Pak-US vs Pak-China relations

By S.m. Hali

Decision makers in Pakistan are often torn between opting for strategic relations with the US or China: ties with either of the two should be mutually exclusive. However, as Pakistanis wonder whether Pakistan is a US ‘ally’ or ‘target’, China with its quiet unobtrusive help continues to win the hearts and minds of the people of Pakistan. The question here is, why is it that the US continues to pump money, train Pakistani security forces and provide technical support, yet it continues to draw flak? It is worth examining the reason for this dichotomy.

The Pak-US military relations have been like a rollercoaster ride. Historically, no US ally has faced as many sanctions from it as Pakistan. A brief history of the Pak-US military relations indicates that they commenced in 1954/55, with the signing of the SEATO/CENTO pact, after which Pakistan started receiving weapons and training from America. In July 1957, Pakistan permitted the US to establish a secret intelligence facility in the country and for the U-2 spy plane to operate from Badaber, near Peshawar. But when the plane was shot down by the Soviet army and its pilot captured alive on May 1, 1960, it embarrassed the US and brought Soviet ire on Pakistan. Since the Pakistani government was kept in the dark regarding the clandestine US operations, it asked the US to wind up its activities in Pakistan.

During the Indo-China war in 1962, the US supply of defence equipment to India, despite Pakistan’s objections, soured the Pak-US relations. On the contrary, the US did not come to Pakistan’s aid either in the 1965 or the 1971 Indo-Pak wars, despite a pact for mutual defence, forcing Pakistan to denounce its SEATO and CENTO membership. In addition, the Pak-US relations underwent a severe blow with Pakistan’s nuclear tests on May 28, 1998, and the ensuing sanctions. The ouster of then premier Nawaz Sharif in 1999 in a military coup led by General Musharraf gave the US government another reason to invoke fresh sanctions under Section 508 of the Foreign Appropriations Act, which included restrictions on foreign military financing and economic assistance.

Now let us examine Pak-China relations briefly. The relationship between the two countries began in 1950s when Pakistan was among the first countries, and the only Muslim nation, to recognise the People’s Republic of China and tried to build good relations with the newly independent country. Pakistan also helped China become a member of the United Nations and has been instrumental in helping it to maintain relations with the Muslim world. It has also played a leading role in bridging the communication gap between China and the West, through Henry Kissinger’s secret visit in 1971, which became the forerunner of President Nixon’s historic Beijing tour, establishing to the world that China was a lawful entity.

Today, China has come a long way from those turbulent times. It is a factor of stability in the region; is the world’s most populous and industrious nation; the world’s third largest economy and trading nation; has become a global innovator in science and technology; and is building a world class university system. It has an increasingly modern military and commands diplomatic respect. In this period of global economic meltdown, China not only has a stable economy, but it also holds roughly $1.5 trillion in US assets, which is at least 65 percent of China’s total foreign assets, and it is the second biggest foreign holder of US debt after Japan.

Pakistan and China’s joint ventures to produce JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft, K-8 Trainer aircraft, Al-Khalid Tank and F-22 Naval Frigates have given a new dimension to the cooperation between the two countries in the field of defence. Heavy Rebuild Factory (HRF) at Taxila, Pakistan Aeronautical Complex at Kamra was also established with Chinese assistance. The Karakoram Highway, the strategic port of Gawadar and the Chashma nuclear reactors are a manifestation of China’s sustained interest in Pakistan.

The problem with the Pak-US relationship is mainly because of trust deficit. The US announces a “strategic partnership” amid much fanfare, and admits its past mistakes in dealing with Pakistan; however, at the first hint of trouble, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton threatens Pakistan of “severe consequences”. The drone attacks continue and despite Pakistan’s serious commitment and sacrifices in the war against terrorism, Washington expects it to “do more”. Strategic partnerships are undoubtedly based on sterner foundations.

Compared with the US, look at Pakistan’s partnership with China where billions of dollars worth of projects are launched without fanfare and without insensitively reminding Pakistanis everyday about the “aid” or asking for audit reports. The treatment meted out to Pakistanis, or even Pakistani-origin US citizens, at the US airports leaves a lot to be desired. The Chinese want to help Pakistan in building its infrastructure; have been there at every moment of trial and tribulation; and have never put restrictions on aid, nor levied sanctions on Pakistan. It is, thus, obvious that Pakistan considers China a more reliable and trustworthy ally.

The writer is a political and defence analyst.

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One Response to Pak-US vs Pak-China relations

  1. Zulfiqar Haider says:

    China is like a brother to Pakistan and they are continuously helping us in tacking different problems. However, since 9/11 US has also turned out to be a strong ally of Pakistan and perhaps that’s why they are helping us in fighting militancy.

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