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All-weather doormat

Old Chinese proverb say: Beggars can’t be choosers.

As relations between the U.S. and Pakistan deteriorate, Pakistan’s prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani referred to China as an “all-weather” friend who has stood by Pakistan through thick and thin.  The truth of course, is that China has used its weight to allow the Pakistanis to be naughty when it suited China’s purpose.  There are endless examples, the most significant being supporting Pakistan’s illicit nuclear program.  After the bin-Laden raid, the Pakistanis are keen to promulgate the notion that they have the ability to choose their primary benefactor, and that China can quite easily replace the U.S. in this regard.

But the facts speak for themselves.  The U.S. has contributed more than $20 billion to Pakistan since 2002.  It also gave Pakistan over $150 million in aid of last year’s flood victims.  China, almost belatedly, perhaps embarrassed by its own absence among the philanthropic few, donated $18 million.  For those under any illusions that China can effectively substitute the U.S. as Pakistan’s primary patron, a read-through of Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa’s September 2010 article is warranted (excerpts):

In Pakistan, most people view China as a saviour and time-tested friend – one that, unlike the US, will never abandon their country. According to former diplomat Tariq Fatimi, this is the only one of Pakistan’s links that can be considered truly ‘strategic’. To a great extent, however, this relationship is based on the transfer of military technology. Beijing played a key role in the development of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, and was also a source of weapons to fill the gaps left by the US arms embargo on the country until the blockade was lifted in 2001. China also provided military supplies when none were assured from the West.

Beyond the general perception that China is an all-weather friend there is also some negative opinion, particularly in the business community. The corporate sector has been badly affected by the dumping of cheap Chinese goods in Pakistan’s markets, but the high-stakes relationship between the two states means that the business community has not been able to protest too loudly. A senior official at the Ministry of Finance in Islamabad conceded that there is substantial informal trade in the form of smuggling of Chinese goods into Pakistan. However, Islamabad seems to consider it almost suicidal to broach the matter openly, given the importance of the defence ties with Beijing.

More interestingly, the second group that privately expresses reservations about China is the military personnel directly involved in weapons procurement. Junior and mid-ranking officers who come in contact with Chinese manufacturers express shock and disappointment at how Chinese businesses negotiate as ruthlessly as the weapons manufacturers of the West. In the minds of these military officers, this present-day reality clashes with the memory of China as a friend that provided Pakistan with free weaponry during the war with India in 1965. Although there is no proof to support this view, many continue to believe that China could play a decisive role as Pakistan’s saviour in case of an escalation of conflict with India.

According to an intelligence source who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Pakistani authorities go to great lengths to hide actions taken to appease Beijing. The source claims that a significant number of Pakistani citizens were caught between 2004 and 2009 by various intelligence agencies for alleged involvement in fomenting rebellion in China’s Xinjiang province, and were actually handed over to the Chinese intelligence agencies.

Likewise, in June 2007, President Pervez Musharraf reacted to the threat posed by clerics and seminary students aligned with the Lal Masjid in Lahore only after they attacked some Chinese citizens based in Pakistan, including the owner of a massage parlour in Islamabad. The Chinese ambassador in Islamabad at the time warned the government over the security of Chinese citizens, and many believe that this pressure contributed directly to the action eventually taken against the Lal Masjid clerics. Interestingly, Islamabad was silent when the Lal Masjid’s ‘burqa brigade’ had kidnapped a female professional escort and took a few police officials hostage who had come to rescue the woman. Reportedly, the Chinese ambassador had forcefully demanded protection of Chinese citizens.

In the long run, the relationship between China and Pakistan could be adversely affected if the increased militarisation and radicalism in the latter continues. Pakistan’s incessant political instability, the corruption and administrative inefficiency of its political leadership and problems of democracy are some of the many problems that feed into the inability of the China-Pakistan relationship to shift from a tactical to a strategic gear in a way that would be more beneficial to Pakistan than in the past. According to Yuqun Shao, from the Shanghai Institute of Strategic Studies, President Asif Ali Zardari does not have much credibility in Beijing, despite the fact that he is keen to further strengthen and expand bilateral links. This is hardly surprising, given Beijing’s culture of top-down authoritarian rule that emphasises political stability as a driver for economic growth. As such, the shift towards radicalism in Pakistan is bound to further negatively influence the relationship with the Pakistan government.

