Monday, October 12, 2009

Pakistan's Powerful Patrons And Partners

We know Pakistan's strong and powerful ally -- putative ally -- has abandoned the state in the past when push came to shove. We know that Pakistan has done and sacrificed a great deal for this ally, sometimes at great cost to its sovereignty and internal stability. So my question is: why hasn't Pakistan's relationship with China changed?

I started thinking about this issue a while back, but it's really been brought to the fore with the furor over the Kerry-Lugar bill. Pakistanis (often rightly and often wrongly) complain about U.S. policy toward their country, arguing mainly that (a) it is too intrusive and (b) it's an unequal relationship in that Pakistan gives up a lot more than it gets.

Well, what about China? It has refused help in any war Pakistan has had with its significantly more powerful neighbor, India. Let me be clear: I am not saying China should have helped Pakistan in such wars; indeed, such a venture would have been quite stupid for them. I am saying that if they are such a supposedly strong ally of Pakistan's, and such a rival of India's, then we need a theory of why such help was not forthcoming.

Moreover, it is not just in military affairs -- where tangible help is more unlikely from an ally -- that China has come up short. As Irfan Hussain notes, last year neither China nor Saudi Arabia stepped up the plate when Zardari took his begging bowl out for the world to peer in. Again, it may be the case that not giving money was the right thing to do in terms of China's national interests. But it's quite curious how China is never there for Pakistan when it needs it most.

And it's not as if Pakistan hasn't given anything to China. Hell, it's given China an entire bloody port in a highly charged and restive province, amongst other things. So what gives?

I have four possible explanations:

1. I am completely wrong. China does help Pakistan a lot, in terms of military equipment, arms sales, and an unabashed supporter in global diplomatic circles. And at least China has never out-rightly harmed Pakistan the way the U.S. has. So the very premise of the question -- that China doesn't do enough for Pakistan -- is stupid.

2. It's a relationship rooted in common rivalry with India. As Indo-Sino relations warm, relative to three or four decades ago, China will want to overtly support Pakistan less.

3. China is now a global power, as opposed to a regional power. As such, it has less time for foolish episodes and states in the region that take up valuable time and resources. It is now, again on a relative scale, less concerned with the goings-on in this neighborhood than it was three or four decades ago.

4. China is helping Pakistan by not helping it too much. It is the doctor, the help is prescription medicine, and we're the drug addict. Rather than by bailing us out again and again to our considerable cost, it is giving us tough love in an effort to make us a more responsible state on the international stage.

I am sure there are others that I am not considering. Of these, I consider one and three the most likely, and four the least likely. What say you, readers?


Shahbaz Sheikh said...

First of all I would like to point out that Irfan Hussain is one of those kind of guys who lives lavishely in foreign residences and then writes about plight of Pakistanis as if he has been through them personally (with his secular pseudo intellectual attitute). Old farts like him are'nt really helping anyone.

Secondly I would go with explination number 1. China has helped Pakistan in various ways especially the telecomm technology sector (with which I am assciated). It helped us make our first motor-cycle, jet-fighter and develope the Gawadar port (which is good for Pakistan too you know). Even though some nice people have kidnapped and killed Chinese nationals in our country.

karachi khatmal said...

i would second SS on this one.

what you failed to point out, and what essentially bases all of pakistan's foreign relaitons, is that china has provided us a lot of military goodies, and as long as you are in with khakis, you are in with the rest of us, wouldn't you agree?

secondly, they haven't just stopped there, like the americans. instead there is a massive infrastructure debt we owe to them as well. not sure about gwadar being a good thing, but it was a massive undertaking, china did it, even supplied ships to make it operational, and its certianly not its fault that we fuck over the province it is situated in.

secondly, just go around the karakoram highway to appreciate the sheer scale of the effort involved in setting it up. true, it helps china's trade as well, but really try imagining the north without it.

thirdly, javed miandad was hired to help the chinese team, which meant he could finally stop being our go-to coach everytime someone failed or died.

really, the chinese are already way way ahead of the americans on this one

Butters said...

It is highly fashionable to criticize America, in part due to the intellectual respectability that Marxism gives such hatred.

Furthermore, America is, and people know that it is, 'the power', and therefore something one can direct one's rebellious feelings toward.

I would say that this is a case of hating the more prominent/loud/powerful entity just because it is prominent/loud/powerful; and also, of course, a case of ressentiment.

anoop said...

