China ‘gains’ from ties with Pakistan


Manzoor Ahmed

It is a little ironic that China should be telling India that it wants ‘political gain’ from targeting terrorists. Strange, for a country like China to be making this remark on the eve of the BRICS Summit in Goa indicated that China was not going to shift its position with regard to the ‘technical hold’ it put and continued in the context of India’s efforts to get JeM chief Masood Azhar designated as a global terrorist in the UN.

Coming back to the Chinese statement, it may be mentioned that Vice-Foreign Minister Li Baodong had said (10 October 2016) that no country should have double standards on terrorism or use it for political gains. This was an oblique reference to India’s diplomatic efforts in recent times to get the world to identify Pakistan as a sponsor of terror. The minister was answering a question on whether the issue of terrorism would come up for discussion during the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, & South Africa) summit.

Chinese concerns about terrorism have today gone far beyond their borders and groups like ETIM in Xinjiang are more than a domestic nuisance. Of far greater concern are the scores of Chinese who have flocked to the so-called Islamic State in Syria. Reports also indicate that some 3500 Uighur families have been given land to settle in Zanbaq in Abyad province. These are families of fighters who have joined the IS. And so, China faces a serious challenge. It now faces terrorism that has been spawned and sponsored by Pakistan in Xinjiang as well as the global jihad in Syria and Iraq.

China’s counter-terrorism strategy in the region has been premised on its ability to make deals with the concerned militant group, like the Taliban in Afghanistan or TTP in Pakistan in exchange for their non-interference in Xinjiang and ensuring domestic stability by hard strikes on terrorists within. This worked for some time, but soon cracked. For instance, when the Afghan Taliban were in power in Afghanistan in the late 1990s they did a pact with the Taliban, exchanging training and weapons for not providing training to ETIM cadres in Afghanistan. Essentially, Pakistan for China is a staging post for all counter-terrorism activities. Beijing works through Islamabad to get Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table; not very successfully so far. Also, they have told Pakistan in no uncertain terms once in a while that any activity on their soil that affected Xinjiang would not be taken lightly. Proof of this was clearly evident when Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched in North Waziristan in mid-2014. The Chinese told the Pak Army in no unceremonious terms that ETIM camps in Mir Ali needed to be taken out. Thus began Gen. Raheel Sharif’s ‘offensive’ against terrorist camps! Of course, much before the operation began the ‘good’ terrorists like the Haqqanis were warned to leave the area!

What does China gain from this kind of a relationship with a nation that sponsors terror from all over the globe? In the madrassas of Pakistan are people who come from all over the globe, not to mention China. Having understood this, it is necessary to dwell on why China uses the tactic of making peace with the enemy. In statecraft it would be normal to try and win peace on the basis of friendship with the enemy, however, over a period of time, Beijing has come  to realize that it needs Pakistan to come to terms with its new found regional position.

China wants to be everywhere and Pakistan provides a route into West Asia, access to which is important as 75% of energy comes from the Gulf to China. Pakistan also gives China insight into Afghanistan, a place where China wants to become a mediator. So, there are several new roles that China is trying to play and the grand-daddy of all this role play is the new Maritime Silk Road and belt and road initiative. China wants to be like America, plain and simple and it is doing the same things that the US has done. In that game what are a few terrorist states like Pakistan? They can be co-opted to meet the needs of China.

The question that really needs asking is what ‘political gain’ does China get from remaining the all-weather friend of Pakistan? It’s not about friendship stupid! The Chinese want land and the CPEC is a great example to grab land in Pakistan. Think of it! The whole of Gilgit Baltistan under Chinese control, of course in economic terms, not necessarily in political terms. Far-fetched?

Just turn the pages of history and one finds reports in 2010 that Pakistan was planning to lease Gilgit Baltistan to China for 50 years. While the veracity of this report remains uncertain, contemplation of such an idea is indicative of the Chinese mind-set. Therefore, China will remain steadfast in their ties with Pakistan. I wonder how long it will take the Pak government and military to understand this. At the end of the day, China stands to gain politically by remaining allied to Pakistan. It also gains from being friends with a state sponsor of terror; for purely selfish interests. Fair enough, but do the Pakistani’s know that the Chinese will dump them the moment they see an alternative? They only need to look at Bangladesh, territory which was once a part of Pakistan. Today, Bangladesh is being offered a loan of US$ 24 billion by China. Pakistan should remember that China, like all other big powers will remain fickle. When will Pakistan realize that?