China weighs in on US-Pakistan ties

The “normalization” of the US-Pakistan relations following the deal over the reopening of the transit routes for Afghanistan is an optical illusion.

The mainstream opinion of observers is that the “normalization” of the relations between the United States and Pakistan following the deal over the reopening of the transit routes for Afghanistan is an optical illusion. But then, life cannot do without making exceptions and there are two noble exceptions to the mainstream view on the US-Pakistan deal – US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and her Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar.

Clinton is enthusiastic that Washington and Islamabad are “putting the recent difficulties” behind them so that they can “focus on the many challenges ahead.” Khar in turn promises total “transparency” henceforth in Pakistan’s dealings with the US (and Afghanistan).

Clinton admitted that the US-Pakistan relationship will be tested in the future, but “we endeavor to take full advantage of the positive outcome of the new era of friendship and cooperation, which would safeguard the interests of both countries.” Washington is anxious to build on last week’s deal on transit routes so as to “take tangible steps on our many, shared core interests.”

As far as the region is concerned, the most interesting part of the Clinton-Khar hour-long weekend meeting on the sidelines of the Afghan donors conference in Tokyo was the impact of this new atmospherics on the peace talks with the Taliban. Clinton said, “America understands that Pakistan would be willing to allow the participation of Taliban and other militant elements, in any multi-faceted dialogue between warring parties.”

The civilian government in Islamabad is also bending over backward to speed up the NATO supplies for Afghanistan, not with standing the protests by Pakistan’s Islamic parties. Things appear to be looking up. There is even talk of resumption of the moribund US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, which last met some 21 months ago. 

However, seasoned Pakistani observers aren’t impressed. They feel nothing has really changed in the US-Pakistan relationship.

When someone of the stature and experience of Tanvir Ahmed Khan (formerly Pakistan’s foreign and defence secretary and ambassador to the Soviet Union) concludes that what we are witnessing “may only be a false dawn”, there is need to take note.

Khan virtually singles out President Asif Zardari as the choreographer of the deal with the US. Zardari avoided “taking people into confidence” and the result could be that the deal will “doubtless make a bad situation worse now.” Khan asserts that the “nation is entitled to more information.”

In his estimation, it is “wildly optimistic” to think that US and Pakistan have narrowed their differences on Afghanistan. He admits that “most [Afghan] scenarios do entail factors detrimental to Pakistan’s stability.” Khan concludes:

The challenge is to make Washington’s interests and those of Pakistan in Afghanistan compatible, particularly during the decade beginning 2015; a task that still eludes the Pakistani civil and military establishment, largely because of Washington’s continued insensitivity to Pakistani concerns.”

The ground reality is that within 24 hours of the deal on transit routes, Washington unleashed a triple drone attack in North Waziristan. Such happenings further alienate the public opinion in Pakistan, where Zardari’s current rating is abysmally poor already. The continued drone attacks may reinforce the people’s belief that there has been some sort of a Faustian deal between the civilian leadership in Islamabad and the Barack Obama administration

Significantly, Chinese media too has been quite explicitly critical of the US-Pakistan deal. A Xinhua analysis painstakingly singled out the contradictions in the deal, which has “raised questions on why the deal has been done in secret and why no details of the terms and conditions were revealed to the public.”

Xinhua pointed out that Pakistan prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf “refused to squarely answer criticisms”; controversial drone attacks do not figure in the deal that has been announced; Pakistan has dropped the decision to impose transit fee on NATO convoys; Pakistani National Assembly’s demand that those involved in the November massacre of 24 Pakistani troops by the US should be prosecuted has also been sidelined.

However, the Chinese Communist Party dailies People’s daily and Global Times since carried a reflective report looking ahead at the prospects of US-Pakistan relationship. The report, which is in the nature of an interview, reflects a realistic assessment. The points conveyed in the interview are:

a) The US priority is to get out of Afghanistan and concentrate on China and US is also redoing its priorities in line with the global environment.

b) The US needs Pakistan not only for logistics but also for regional stability.

c) The Pakistani public opinion sees the deal on transit routes as a sell-out, but having said that, too much shouldn’t be read into the agitation, either.

d) People understand that much as the US needs Pakistan, Pakistan also needs the US.

e) The deal on transit routes could lead to an improvement of US-Pakistan relations, but no dramatic improvement need be expected so long as US perceptions of Pakistan are based on Indian input and so long as US doesn’t show respect for Pakistan’s territorial integrity and doesn’t cease its interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs.

f) “Anti-Americanism” among the Pakistani people will remain as a continuing reality although Pakistan is conscious of the benefits of US aid and welcomes it.

The People’s Daily report is here.

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