China Can Help in Pakistan

Presidents Barack Obama of the United States and Hu Jintao of China talk at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, September 25
Presidents Barack Obama of the United States and Hu Jintao of China talk at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, September 25 (White House/Pete Souza)

Finally, the United States seems to have found a role for China to play in resolving the war in Afghanistan. As Washington now openly admits, stability in Pakistan is as crucial to winning the fight against extremism across the border as the war effort itself. Throughout the past several years, American military aid has been flowing into Pakistan with, it seems, limited result. Government buildings and local army headquarters are targets of attack every so many weeks still. Unmanned bombing against suspected Taliban hideouts has only helped to aggravate resentment against the American involvement in Pakistan; an involvement that the Pakistani government, also, has begun to question.

The Pakistanis are understandably cautious. They feel that the Americans once left the region to its own devices — which in fact brought about the whole problem of the Taliban — and won’t hesitate to do so again. That fear is not entirely without foundation. Should the surge fail to do for Afghanistan what it did for Iraq, it is not unthinkable that NATO, perhaps including the United States, will abandon the war. Moreover, Pakistan is suspicious of Washington’s increasingly close ties with India: a good thing for Washington but not so good for Islamabad that just recently accused India once again of sponsoring terrorism against it.

Given the circumstances, Washington’s plea for a reinvigorated campaign against the Taliban is not likely to prompt great enthusiasm in Pakistan. But it might, when that plea is repeated from Bejing.

In spite of China’s great interest in the region — specifically, in the region’s natural resources — the country has not been allowed to play much of a role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. With Pakistan, it appears that the Obama Administration has found something useful for China to do after all: to convince the Pakistani government to do its bit. It has the leverage to make such a demand, subtly. Ever since the 1960s has China invested in Pakistan’s infrastructure and energy development. Earlier this year so much as 80 percent of the Pakistani population credited China as a reliable partner and just as much expressed confidence in President Hu Jintao.

The Chinese on the other hand have thousands of workers residing in Pakistan. They built a port there during the past years, in the city of Gwadar, through which Middle Eastern resources (primarily oil) are transported to China. And, Pakistan’s northwest has been a sanctuary for Uighur separatists who continue to upset Bejing’s dreams of a Greater China. All in all, it sounds like a win-win situation for everyone, right? Surely, not too long from now, there’ll be trouble.

Comments

  1. Is the wholesale sacrifice of Pakistan to China’s sphere of influence worth it? I wonder if it’s within the West’s long term geo-strategic interests.

  2. Quite true. You could have India and Pakistan ending up as proxies in something of a US-China power struggle, but I’d like to think that we’ll avoid such a Cold War this time around.