Down to the last friend - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 3 October 2011

Down to the last friend

With Pakistan-US ties in trouble, Islamabad is banking heavily on Beijing. But how substantive is the "all weather friendship"?

The "jointly developed" JF-17 Thunder fighter undergoing flight control testing.

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 4th Oct 11

The long relationship of convenience between Washington and Islamabad is deeply troubled again but far from ended. On the eve of his retirement, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff (backed by his boss, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta), baldly accused Pakistan of supporting jehadi networks. But both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have toned down the Pentagon’s accusations; and Mr Mullen himself, in a subsequent press interview indicated that his outrage was not about ISI’s links with terrorists. He was angry mainly because those terrorists were now killing US soldiers in Afghanistan.

Mr Mullen, in case anyone does not yet know, had accused Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of using the Haqqani network – the virulent, North Waziristan-based jehadi faction that holds sway in the Afghan provinces of Paktia, Paktika and Khost – as a proxy to further its interests in Afghanistan. In his words, “The Haqqani network acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.”

Five days later, after Pakistani anger and US backtracking, Mr Mullen was asked by National Public Radio why he had timed his bombshell for now. Mr Mullen answered, “…I am losing American soldiers. The Haqqanis are killing American soldiers. And from that perspective, I think it’s got to be addressed, which is the reason I spoke to it.”

In case anyone had missed the message, Mr Mullen went on to say, “…it is the intensity, the severity, and, quite frankly, for me as a senior military officer in America, the fact that it is so intently focused right now on killing Americans that I felt it necessary to speak up.”

Mr Mullen’s anger at Pakistan’s systematic sponsorship of terrorism only boils over when US soldiers are killed.

The US chief, who has gallantly endured severe passive smoker risk during some 30 meetings with his Pakistani counterpart, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, admitted that he had been expressing concern since 2008 about Rawalpindi’s cohabitation with the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). But, since action against LeT has been confined to declaring it a terrorist network (with no mention of its official sponsors), the unintended message is: stick to killing Indians; hands off Americans.

For these reasons and others, New Delhi is not holding its breath in the expectation of tough action against Pakistan. Indian policy makers recognised that the Washington-Islamabad equation, given its transactional nature, will settle back into equilibrium, albeit with a greater level of mutual loathing. But the trend line suggests that the relation will eventually become unsustainable, eroded steadily by a combination of developments: the expanding reach of Pakistan-based jehad; growing radicalisation in mainstream Pakistan; the related upsurge of anti-Americanism; growing US capability for cross-border intervention in Pakistan; and Pakistan’s declining importance as a logistical lifeline as US forces draw down in Afghanistan and the Northern Delivery Network grows in capacity.

That Pakistan recognises this is evident from its almost frantic embrace of China. And the vital question for Indian policy makers is: how substantive is Beijing’s ardour for Islamabad? New Delhi too easily swallows Pakistan’s portrayal of the “all-weather friendship” rather than Beijing’s noticeably more measured enthusiasm. Even given China’s post-1949 strategic tradition of balancing India in South Asia, the unquestioning belief that Beijing is unchangingly, implacably hostile to India is a self-fulfilling prophecy that condemns New Delhi to the strategic back foot in South Asia, boxed in by a numerically and economically superior axis. While this is precisely the impression that Islamabad wants, Beijing’s recent actions and statements are hardly those of a country eager to be Islamabad’s new superpower patron.

Soon after Osama bin Laden’s killing in May, Pakistan announced that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had invited Beijing to build a naval base at Gwadar. In many Indian eyes, Gwadar represents the apogee of Han deviousness, the most valuable of the “string of pearls” with which China will garrotte India. But Beijing quickly slapped down Pakistan, officially declaring that it had never heard of such a proposal. Having contributed $200 million, some 80 per cent of the overall cost of developing Gwadar as a container terminal, China seems content without a custom-built naval base on the Makran coast. Besides, Gwadar is hardly the strategic godsend that Islamabad projects. Tucked into the remote Baluchistan-Iran border, land access to Gwadar runs through areas ravaged by Baluchi militancy.

Next, credible reports suggest that General Kayani, spooked by the bin Laden raid and worried by the possibility of more such violations of Pakistani sovereignty, has asked Beijing for a formal defence pact. But with China clearly unwilling to be drawn into conflict over Pakistan, there has been public silence about this.