Paksitanis cannot recognize that USA wants to help. This is the 1st time in history the US has come forward to help the Civilian govt and you are treating it like this.
Where were the opposition and military when the bill was being framed? It was available online for everyone to see.

Coming to China. Indeed China has helped Pakistan a lot and not because of any brotherly feeling but because it wants Pakistan,a rival of India, to be on its side.
I see the world split in 2 parts.
The 1st alliance will be of the alliance of democracies- USA,India,all the NATO countries,EU,Japan,etc.
The 2nd one will be China,Pakistan,Arab countries,etc.
Basically, the 2nd alliance will consist of countries which are not democratic. China doesnt bark about human right violations like the US does and hence it is easier for countries like Pakistan and other countries to be with China.
Since,in about 40 years the top 3 players will be USA,China and India, the alliance of US and India will have a great impact. I suspect India will drag Russia into its block as it too will be vary to live along side a country like China.

karachi khatmal said...

"alliance of democracies"

OMG, george W bush has returned as a cyber-troll!

die, bush, die!

Ahsan said...


We obviously disagree on Irfan Hussain. He has been one of the sane voices in the pundit world in Pakistan for a long time. Almost everyone else -- until very recently -- has been a more literate and erudite version of Zaid Hamid.

I agree that China has helped us considerably, but then again so has (at various times) the U.S -- like right now. If it's about selling arms and tanks, the U.S. has done plenty of that too. Yet the two countries are treated very differently in Pakistan.


Anyone who takes Javed Miandad off our hands is okay in my book.


Okay, your point is fine as far it goes, but it doesn't explain why it is not fashionable to criticize China. Such a move would be irrational from my perspective, to be sure, but then again, so is much of the criticism directed against the U.S. (at least in its current manifestations). And Chinese/Oriental culture is as much of an "other" as Western Anglophones, so I don't get the distinction.


Completely disagree with you there, I'm afraid. States don't make alliances on the basis of regime type, but on the basis of interests. Now, there is something to be said for seeing your interests in a certain way that might make it MORE LIKELY that you ally with a similar regime type, all else being equal. But all else is very rarely equal, which is why you're highly unlikely to get the type of world you lay out in your hypothesis.

pishipotty said...

I feel that maintaining good relations with Pakistan is an important cornerstone of Chinese foreign policy. I don't think it's because we're that important to them, it's mostly because of history.

Pakistan was one of the first states to recognize the People's Republic and that's how our relationship became so deep rooted.

That being said, China has been quite beneficial to us in recent years. They have been investing heavily in the country (Gwadar, Karakoram rail link etc.)

Also, let's not forget : China is our biggest arms supplier.

Ribosome said...

China is always ready to help Pak militarily so that it can draw India's troops and resources to it's western borders, thereby weakening its Indo-Chinese border.
Helping Pakistan with aid is not in China's direct interest, at least not until they experience a surge in sponsored terrorism.

Jaydev,India said...

China didnt not militarily help Pak in earlier wars is coz there were Indo-Soviet pacts to preclude a Chinese front,India(+US) had irregular warfare capability(after '62) in Tibet,India-Tibet borders are not conducive to warfare and allied logistics.But that is not the case now (with vastly improved rail infrastructure in Tibet Chinese can quickly deploy large number of troops & equipment at short notice) , as in future Indo-Pak conflicts, Chinese can open a front to "settle" disputes with India.

Anonymous said...

i'd say option 1 - you are completely wrong.

the us is well personified by obama - they talk a lot (and very well) about ideals, aims, support, blah blah but actually do very little within the principles that they talk about.

crude example would be the top 3 words you'll ever hear an american president say 'justice, freedom, democracy'. compare that to what they do:
the top 3 countries that receive american military and financial support are israel (justice??? LOL), egypt (democracy??? HAHA) and columbia (freedom??? AS IF).

their approach to pakistan is no different - they will talk on the world stage about the need bolster pakistans institutions and promote education, but on the ground they will support whichever warlord will bring them what they want - whether or not he has raped girls in public or himself burnt down schools (rashid dostum in afghanistan anyone? made 'defence minister' on US approval)

the chinese are very different - they say very little and don't eulogize or patronize at every opportunity.
they just get on with it - they give pakistan vast amounts of military, infrastructural and intellectual aid. it is also obviously in china's self-interest to do so (for too many reasons to go into) but you don't get the whole 'we are america' self-righteous speel.