Ultimately, undermining the development of a more holistic relationship with China will prove disadvantageous to Pakistan, particularly now that Beijing’s strategists are reconsidering the relationship with India. In any case, Beijing seems willing to apply the model of Sino-US relations to its relationship with India as well. This means that while tensions with India – over Arunachal Pradesh, the potential strategic rivalry in the Southasian neighbourhood and the Indian Ocean, and competition for petroleum and mineral resources worldwide – could continue, it will not hamper the development of greater economic ties between the two states. But such conditions also mean that Sino-Pakistani relations could become even more tactical from Beijing’s point of view. Chinese officials, who are more concerned about improving relations with India and view the new set of relationship as an economic opportunity, will probably be averse to getting too distracted by the constant rivalry between Pakistan and India. [Himal South Asian]

After the bin-Laden raid, we have been victimized by cacophony emanating from Pakistan about how it can pick and choose its benefactors and that it doesn’t need the U.S. because it has China’s “support.”  The U.S. would do well to call Pakistan’s bluff.  Let the world see how much of a substitute China can be for the U.S. in Pakistan.  And when realization finally hits Islamabad, the U.S. should deal with Pakistan on its own terms.

Updated: Quote courtesy a friend: “Did it matter if a grain of dust in a whirlwind retained its dignity?” —  CS Forester’s “Horatio Hornblower” series

 

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Urdunama: Intelligence Failure

Pakistan’s military and political leadership is scrambling to explain how Osama bin Laden came to be living in a house in Abbottabad, 60 miles from Islamabad, as well as trying to assuage people’s concerns about the military and intelligence apparatus’ inability to detect or challenge the U.S.’s so-called breach of sovereignty.

Under attack from all corners, Pakistan is attempting to fall back on “allies” not named America.  While Prime Minister Gilani eulogized Pakistan’s ties to China in a manner most poetic, Pakistan dispatched Interior Minister Rehman Malik to Saudi Arabia for consultations.  In the seaport city of Jeddah, Mr. Malik spoke to al-Arabiya, in an interview charged with rhetoric and unseemly comparisons.  Below is an excerpt from Daily Pak:

Rehman Malik, in speaking with an Arabic newspaper said that Osama bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan was an intelligence failure, in the same way that 9/11 was a failure of U.S. intelligence agencies.  But this doesn’t mean that Pakistan’s intelligence agencies harbor terrorists.  Mr. Malik said that there would not be any calls for resignation of anyone from the political or military establishments, just as no one from U.S.’s political or military establishment resigned as a result of 9/11.  To those accusing Pakistan of connivance, Mr. Malik asks, who created Osama bin Laden?  Who used bin Laden against the Russians in Afghanistan?

He said that Pakistan had never allowed Osama bin Laden to come to Pakistan.  Mr. Malik also stated that the essence of the problem was the lack of trust between Pakistan and the U.S.  In response to another question, Mr. Malik said that if India attempted any operations against Pakistan, it would be given a befitting reply to its misadventure. [روزنامہ پاکستان]

 

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Talkistan ka matlab kya?

The politics of talking to our neighbor.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has invited Pakistan’s prime minister Gilani and president Zardari to attend the cricket World Cup semi-final match between India and Pakistan in Mohali.  Mr. Gilani has accepted the invitation while we’re waiting to hear from Mr. Zardari.  In the past, cricket diplomacy has been afforded to the likes of Gen. Zia-ul-haq and Gen. Musharraf.  This time around, the extension of invitations will result in two tickets being granted gratis to  individuals who neither craft nor implement Pakistan’s foreign policy, instead of our own VVIPs, who are accustomed to not paying for anything anyway.

They say there is momentum towards a resumption of talks between India and Pakistan.  Mr. Singh and Mr. Gilani met on the sidelines of the NAM summits in Bhutan and (infamously) at Sharm el-Sheikh.  Talks between India and Pakistan have also taken place in Lahore and New Delhi in the recent past.  Times of India’s diplomatic editor, Indrani Bagchi informs in her column that New Delhi was also keen to open channels of communication with the Pakistan army and its ISI (recall that DG-ISI Lt. Gen. Pasha had a tete-a-tete with India’s envoy to Pakistan Sharat Sabharwal at an iftaar dinner in 2009).

Not talking to someone is more a momentary tactic and less a strategy. If the Government of India has decided to seriously engage not just the civilian administration in Pakistan, but also its military overlords in talks, then fine, but what is the end game?  In India, our leaders have repeatedly articulated that they are “not willing to give up on Pakistan.”  As if not giving up on Pakistan is a virtue!

Lest we forget, there is the more immediate matter of Pakistan prosecuting its citizens involved in the heinous terrorist attacks against India on 26/11.  It has been 2 ½ years since 200 innocent Indian citizens were killed in a state-sponsored project executed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba and members of Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex.  Not only has LeT’s leader gone unpunished, he is also being invited to give speeches at that venerable bastion of justice, the Lahore High Court!

