Chinese President, Xi Jinping, being received at Pakistan’s Islamabad Airport, by Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, last Monday
I could not miss the irony in this photo – Xi Jinping, enabled by American hardware (the 747 in the background), snatching America’s regional satrapy away from it.
The Chinese President, Xi Jinping, is not kind of man who wears his heart on his sleeve. He just chooses to appear mushy when it suits him. Like last Monday when he winged into Islamabad, to seal China’s ownership of it’s newest satrapy – Pakistan.
Xi has another penchant – writing op-eds just prior to a state visit. The aim – to soften up the public in the host nation and set them in a favorable frame of mind in advance. But the one he crafted for Monday’s visit to Pakistan could have given even the healthiest human terminal diabetes. The op-ed , titled ‘Pak-China Dosti Zindabad’, starts with a cringe-producing Urdu poem. It has pronouncements like ‘I feel like I am going home to be with my brother’. Not to be undone, Nawaz Sharif has cooed back, ‘ Our relationship is higher than the mountains, sweeter than honey, stronger than steel…’
Holding hands. How does one say Kichikoo in Urdu or Cantonese? Do they hump too? (Just askin’)
Hidden under all the eloquent horseshit and mushy publicity photos lies a grossly unequal partnership. While for Pakistan, their current bilateral trade is awesomely great, it is not even a pimple on an ant, for the Chinese. Pakistan is way behind even on perceptions – a 2014 Pew Research Survey report, titled ‘How Asians view each other’, found that 78% of the Pakistani respondents viewed China favourably, while only 30% of the Chinese reciprocated the positive sentiments. Interestingly, India, even when it is seen as an adversary, still came up with the same 30% favorability rating among the Chinese.
The poll accurately reflects one fact – China does not need Pakistan, though Pakistan does need China, after having chosen to shift away from America. Failed states like Pakistan who have never had the ability to get their own act together, always need a lifeline and so it is – exit lifeline US and enter lifeline China. Outwardly, at the airport, the Pakistani PM may get a guard of honor but inside the Zhongnanhai (China’s equivalent of the White House), Nawaz Sharif is probably made to wait on a little bench outside the door, hat in hand.
And China in it’s turn has made sure that the Pakistani PM’s hat is always brimming, with military hardware – short and medium range Shaheen ballistic missiles, JF-17 multi-role combat aircraft and fissile material needed for nuclear weapon manufacture.
Xi has signed a slew of agreements and pledged to spend $47 billion on infrastructure in Pakistan, under one mega-project named China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a 3000km long swathe of land that will begin at Kashgar in the Muslim majority Xinjiang province of China and meander south through Pakistan, pretty much dissecting the country in half. The project will consist mainly of a highway along with other infrastructure projects like power plants, highways, port extensions and airports.
For most of it’s length, this corridor will skirt the comparatively more volatile western tribal belt of Khyber Pakhtunwa and Baluchistan, by hugging Pakistan’s eastern side, but it will still have to criss-cross through some really scary jihadi countryside where one gets either kidnapped, beheaded or buggered in broad daylight.
The corridor will continue south until it connects with it’s destination – the Chinese built deep-sea port of Gwadar at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, a strategically located facility right in the midst of all the tanker traffic in and out of the Strait of Hormuz. Chinese access to the gulf states will be shortened by 12000 kms, the savings in time and shipping costs, incalculable. Pakistan has virtually handed Gwadar over to the Chinese to operate on an exclusive long-term lease. Similarly, the vast CPEC corridor too has been given away to China for it’s exclusive use.
In this way, around 50% of Pakistan as we know it, is going to be managed and operated by China for the better part of a century, against the payment of a sum of $47 billion, the infrastructure to be built wholly by Chinese construction firms. I hope those Chinese engineers don’t find it too difficult to get life insurance.
The 3000km long China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Pakistan is no longer Islamic green, it’s crescent moon having ceded place to the red star.
The CPEC corridor is going to be like leasing out your apartment while you’re still living in it, with the understanding that the lessee can do what he likes, even shove you into the servants’ quarters near the stables. It is indeed a pity that even after 70 years of independence, Pakistan does not have the wherewithal to execute a relatively straightforward construction project on its own steam.
Over the previous decades, the Americans had spent an equal amount on Pakistan (maybe even more than $47 billion) in the form of arms and hard cash and got nothing in return except body-bags, treachery, distrust and a Pakistani terrorist mastermind or two whom they could water-board for kicks.
The Chinese are certain that the same thing won’t happen to them. Unlike the Americans, the Chinese are hands-on. They don’t just throw chunks of cash at the Pakistanis and expect them to shape up. They wade in with the Pakistanis and breathe down their necks to make sure they get what they’re paying for. And they build relationships, eat, drink, play together, until they have installed their eyes and ears everywhere. Can you imagine American troops mingling with their Pakistani counterparts in a manner similar to the ones depicted in the collage above?