Anonymous said...

But they love us. That's GOTTA count for something, no?

foolsparadise said...

For Pakistan, it will be an addition to yet another cross road, which will bring it back on world's stage of conflicts again after (not in addition of) this (current) conflict & Chinese would outsource their agenda & dump all dark sides of it in Pakistan as US did in 70s, but if this happens, would be a much bigger one with a factor of "- Afghanistan as place of conflict & -USA as at least half of the worlds powers/states". remember good / stable relations are only possible between two comparable or similar parties & can't be a one-way, as US helped for a long long time, when its asked back , it asked in a big way.

sai said...

Well, what about the significant Chinese help in developing nuclear capability? The nuclear bomb is the biggest strategic asset in Paksitani armour without which it would almost certainly not have achieved military parity with India. This enabled it to boldly strategize its proxy wars against India for more than two decades (and still continuing) while avoiding, or atleast reducing significantly, the risk of a coventional war due to its actions.

Help on military nuclear capability is a gift very few countries have received, so I guess Pakistan should be more than thankful to China for that.

Butters said...

America a superpower, whereas China isn't.

America is culturally and 'morally' hegemonic.

America has acceptably become the target of many people's hatred as the epicenter of 'capitalist exploitation' and conspiracies of all sorts (fictitious, usually).

America is rich and powerful, and we're poor and starving. Hence, ressentiment.

foolsparadise said...

+tion to the above: here they are, the new tenants to make advance booking after USA is gone, looks like US is leaving soon.

foolsparadise said...

read the news article slowly line by line with volume on rock & weed soup;-), fun; who say Pakistan doesn't have an entertainment industry, its the best out there, promotions should sound "Lollywood, catching every moment from presidential palace" or "Lollywood, world leader in catching art of getting f****d in every 2 years"

"He (Mr PM) is understood to have briefed the Chinese president on the current security environment and the government’s endeavour to root out terrorism and extremism."

he did the same 2 days ago to US also

"Earlier in the day, Premier Gilani met leaders of China’s defence production industries and called for greater cooperation for building the capacity of Pakistan’s security forces that have rendered enormous sacrifices while combating terrorism."

Because KLB excluded Army, so new free arm suppliers are in town, pressurizing USA?(Gilani on Army's mission?)

This was way way a hilarious joke, they should have warning sign displayed before saying these

" We are fighting this war not only for our security but for world peace." my nomination goes to him for next Noble prize for world peace may be a shared one with Zardari ;-), I am almost dead, please call 911, emergency, I can't take any more.

last but not least, "Pakistan had close and extensive partnership with China in defence, space technology" we will make Mustafa-II (Pakistan's mission to moon) with Chinese co-operation and land it right beside the Chandrayaan-II, we would be neighbors on moon also. ;-) did some body already called emergency yet?

anoop said...

you said,"Completely disagree with you there, I'm afraid. States don't make alliances on the basis of regime type, but on the basis of interests. Now, there is something to be said for seeing your interests in a certain way that might make it MORE LIKELY that you ally with a similar regime type, all else being equal. But all else is very rarely equal, which is why you're highly unlikely to get the type of world you lay out in your hypothesis."

I agree. Maybe I was wrong in certain aspects. Lets forget other countries. Lets concentrate on 4 countries. China,India,Pakistan and the United States.
US and India are obviously gonna be strategic partners and allies in anticipation of India increasing economic clout.
Where will Paksitan land up in that case? I think Pakistanis will seek help from US as long as possible and US will be more than willing to help out as long as it stays in Afghanistan. But, what will happen when the US leaves Afghanistan?
US will be willing to help,ofcourse, but to a far lesser extent than it is now(with lots of conditions and KL bill will liberal by comparison). Pakistan cannot manage its economy without help from outside and its not going to improve for the foreseeable future. It will turn obviously towards China. But, can China,or rather,will China fill the huge aid-providing shoes of the US??? Not likely I think. We have already seen the paltry Chinese contribution compared to the US's recently..
If China does provide aid in the amounts the US does then there is a possibility of military returning to power in Paksitan,undermining the civilian authority as it will no longer see its usefulness. China will not ask any questions and has no qualms if Pakistan goes back to a military regime.
Pakistan is in a vicious cycle of regime changes from civilian to military and then back to civilian control.. I cant see anything positive happening to reverse this trend.

Your thoughts.