To be sure, the pursuit of  peace between India and Pakistan (or indeed between any two nations) is always desirable.  However, in India we are victims of our own unattainable quest for morality in international relations above all else.  Our leadership has always taken pride in suggesting that if Pakistan takes minor, but tangible steps in addressing our concerns, that we would be “willing to go more than half the distance” in resolving our disputes with our neighbor.  But why?

In the anarchic world of international relations, abstract terms such as morality have no place.  States promote their national interests by exercising their relative power, both in times of war and peace. If it is in India’s interests to talk to Pakistan, then negotiations must be dictated from positions of relative power.  Magnanimity has no place in international relations.  As the greater power, India must expect settlements to be more favorable to its interests, not the other way around.  To quote India’s former intelligence chief and senior fellow at Takshashila, Vikram Sood, “magnanimity is a function of victory; otherwise it is appeasement.”

Prime Minister Singh is right in pursuing talks with Pakistan, but he would be wrong to believe that India’s growth and prosperity were contingent on making peace with that country. If India and Pakistan can, by some remote possibility, reconcile their differences and live in peace with one another, then fine.  If they can’t, that should also be okay for us as well.  Prime Minister Singh will always be favorably remembered in India’s history books for loosening the shackles of our License Raj.  He should remain invested in bringing 400 million of our citizens out of poverty.  India’s growth and development cannot be held hostage to anyone’s grand visions of orchestrating peace with countries that seek nothing but our dismemberment.

 

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Gen. Kayani’s extension

Beware the General with the extended contract.

When Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani announced his government’s decision to extend COAS Gen. Kayani’s term for another three years, he was merely formalizing an arrangement that many had already foreseen months ago.  Media reaction to Gen. Kayani’s extension in Pakistan has swayed from grudging acceptance (The News) to complete endorsement  (نوائے وقت, ایکسپریس).  On the face of it, this is a matter internal to Pakistan, and the Government of India has rightly chosen not to comment on the extension.

Three issues, however, feature prominently in Pakistan’s press on favoring an extended tenure for Gen. Kayani — the war on terrorism, upholding the laws of the nation, and security.  It is the third that should be of concern to India; indeed, if history has taught us one thing, it is that secure generals in Rawalpindi have taken decisions that negatively impact India’s internal security.  Men in power at GHQ have historically been poor judges of how far they can push the button, either internally or as it relates to India.  We need not delve too far back into history to realize that precedents exist.  The events leading up to October 1999 serve as a reminder.  Nazim Zehra explains:

Musharraf had then clearly stayed away from the political situation as journalists had queried about the ability of the present system’s ability to ‘deliver’ given Pakistan’s major problems. His response to a question related to constitutional change was unambiguous. This relates to constitutional changes, an issue which only the country’s political leadership can address, he had definitively said. He was straight and honest recalling that when he had taken over as the COAS people around me held different views about Nawaz Sharif ‘s relations with the army leadership.

What was striking about the general was how he related to the team around him. Not only did he ensure the presence of at least half a dozen of his key lieutenants through his press encounter, he also let them speak. More so let them interrupt him, correct him on occasions. Only a general, secure about his authority would allow such public display of freedom of expression from his men. Musharraf had come across as a secure general; a team player. [Defence Journal]

Then there was Kargil.

The difference between 1999 and 2010, of course,  is that in Parvez Musharraf, you had a general who had no backing from the United States (up until the events of 9/11), while Kayani today enjoys popular support from folks in Arlington, Vir. And the U.S. is notorious for its weakness for scotch-drinking Pakistani generals; even more so when they are graduates of army colleges in the U.S.  Gen. Kayani is described in the U.S. as a “soft-spoken intellectual” and “apolitical.”  As if this “soft-spokenness” is a virtuous quality.

Yet, of all the 14 chiefs of army staff to have served Pakistan, only one man holds the distinction of having commanded both Pakistan’s premiere intelligence agency, the ISI, and the Pakistani army.  That man is Gen. Kayani.  That Gen. Kayani played an integral part in ensuring that talks between S.M. Krishna and his counterpart in Pakistan failed should be no surprise.  What Gen. Kayani does or doesn’t do within the confines of Pakistan’s political environment is a matter entirely internal to Pakistan.

However, “secure” Pakistani generals have displayed a knack for misunderstanding their relative power within the Pakistani establishment and misconstruing their ability to force India’s hand on “unresolved issues.”  And this is something that India needs to be wary of.

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