At Odds with U.S., Pakistan Deepens Ties with ChinaBy Ishaan tharoor, TIME, Nov 1, 2010
Declarations of solidarity and the $2 billion in promised military aid received by a high-level Pakistani delegation in Washington last week belie the hardening of U.S. attitudes toward Islamabad. A White House report to Congress in early October accused the Pakistani army of avoiding "military engagements that would put it in direct conflict with Afghan Taliban or al-Qaeda's forces," suggesting this inaction was a "political choice." Mounting exasperation within the Administration at the failure of Pakistan to do its designated part in the U.S. war in Afghanistan is prompting calls in Washington to take a much tougher line with Islamabad. But rather than produce a more pliant Pakistan, an escalation of U.S. pressure could prompt Islamabad to strengthen its ties with a more forgiving ally, China.
Despite the Pakistani military's long-term reliance on U.S. support, anti-American sentiment in the country is dangerously high, stoked in part by growing anger over civilian casualties from U.S. drone attacks as well as disquiet with Washington's warming ties with Pakistan's archrival, India. President Obama is due to travel to India this week in a high-profile state visit.
In an exclusive interview with TIME conducted in late September, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi complained about the controversial civil-nuclear-energy deal the Bush Administration negotiated with India. No similar deal is on the cards for the Pakistanis, with Washington skittish about the security of Islamabad's nuclear program and about the continued links between members of its military intelligence agency, the ISI, and various jihadists. "We were the traditional allies — the Indians remained in the Soviet camp," says Qureshi. "Ever since that changed, the American approach has changed. Today, America values India a lot."
Washington's perceived shift toward India has led some among Pakistan's elites, particularly within its powerful security establishment, to place more emphasis on Islamabad's relations with Beijing. Pakistan and China share what is often dubbed an "all-weather" friendship: a Cold War–vintage alliance born out of geography and a mutual antipathy to India. In February, China agreed to build two nuclear reactors in Pakistan, a move that was seen as strategic tit-for-tat following the India-U.S. deal. And last month, leaked reports suggested that China National Nuclear Corporation was in advanced talks with Pakistani authorities to build a massive new one-gigawatt nuclear facility. Previous Chinese technological assistance is believed by some to have gone well beyond simple energy projects. "Without Chinese help," says Hassan Abbas, a professor of South Asian studies at Columbia University, "there would be no Pakistani nuclear bomb."
Abbas, a former Pakistan government adviser, says Beijing's interests in the region are now expanding at a rapid clip — "the Chinese ambassador in Islamabad is a very active person," he notes. China has enlisted Pakistani cooperation in quashing potential Muslim insurgencies in its far-western province of Xinjiang, bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan. Apart from its nuclear-energy investments, China is also constructing dams, building infrastructure and exploring for precious metals. It has also developed the strategic deep-water port at Gwadar on the Arabian Sea in Pakistani Baluchistan — although hopes to have that serve as a primary conduit to Central Asian trade have been clouded by the security situation, which has seen Gwadar possibly eclipsed in that role by an Indian-backed port in Iran. "China is a neighbor and a friend," Qureshi told TIME. "China has the technology today and China has the money to invest."
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