How China, Saudi backing keeps Pak hooked on terror
US foreign policy experts are fretting over ways to 'tame' Pakistan — or let it collapse. But that's Mission Impossible so long as Pakistan has the backing of China and Saudi Arabia.
by B Raman
In the latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine, Christine Fair, the well-known US academic, has given an excellent analysis of the state of affairs in Pakistan and of the state of the US relations with Pakistan. (Read it here.)
The article, which reflects the desperation and confusion in Washington DC over the lack of credible and workable options to make Pakistan behave as a responsible member of the international community, comes out with a list of policy options for the future. Some of these options are quite drastic — like letting the state of Pakistan collapse without being inhibited by fears over what could happen subsequently.
Fair's analysis, while brilliant and thought-provoking, has, however, failed to look into how Pakistan has been able to maintain a policy of defiance against the US for over a year. It does not bring out the fact that Pakistan's defiance has been largely due to its confidence that China and Saudi Arabia would never let it suffer or collapse, whatever be the punitive measures that might be taken by the US against it.
To Pakistani political and military leaders, China matters much more than the US. They are more sensitive and responsive to Chinese views, concerns and advice than they are to those of the US.
We saw striking evidence of this during the Kargil military conflict of 1999 between India and Pakistan. The Bill Clinton Administration, then in office in Washington, repeatedly advised Islamabad to withdraw its troops and re-establish the sanctity of the Line of Control (LOC).
Pakistani leaders were confident that China would support their stand against withdrawal. But to their shock, Gen Pervez Musharraf, the then Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), and Nawaz Sharif, the then Prime Minister, who visited Beijing in quick succession, found that Beijing was in agreement with the US advice to withdraw.
On his return to Islamabad from Beijing, a surprised Nawaz Sharif flew to Washington DC to seek US help for working out a face-saving formula to enable the Pakistani troops to withdraw. What worked on Islamabad was not US unhappiness and pressure, but Chinese support for the US stand on the sanctity of the LOC.
One point that is covered in Fair’s analysis is how to tame Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions and defang its nuclear arsenal to prevent its falling into the hands of the jihadi terrorists.
But, again, Fair has failed to highlight the fact that China’s continuing support for Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions has been behind its defiant stand on the nuclear issue. China, and possibly North Korea, continue to supply nuclear-related equipment and missiles of different kinds to Pakistan.
Pakistan’s economy is in a shambles. Despite this, it has been able to procure from China — and possibly North Korea — an unending supply of nuclear material and missiles. It does not hesitate to flaunt its missile capability by testing one missile after another at regular intervals without a single failure. Pakistan has had a unique success record in the world in respect of missile firings.
This has been possible because of steadfast Chinese and North Korean support to Pakistan’s programme. Unless the US is able to break this nuclear-cum-missile nexus of Pakistan with China and North Korea, no amount of direct US pressure on Islamabad will produce satisfactory results.
When George Bush Sr was US President and James Baker his Secretary of State, the US closely monitored China’s nuclear-missile relationship with Pakistan and repeatedly made it clear to both countries that this clandestine relationship could cost them heavily.
After 9/11, because of US dependence on Pakistan for dealing with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the US monitoring of the nuclear-missile supply relationship between Pakistan and China, and US pressure on China to stop adding to Pakistan’s nuclear capability, have eased. Pakistan has taken full advantage of this.
In the ongoing discussions in the US on the available options against Pakistan, the China angle has not received the attention it deserves. This deficiency is evident in Fair's analysis too. It is important to pay greater attention to the Chinese angle and study how to wean China away from its blind support of Pakistan.
The Saudi angle, another factor that has not received due attention in Fair's analysis, is important for two reasons. First, the Pakistani leadership is confident that if the US drastically cuts down its economic assistance, it can count on Saudi Arabia. Second, the Wahhabi-oriented jihadi organisations operating from Pakistani territory are sustained by the intelligence agencies of Pakistan as well as Saudi Arabia.
The Pakistani military-intelligence establishment uses these Wahhabi jihadis to achieve its strategic objectives against India and in Afghanistan. The Saudi intelligence uses them for spreading the Wahhabi ideology in the Islamic world — particularly in the Af-Pak region and in the Central Asian Republics.
The important question, therefore, is not only how to make Pakistan behave, but also how to get the co-operation of China and Saudi Arabia in this endeavour. Making Pakistan behave as a responsible member of the international community is a much more difficult and complex task than has been projected by Fair in her analysis.
B Raman is Additional Secretary (Retired) in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. He is currently Director of the Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai; and Associate of the Chennai Centre for China Studies. Republished with permission from the Chennai Centre for China Studies.
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