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China and Pakistan: Looking Beyond Numbers By Dr. Sridhar Krishnaswami

C3S  Fortnightly Column No. F008 /2015

The 21 gun salute the President of China Xi Jinping received in Pakistan was perhaps the start of a new partnership for the two countries even as the region and others in the international community will eagerly be watching as to how all this hoopla unfolds in the future. Without a doubt for Pakistan it is a much needed boost in terms of economic cooperation, especially for a country that has seen foreign direct investment in 2014 at a paltry US$ 1.6 billion.

The goodies that the Chinese President brought with him are indeed significant—US$ 46 billions in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the commitment to push bilateral trade to around US$ 20 billions from the present US$ 12 billions. Beijing’s investment will cover many projects especially in road, rail and power besides coming up with a trade route from Kashgar in China to Pakistan port of Gwadar. The nearly 3000 km  is expected to be built over the next decade and a half with Chinese companies laying new roads and pipelines.

The windfall for Pakistan—expected or otherwise—is undoubtedly coming at a crucial time for a country that is literally tottering and on the verge of being declared a failed state. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif certainly needs a country like China to bail himself out, at least temporarily. And for China, it was a much needed push especially at a time when it perceives the United States trying to settle down into a cozy spot in the Asia Pacific through its gains with India, politically, economically and strategically.

The China-Pakistan nexus has been around for several decades. Islamabad’s only all weather ally has been China, politically and strategically. And it goes without mention that China has used Pakistan quite cleverly in the peddling of nuclear and missile technology to regimes in the world. Although both Beijing and Islamabad have routinely denied any hand in the dubious peddling of weapons and technologies of mass destruction, it is a well known fact that the handwriting of Dr. A.Q. Khan has surfaced in many parts of the world.

But from the perspective of China there is a troubling aspect and hopefully the visiting President of that East Asian giant would have addressed in his bilateral talks: the issue of Pakistan’s hand in regional and global terrorism. Beijing has been quick to point to Uighur Muslims as terrorists and would be anxious to see any of these elements flushed out of the tribal areas of Northern Waziristan. And to humor China, Prime Minister Sharrif would not mind American drone strikes if only it targeted Uighurs that have struck alliances with terrorists and terror outfits in the area.

China has to understand that the issue of terrorism vis-à-vis Pakistan cuts two ways .Calling on Pakistan to crush Uighur extremists alone will not work; Beijing should also lean on Pakistan hard to ensure that Islamabad does not encourage and actively support terrorist groups that target India. If Beijing does not measure up to this aspect of its relationship with Pakistan, its global standing is sure to suffer a severe setback. A distinction cannot be made between a “good” terrorist and a “bad” terrorist.

President  Xi Jinping hopefully understands that unless the regime in Pakistan comes to full terms with terrorism, this China Pakistan Economic Corridor will not materialize or achieve its objective. Prime Minister Sharif  himself sees the impact of extremism within Pakistan itself. India is at the receiving hand of Pakistan sponsored terrorism with extremists openly saying the kind of support they are receiving from official machinery. And the time is not far off when China may see the impact of these terrorists within its own borders unless Pakistan gets out of this ugly business.

(Dr. Sridhar Krishnaswami has been a senior journalist with The Hindu in Chennai, Singapore and Washington and currently Heads the Departments of Journalism and Mass Communications and International Relations at SRM University, Chennai and can be reached Views expressed here are personal.)

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