Political developments within Pakistan and the deepening China-Pakistan nexus are blighting the prospects of stability that our region sorely needs. China’s own highly authoritarian political system that its leadership believes is superior to western democracy, its suppression of dissent and repression of minorities countenance the worst political trends visible in Pakistan’s polity. If the US’ preferential policies towards the military over decades resulted in the stunting of the democratic institutions in Pakistan, China’s relationship with Pakistan, anchored deeply in the country’s military establishment, is having the same consequence today. The all-weather China-Pakistan relationship can never be good for Pakistan’s democracy because China has no stakes in it, ideological or otherwise.
China is planning to invest billions of dollars in Pakistan, and as we have seen in the case of Zimbabwe where, to protect its heavy investment, it intervened to effect a regime change of sorts by backing the army chief ’s move to overthrow Mugabe, it will always seek to control Pakistan’s politics through the military so that its humongous investment is insured against adverse political change.
If the US had earlier encouraged jihadi elements in Pakistan to serve the geopolitical objective of combating the Soviets in Afghanistan, China’s selectiveness in taking cognisance of jihadi groups operating in Pakistan gives cover today to the Pakistani military to continue using jihadi terrorism as part of its asymmetric warfare against India, thereby serving China’s geopolitical objectives of containing its Asian rival. General Musharraf ’s recent flaunting of his admiration for Hafiz Saeed and his organisation’s role to keep the Indian army in J&K under stress testify to this implicitly. No wonder China is determined, in complete disregard of India’s concerns, to prevent the designation of Masood Azhar as a terrorist by the UN and laud persistently Pakistan’s sacrifices in combating international terrorism which it wants the world to recognise.
The US is today pressuring Pakistan on jihadi terrorism and seeks progress on its demands within a certain time frame, but this is being countervailed by the support Rawalpindi is getting from China. If Hafiz Saeed has been released and protests from India and the US have been ignored, and if the strategy now is to mainstream him politically by allowing his organisation to participate in elections, the explanation for this defiance lies in the sense of security that the Pakistani establishment substantially derives from its Himalayan high and ocean deep relationship with China.
The latest manifestation of this is the conduct of the Pakistan army in dealing with a bunch of rabid Islamists violating law and order in Islamabad on a medieval era-type issue of “blasphemy”.
Not surprisingly, the Pakistani military, by conflating national interest with its own, refused to act against the law-breakers and chose to treat the government and the Islamist party on a par, brokering as well as guaranteeing a compromise agreement that unceremoniously forced out the law minister of the country. That through this the military has wanted to portray itself as the guardian of the Islamic ideology and uncompromising on the prophethood of Muhammad reflects the deepening challenge that Pakistan presents to its own future, as well as to India and the region as a whole.
In this overall context, prime minister Abbasi’s meaningless (for India) reiteration at the recent SCO conference at Sochi of Pakistan’s commitment to combat the three evils of terrorism, separatism and extremism and premier Li Keqiang’s reiteration of China’s full commitment to the all-weather strategic cooperative partnership between the two countries (not meaningless for India) shows that the duo will continue to thwart India and regional stability as well.
Kanwal Sibal, Economic Times