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Adjusting to a whirling world order

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M Ziauddin
Let us stop looking at China through the eyes of our 1960s’ generation. It is no more a country fenced in under a bamboo curtain looking out only through a narrow Pakistani window. It has gone global. Today, China is an economic giant, second only to the US in size. With India alone, the size of its annual trade exceeds $100 billion.China did not launch the $56 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) out of love for Pakistan but in its own geo-economic interests, as a part of its global connectivity venture, the One Belt One Road (OBOR) project. Again, it was in its own strategic interests that China along with Russia had recently facilitated the entry of both India and Pakistan into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) treating the two at par.Against this backdrop, when one describes the Pakistan-China relationship as being higher than Himalayas, deeper than oceans and sweeter than honey, it sounds more like a boring cliché. Of course, this description could be true to some extent if applied to our strategic relationship with China. But strategic relations without the underpinning of strong economic ties have been known to have withered away when either of the two partners develop, dictated by changing self-interests, new or mutually opposing strategic interests.Had the decades-long Pentagon-GHQ strategic relations been buttressed by meaningful bilateral economic cooperation rather than keeping them solely dependent on defence cooperation the two would, perhaps, have survived the recent widening of the trust deficit between them. So, let us also stop looking at the US through the eyes of our Cold War generation. Superpowers don’t have friends. They have clients. If we don’t wish to remain a client of the US anymore, we better not be on its wrong side as well. Let us not try playing games with it, like using the China option to neutralize US influence in the region or using the Afghan Taliban to play the spoiler in the Afghan endgame. In the first place, China would never go that far for our sake. Secondly, without the assistance of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which the US would ensure would not be forthcoming this time around, there is no future for a Talibanised Afghanistan. Also, no one in the neighbourhood, including China, Pakistan, Iran or the Central Asian countries, would feel secure with the Taliban back in Kabul.
So, the best option for Pakistan is to remain relevant in the endgame by being a pragmatic facilitator in the global efforts to restore peace and stability to Afghanistan.The US wants to give India a role in the post-withdrawal Afghanistan. So, pragmatism dictates that we stop wasting our breath resisting India’s entry into the Afghan endgame. India has galloped way away from Pakistan economically, enhancing the asymmetry already existing between our two countries.New Delhi’s deepening economic ties with the US and China have expanded the vested interests of the two in India’s political well-being. Let us profit from the emerging situation by enhancing our own economic ties with India without, of course, giving up our historic positions on bilateral disputes.So, as a first step, let us offer MFN status to India and follow up by providing New Delhi transit trade route to Afghanistan via land through Pakistan. India is very keen to reach the Central Asian (CA) markets. It is, therefore, safe to assume that New Delhi would not be averse to offer a mutually agreed Kashmir solution in return for access to CA via Pakistan.In foreign relations, national self-interests rather than hollow honour and empty pride dictate the decision-making process. Also, in world affairs, like in politics, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies. For example see how the decades’ old friends, the US and Europe, are drifting apart dictated by their respective national interests.

And the Middle East is going crazy dictated by no one knows by what.

The US is an imperialist country. Such countries make friends and enemies on their own terms and in their own self-interest and are not dictated by noble or altruistic sentiments in dealing with countries, most of whom they regard as their chattels. The best way to deal with such countries is to keep mutual conflicts reduced to the minimum and maintain focus on issues on which the two can cooperate.

This way we could be in a position to encourage the US to leverage its increased understanding with the Indian leadership to help diffuse the nuclear flashpoint that the region has become because of the unresolved Kashmir dispute. Even for India to play ‘a central role beyond its borders’ it will first have to come to some kind of peaceful settlement with Pakistan on all the contentious issues plaguing their bilateral relations.

Once, when in the early days of Pervez Musharraf’s rule, the media was lamenting almost on a daily basis that Pakistan was suffering from global isolation because of military rule the Dictator invited a group of senior journalists for a briefing on the issue and claimed that the world would never consign Pakistan to isolation because we are: 1) Hub of fundamentalism; 2) Hub of drug-trafficking; 3) Neighbours of China and; 4) A nuclear armed country. This was clearly a disingenuous argument. All these four reasons are negative in character and because of three of these Pakistan is being treated as a pariah by many countries.

And even on the matter of sharing borders with China, it would be interesting to closely observe how China views India. Beijing has already expressed its willingness “to make concerted efforts with India to lift their strategic cooperative partnership oriented to peace and prosperity to a higher level”. And the official Chinese media recently pointed out that as both are emerging powers, which have the huge potential of being important forces in the international community, “China and India should see more space for cooperation instead of contention.”

While there is no possibility of China causing any serious harm to Pakistan’s national interests, one cannot, however, rule out the possibility of Beijing deciding at some future point, in the interest of SCO’s unity or by way of a trade off against India agreeing to join the CPEC to allow New Delhi’s entry into the Nuclear Supplier’s Groups (NSG) and give up as well its opposition to designating Masood Azhar as a terrorist.

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