In July, when the US held back $800 million in military aid, Pakistan insinuated that China would make good that shortfall. But Beijing quickly clarified that China would provide assistance only for economic and social development.

There is growing scepticism within Chinese companies about the safety of operating in Pakistan. Last week, China Kingho Group, a major Chinese coal mining company, walked away from a $19-billion deal to mine coal in southern Sindh, citing security concerns. That blow was softened somewhat when Global Mining, another Chinese company, committed $3 billion for a mining-cum-power generation project in the same area. But, as the security climate worsens, China’s ventures in Pakistan are steadily drying up.

Despite this, China remains Pakistan’s last hope — hence Mr Gilani’s syrupy oratory when China’s Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu came calling last week while Mullen was belabouring Pakistan. With Sino-Pak friendship traditionally described as “higher than mountains, and deeper than oceans”, Mr Gilani mawkishly tagged on, “stronger than steel and sweeter than honey”. But Pakistani rhetoric will hardly prevent a rising China, eager for global respect, from re-evaluating a relationship that was based on nuclear and missile proliferation, arms supply and crude balance of power calculations in South Asia.


  1. This "Wild Animal" is made in USA but it did not had any consideration for its parentage and caused 9/11. Now this, " 野生动物 " will be appeased and nourished by Chinese. It is indeed for world to see what harm this, "Wild Animal" does to China. You know, Americans were brimming with similar self-confidence 20 year ago. Do not forget divine decree as Prophet said, "Let Islam reach China". It will be lovely to watch one more Super Power decimated and that too in not so distant future.

  2. Dear Ajay Sir,
    Till then these Haqqani and associates kill anyone on Earth sans American; everything is Very Good.
    If these level heads, spank American soldiers, the World turn upside down. The trusted ally is now the belligerent foe.
    Why have US not tried to snap ties with Pakistan, when it did Kargil, or when its bullets shed Indian blood? Why

  3. USA and China both are practically and theologically so much immensely getting benefited from Pak666 that none of them will ever be really interested to drop it like a burning coal. When US could not dare to drop Pak even in the aftermath of 9/11, then nothing more serious can be expected in the instant future. The Haqqani guns will be redirected against India and the problem will be considered resolved for good. They will keep their tongues coated with Burnol ointment to speak a few words of sympathy and consolation towards India.
    As far as China is concerned, it is rising in to a superpower and now its targets are obviously global. But thinking practically in to the terms of both local and global friends, we may find that Pak is the only real local and global friend of china. I do not consider N. Korea to be any real or useful friend of China. So it is highly unlikely that China can ever leave in lurch their one and only friend like Pak and earn the disbelief of the rest of the world almost forever.

  4. I am not sure why everyone has taken the view that China is an adversary. There are too many instances of European policies dividing developing countries:
    1. India - Pakistan
    2. Israel - Middle East

    That China cannot be a friend is an assumption that the West will want India to assume - for the simple reasons that Western nations get defence spending for every rivalry that exists.

    If India tries to build friendly relations with China, maybe it might find that it has more in common with China than differences

  5. Apart from people power, there is nothing more feared by the Politburo than radical Islam especially withinfrom its borders.

    The 12 wise men and the PLA are petrified by radical Islam from within (e.g. Uighers) and being exported to China.

    Hence the Chinese will alwayys keep the Pakis at a decent arms length and never fully bed them - occasional romance but never a fully fledged mistress.


  6. @Rohan Mohan

    You got to be kidding me. Friends/ potential friends dont supply nukes to your enemy just to "re-balance South Asia", an enemy which blackmails us with it on every possible occasion.

    China choose to take this extreme step, and now they have to reap the reward. It is time to show them India can plan similar games with Vietnam.

    And with respect to Pak, we are in the right path. As I said earlier, we need to encourage US to stay the course in Afghanistan. It is only after we make Pakistan, a "world threat", rather than "India threat", will US be happy to resolve it once in for all.

    The US "soft corner" for Pak is precisely for this reason. They dont want to make it a world threat, because they would then have to clean the mess. We in India need let Pakistan be... well Pakistan.

    The US-Pak-Haq relationship is like a (lethal)boxing match with Pak as the referee. The recent spat is just that US telling Pak, that Haq is punching more than the agreed monthly quota.

  7. When our enemies are making bond, why India keeping its friends away holding so called vintage ideal of NAM? Pakistan is a threat to entire world even China understood that but they want to keep this useful 'country' on its side for future leverage against India.


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