane's Defence Weekly, up to 20 countries from the Asia-Africa region expressed an interest in purchasing the JF-17 aircraft, attracted not only by its high quality but also the very attractive price. Some analysts claim the JF-17's price could be about one-thirds the price of a comparable aircraft produced by leading manufacturers of fighter planes in Europe and the United States.

Earlier this month, China formally launched the first of four naval frigates that it has promised to produce for the Pakistan navy in a package deal considered worth $700-$800 million.

While these are some of the recent examples of ongoing cooperation between the two countries, China has historically helped meet Pakistan's defence needs in a number of areas such as the production of a range of arms for the army.

Going into the future, China's emergence as a large economic power also promises to provide major new opportunities for Pakistan. If indeed Pakistan is able to carry out a significant and long overdue set of internal reforms aimed at stabilising its politics and the economy, then the prospect of long-term ties with China remains strong.

For the Chinese, too, the warmth with which the Olympics torch is received in Pakistan this coming week will be key to a relationship of trust and co-operation.

Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.


Anonymous said…
Fickle Pakistani liberals
The News
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
By Ahmed Quraishi
Welcome to the fickle politics of Pakistani liberals. At any given time, less than thirty liberal political 'experts' are found rotating on fifty or so Pakistani television networks regaling us with their twisted logic. Last week, all of them suddenly re-discovered our late prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The PPP has every right – and a moral obligation – to make a show out of the 29th death anniversary of its founder. But the way our fickle liberals gushed out emotions in unison, almost on every television screen, begged a question: Where were they earlier? Does this mark the onset of the 'herd mindset' in Pakistani media?

Raising an ethical question in Pakistani politics is a contradiction in terms. But last week I dared offer one: If you have campaigned hard to boycott the election of a parliament, is it ethical for you to join this parliament after it has been elected despite all your efforts? I was referring to Mr Aitzaz Ahsan's decision to try to get inside our new parliament through the backdoor, a by-election, if PPP grants him a ticket. Suddenly, I was inundated with lectures on how it's legal and there is nothing wrong with it. But if you are a fair-minded person, you can still smell a rat in there. It is far more convincing – and ethical – to stick to your principles and stay out of this assembly. President Musharraf, after all, is still around. Mr Ahsan wanted everyone to boycott a parliament elected under this president. Why jump the ship of the lawyers' movement now?

And what does Mr Ahsan do when he does not get a good response from his party? He goes to Quetta with his client, the former chief justice, and sends indirect warnings to his own party's new federal government that he is a dangerous man if ignored. How come you didn't hear most of the thirty or so liberal political analysts on our television screens put the story this way? It's because hard blows are reserved for the likes of Arbab Ghulam Rahim. One more sign that in Pakistani politics, revenge trumps civility, any time.

Pakistani liberals fume when you talk about how Pakistan needs to evolve its own version of democracy and that we are not suited to the British democracy no matter how admirable it is. If not checked in our hands, British democracy has the potential of exploding in our faces. The deliberate mistreatment given to Sindh's former chief minister, Arbab Ghulam Rahim, shows that revenge remains an integral part of our politics. Our political discussions are devoid of any tolerance for opposing opinions and respect for those who hold them. You might excuse our tribal and feudal politicians for this culture but a disturbing fact is that this culture has slipped into Pakistan's middle classes, the supposed engine of future political change in our homeland.

While we are busy in these sideshows, real games are being played out elsewhere. Some of our liberals sprang out to defend a foreign terrorist, Sarabjit Singh, convicted of killing innocent Pakistanis. But none of them paused when an Indian supreme court judge took notice over the weekend of the fact that his country has jailed scores of Pakistanis without trial, some for more than ten years. The only reason New Delhi is beginning to take this issue seriously is because of our firm stand on the death sentence for the Indian terrorist, convicted after a fair due process.

Another area where we need to show some toughness is Afghanistan. Make no mistake, our American friends are making all the necessary preparations to invade our western regions. Washington has brought unprecedented pressure on the Europeans to beef up NATO contingents in areas close to our border.

We need to make our American friends understand that Washington cannot win in Afghanistan if Islamabad does not win too. The post-9/11 deal has to be a win-win for both of us. And it is not. Stating this specific reciprocity is far better than a blanket opposition to America's war on terror. Let's create consensus on this issue. This is a far more urgent matter than the nonissue of the deposed judges.

The writer works for Geo English. Email:

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