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#2800, 9 February 2009
 
China and Pakistan: Relationship in a Bottle
Siddharth Ramana
Research Assistant, Middle East Strategic Informer, Jerusalem
e-mail: siddharth13@gmail.com
 

The recent remark by Pakistan Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, that Pakistan had given the Chinese special envoy He Yafei a “blank cheque” in representing Pakistan in discussions with India can be viewed from multiple perspectives. The image which Pakistan wanted to convey was one of complete trust in the Chinese alliance, but this is likely also to open a can of worms for the strategic posturing of Pakistan in South Asia vis-à-vis the war on terror and its relations with the United States. 

Hussain Haqanni of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says that Pakistan has been viewed by China as a low-cost secondary deterrent to India, while China has been seen by Pakistan as a high-value security guarantor. It is therefore not surprising for Islamabad to have invoked the Chinese equation in dealing with the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. However, this time, Pakistan may have to face a behind-the-scenes chastisement from China. Such chastisements in fact date back to Pakistan also providing refuge to Uyghur militants from Xinjiang province in China.

Beijing would be looking with strong concern at the activities of Pakistan-based militant outfits in the region. Previously, China supported Pakistan's position on Kashmir, but has since moved towards a state of neutrality. China faces an Islamic terrorism threat emanating from its policies in Xinjiang, a region close to the Indian-administered portion of Kashmir, it continues to fears a spillover effect of Pakistani-sponsored militancy in the region. 

There are already reports of Uyghur terrorists being provided training and ideological support by militant outfits in Pakistan. In an interview to Asia World News, a Jaish-e-Mohammed militant Qari Farmanullah, claimed that dozens of militants involved in an Islamic insurgency in Xinjang also trained in Peuchar, a region in Pakistan's resistive Swat valley. It was in this region that a Chinese engineer who was kidnapped by militants was held (Asia World News, 29 January 2009).

China has not taken lightly Pakistani links to organizations antagonistic to its interests. Former President Musharraf was reported to have personally apologized to the Chinese for the violence against Chinese nationals in the country which preceded the Lal Masjid crisis. The Chinese hand in pushing Pakistan in dealing with militants can also be suspected in the development of the Gwadar naval port, an ambitious project which has been in the doldrums owing to the persistent security concerns in the region. In 2004, three Chinese engineers were killed and eleven injured in Balochistan. 

According to a report prepared by the Henry L Stimson Center, the Gwadar port project faces security concerns not only from the Taliban who oppose the economic development of Pakistan, but also from Balochis who fear further economic and cultural repression from the rival Punjabi ethnic groups (Zaid Haider, 2005). Recently, the Balochistan National Party (BNP) Information Secretary and former senator Sanaullah Baloch alleged that the Taliban have captured lands in the region with the direct connivance of the government (Daily Times, 5 January 2009). 

Chinese concerns of militant growth in Pakistan are not limited to fears of Uyghur terrorists. The increasing Talibanization of the Pakistani state further erodes the security of its nationals and interests in neighboring regions and further entrenches the American military outposts. During the 2008 November attacks, a reported conversation between one of the terrorists and his handler indicated that the handler while asking the gunman to be selective in the killing of Muslims wanted a Chinese woman to be killed (Stratfor, 2008). 

China chose not to remain oblivious to the international pressure on Pakistan in the days following the Mumbai attacks. At the United Nations Security Council, it supported the measure to designate the Jamaat-Ud-Dawa as a terrorist outfit, a move which it had twice blocked in April and May 2006, at the urging of Pakistan.  

China is however, in an increasingly dominant position with Pakistan. Its traditional leverage which resulted from exceptional military and economic cooperation with Islamabad is now further bolstered through the policy statements from the new American administration which seeks to test Pakistan's commitment to fight terrorism. Pakistan would feel further vulnerable to a future Indian military response if the new American supply routes into Afghanistan result in lowering their profile at the Karachi port. This would make Pakistan further dependent on the Chinese, who would view this predicament with both glee and concern.  

China views India as an economic rival, and it was with great skepticism that it supported the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement. Beijing continues to be concerned about an American encirclement with India as an agent. It would therefore continue to bail Pakistan out, despite its strong misgivings of the Islamic fundamentalism in the country. The Chinese involvement would entrench the Americans, ostensibly in counter-terror operations, and would therefore result in a cacophony of strategic relations in the region.

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