Through the offices of the Pakistani ISI, China established contact with the Taliban as far back as in the early 1990s. Since then, it has been the only country besides Pakistan to have maintained friendly relations with the extremist group. China’s equation with the Taliban has grown so strong that it is now mediating between the new Afghan administration under Ashraf Ghani, the Taliban and Pakistan. As a result, for the first time in two decades, peace in Afghanistan appears doable. But I won’t place the cart before the horse. I won’t forget that for the Afghans, as a people, history as far back as the 12th century, has shown that peace is not their comfort zone, strife is.
Sure, Pakistan – China relations have advanced to another level. But the opinion pieces and commentaries coming out of India sound like panicky shrieks. The proposal of a 3000km highway seems to threaten India’s very existence. India should take a deep breath and relax. China might slobber over Pakistan with all that mushy rhetoric, but I bet it knows that it is the same Pakistani military with whom China conducts joint military exercises, which trains and arms the Uighers. Unlike the US, China knows what it means to form any alliance with a country like Pakistan.
The decisive astuteness with which China handles Pakistan has been apparent from time to time. For one thing, it has never committed troops on Pakistan’s behalf in any of the conflicts with India, correctly realizing that Pakistan had been the provocateur in every case. During Pakistan’s Kargil misadventure, China refused to provide even diplomatic help, let alone military support. On that occasion, China in fact worked with the US to defuse the crisis without the knowledge of Pakistan. When the UN was voting to sanction terrorist outfits like Lashkar-e-Toiba, a murderous gang which is almost like the Pakistani military’s right hand, China refused to exercise it’s veto.
China in fact has been collaborating with the US on security matters more than has been reported. Perhaps they do not even wish for the Americans to vacate Pakistan altogether. They need the MQ-9 Reapers and their Hellfire missiles, to contain all the other militants (and even the Taliban, in case the existing non-interference deal with them collapses. Militants are fickle-minded folks). China is clever enough not to get into a fight with the militants directly and exacerbate a war of attrition. They have the ability to keep the eye on the ball – the CPEC corridor.
As for India and Pakistan, China’s would probably like them to exist in a state of manageable mistrust which ensures that India is always stressed out over the volatility of it’s western borders. The Chinese do not want things between the two nuclear-armed nations snowballing into a full-scale conflict. All it may be striving to achieve is to just keep the animosity sizzling like a sustained nuclear reaction, with an occasional cross-border firing here and a few deaths there.
Balancing that mistrust requires maintaining a balance of power between India and Pakistan. To this end, China might have gone too far by actively helping Pakistan in it’s nuclear weapons program and even providing it with the Shaheen-series missile delivery systems. China is in fact the only nuclear state that has supplied weapons-grade Uranium to a non-nuclear state, in direct contravention of the existing Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (of which China happens to be a signatory).
In the process, a volatile Islamic state that changes it’s constitution more frequently than we brush our teeth and has on it’s payroll some of the world’s most dastardly terrorist groups that think nothing of murdering little school children, now has nuclear weapons whose secure storage will always remain in serious doubt.
As if that was not enough, quite inexplicably China stood by as Pakistan transferred the technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya, through the good offices of a Pakistani nuclear scientist, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, who is hailed by the Pakistanis as the ‘father’ of the Islamic bomb, besides being the founder of a criminal underground international nuclear materials black market.
Transferring nuclear weapons technology to a country like Pakistan was perhaps the single most irresponsible act of China. At the same time, paradoxically, China recognizes that violence is bad for business. It wants the Indo-Pak relationship to be less volatile and have a stronger economic component, along the same lines as the Indo-China relationship – don’t be friends, just be business partners, keep the other guy jittery but don’t start a scrap. This model has flourished with the US and will survive with India too.
To the Chinese, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is actually nothing short of a bloodless annexation of Pakistani territory with both, economic and security gains. Economic gains – since it will shorten the distance from it’s energy suppliers in Sudan and the Middle East. Security gains – because China believes that it will be in a better position to contain the ongoing Muslim Uigher insurgency. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a purchase of a nation that has shown time and again how easily it can be bought.
But I sure hope the Chinese know what they are getting into. All said and done, the Tehrik-e-Taliban, the Al Qaida remnants and the Baluchis, the Lashkar-e-Toibas and Lashkar-e-Janghvis, the Hekmatyars and the Haqqanis aren’t going to just roll over and let the Chinese build roads and bridges, factories and power plants on what they see as their backyard, Reapers or no Reapers. They live in the middle ages and don’t give a flying f–k about economic corridors and roads and bridges. They hate the Taliban’s guts and don’t give a space-walking shtup about any prior deals with the Taliban.
For India, there may be an opportunity, albeit one with risks, but then fortune favors the brave.
The rebellious Baluchis want to form their own nation and it is rumoured that they are already receiving covert Indian aid in their struggle for secession from Pakistan. If so, India should ratchet up it’s aid program to a whole new level. Unlike the Taliban and the Lashkar, the Baluchis are sitting on over $ 1 trillion worth of mineral resources like natural gas, iron ore, coal, copper, cobalt and exotic metals like Lithium. Like the Kurdish regions of Iraq, Baluchistan is Pakistan’s bread basket. Keeping it in turmoil and might keep Pakistan on the brink.
India’s external intelligence agency, RAW, should get off their collective butts and take a page from the Mossad playbook.
It is time for India to get a bit devious.