By Nida Afaque
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research
An analysis of Pakistan’s relationship with United States and China.
Globalization is praised for its benefits; the shortened distances, the improved communication and diversification in trade have all helped make this world a “global village”. It is these very characteristics which also make globalization a menace. Interconnectedness means the line between domestic and international is no longer clear. The effects of a local incidence can have repercussions in a different country altogether. A country’s economic progress and social development are closely linked to their allies more than ever. The right affiliations and social network can open many doors of opportunity and even manage to acquire some exemptions from otherwise unacceptable actions.
Pakistan has been attempting to gain access to the pockets of global powers but has slipped a little too many times. The pervading insecurity and financial hurdles, together with internal ethnic and religious violence have put Pakistan on the path to El Dorado. It has tried to use its geographical location and untapped resources to woo superpowers like China and USA, to the chagrin of some people even sold itself cheap to foreign powers.
Pakistan and its “all weathered” friends are proud to have a special relation that is “deeper than the Indian Ocean and taller than the Himalayas”. Interestingly, it was Pakistan’s soaring relations with US during the 1962 Indo-China war and later on, during the ‘65 and ‘71 wars with India that provided China with a perfect place amongst Pakistan’s foreign friends. Since then Chinese investment in the defense and economic sectors have spiked. Major projects include the Thal coal mining project, development of the Gwadar port, construction of the Karakoram Highway, construction of nuclear power plants and assistance with other energy projects.
Despite this impressive record, limitations to Chinese support are quite visible. While China has provided military equipment to the Pak army, it has chosen to maintain a less than positive stance in matters dear to Pakistan. Withdrawing supporting for the plebiscite in Kashmir in the late 80’s was one such example. Similarly, during the Kargil conflict China was in favor of Pakistan withdrawing its troops from Indian Territory. In economic development, China’s reluctance to bear the burden of Pakistan’s debt was obvious when it failed to come to Pakistan’s rescue in the 2008 financial crisis. Pakistan had to resort to an IMF loan with strict conditions. Sino-Pak trade has increased especially since the signing of the Free Trade Agreement in 2006. But this trade has ended up benefiting the Chinese more than the Pakistanis since Pakistani exports have poor competition in the Chinese market. Chinese investments in Pakistan’s economic sector are motivated with the idea of gaining access to natural resources and securing the trade route from Xinjiang to Gwadar which would provide an easy and cheap access to sea routes. China’s humanitarian aid in times of natural calamities pales in front of other nations. In the 2010 floods, China agreed to increase aid from an initial $18 million to $250 million as compared to US aid that amounted to $700 million.
As times have changed, China has chosen to diversify its foreign policy by attempting to build constructive relations with India. Leaders from both sides have made progress regarding bilateral trade which is expected to reach $100 billion by 2015. China’s interaction with Pakistan is thought to be a deterrent against India but the Chinese are well aware that fighting would not be so effective as good diplomatic relations. India’s stability is more appealing than Pakistan’s insecurity and lawlessness. In particular, Chinese are worried about the growing terrorism in Xinjiang province whose perpetrators are believed to be trained and provided haven in Pakistan.
Even though the nature of Pak-China relations has changed, the general masses in Pakistan continue to believe China has Pakistan’s sincerest interests at heart. The propagation of this notion has been the combined effect of china’s state controlled and Pakistan’s novice media. China uses this to counter the influence of America and warn India of its ally in Pakistan. Pakistan too likes to dangle onto the China bait to elicit more favors from America and keep India at bay.
United States’ relations with Pakistan have been seen as bittersweet too. The two nations cooperated heavily during the 80s in defeating Soviet forces in Afghanistan and more recently, in the War on Terror. Military cooperation between Pakistan and America is extremely strong. The latter has provided defense equipment, fighter jets and also compensates Pakistan for its expenses in the neighboring Afghan war through the Coalition Support Fund. Pakistan has made great advancement with US in both economic and social spheres. As one of Pakistan’s top trading partners, America has assisted in building infrastructural facilities like the Bhasha Dam and promoting the TAPI gas pipeline. The social sector has seen American support in education and health initiatives like the Fulbright Program and BISP. On the whole, US aid to Pakistan makes it’s the third largest recipient of American aid in the world. In 2011, US military and civilian aid amounted to $ 1,237 million and $ 1,143 million respectively.
One thing that the Chinese definitely have an edge over the Americans is in public sentiment. Majority of the Pakistanis see Western influence with suspicion. CIA’s misuse of the polio vaccination program for spying purposes was another setback for US-Pak relations. People feel that US aid, although a small 1.2% of the GDP makes them indebted to the Americans who then exploit Pakistan’s resources to serve their vested interests. Americans are equally wary of the Pakistanis whom they feel use their tax payers’ money against the very Americans who help them.
The top most issue Americans wants Pakistan’s complete support on is terrorism. The War on Terror that began in 2001 has consumed Pakistan completely. US wants Pakistan to take forceful action against terrorists who attack their forces, jeopardize the Afghan peace process and endanger the security and stability of the region. Pakistan on the other hand believes that America does not respect the loss of lives and efforts that goes into counter terrorism, a war that many believe is foreign. It has started to resent US military presence on its soil, as witnessed by the expulsion of military trainers after the Salala attack and the American government’s interference in domestic matters like Baloch separatism.
Pakistan may dislike the US but it also wants to use it as a ticket to the big players game, so that it is respected by its South Asian neighbors. This is why Pakistan is willing to shoulder much responsibility in the Afghan peace process even though there are ample domestic issues needing attention. The US cleverly plays with Pakistan’s psyche by making diplomatic headway with China, Russia and India in matters like the nuclear trade agreement and regional peace, which are of high significance to Pakistan.
The rivalry between China and US serves Pakistan’s interests. There have been times when China has proven to be a better ally and vice versa. It is not a question of siding with one over the other. The real issue is that Pakistan can use its advantages to pull the strings of both the US and China to gain maximum benefit; be the puppeteer than the puppet in this game. For that unfortunately, Pakistan needs stronger leadership with a long term vision. Until that deficiency is addressed Pakistanis are looking to a more complex and exploitable relationship with China and US.