Can China Deliver in Pakistan?
Michael Kugelman | 02 Dec 2009
The success or failure of President Barack Obama's new Afghanistan strategy will depend on numerous international factors, from the contributions of Washington's NATO allies to the performance of Afghanistan's beleaguered government.
However, few factors loom larger than Pakistan.
Indeed, the Obama administration has conceded that unless Islamabad intensifies its efforts against Taliban and al-Qaida forces based in Pakistan, the Afghanistan plan will likely fail. Predictably, the U.S. government has renewed pressure on Pakistan to launch a more aggressive campaign against militancy within its borders.
However, Washington has little credibility and leverage in Pakistan, and Pakistani mistrust of the United States runs high. According to one poll from earlier this year, 64 percent of Pakistanis regard America as an enemy, and only 9 percent see it as a partner. Such sentiments pose a major challenge to the development of an expanded strategic partnership with Pakistan, which Obama reportedly offered to Islamabad in recent weeks.
Given these unsavory views of the United States, Washington's appeals for stronger Pakistani action against extremism could easily fall flat -- unless they are accompanied by similar pleas from nations with more credibility in Pakistan.
Enter China. Since this spring -- and presumably during Obama's discussions with his Chinese counterpart, President Hu Jintao, last month in Beijing -- Washington has been asking China to help stabilize Pakistan. This makes good sense. Pakistan's instability jeopardizes critical Chinese interests (.pdf), and the time has never been more ripe for Beijing to lean on its longstanding ally.
Ten thousand Chinese workers reside in Pakistan, and a fair number of them have been kidnapped or killed in the last few years. Additionally, Pakistan's northwest frontier has provided a sanctuary for Uighur separatist militants from China's Xinjiang province, some of whom have trained in Pakistani camps before returning to China. In April, Chinese officials alleged that the Uighur East Turkestan Islamic Movement -- the likely perpetrator of a deadly attack on Chinese border police before last year's Beijing Olympics -- had established its military headquarters in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, China has provided much of the funding and labor for the construction of a port in the southern Pakistani city of Gwadar. This port, which became operational earlier this year, gives China a strategic foothold near the Persian Gulf, facilitating the transit of Chinese energy resources from the Gulf back to China. However, Gwadar lies in the combustible province of Baluchistan, home to a separatist insurgency and alleged refuge for the Afghan Taliban's leadership.
In short, Pakistan's instability threatens the security of China's citizens, its government, and its energy imports -- a trifecta of threats that Beijing can ill-afford to ignore.
Beijing's high credibility in Pakistan ensures that its concerns will be taken seriously. The two governments have enjoyed warm relations since the 1960s, and Beijing has invested billions of dollars in economic aid, dam construction, energy development, and other infrastructure projects across Pakistan. One 2009 survey reveals that 80 percent of Pakistanis view China as a partner. And in a 2009 public opinion poll assessing perceptions of world leaders, 80 percent of Pakistanis expressed confidence in Hu -- the highest level of Pakistani support for any world leader mentioned.
Unsurprisingly, whenever China has demanded something of Islamabad, the latter has often complied. Many observers believe former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf launched his 2007 offensive against radicals holed up in Islamabad's Red Mosque after Beijing, angered by the kidnapping of Chinese engineers in Pakistan, pressured him to do so.
Today, however, China has much more at stake. Beijing must quietly yet forcefully impress upon Islamabad the fact that Pakistan's problems threaten the critical interests of its chief benefactor and ally.
Ultimately, Washington's greatest concern should be neither Beijing's willingness to nudge Islamabad, nor the receptiveness of Islamabad's civilian leadership to Beijing's entreaties.
Rather, the big question is how Pakistan's undisputed powerbroker -- the military -- chooses to respond to Chinese pressure. The army has already demonstrated in Swat, and more recently in the tribal area of South Waziristan, that it is determined to crush Pakistan-based Taliban forces that target Islamabad. However, other militants based in Pakistan cross the porous border with Afghanistan to fight American troops and the government of Hamid Karzai in that country. Certain elements within Pakistan's security institutions consider these anti-Kabul forces a strategic asset, regarding them as a hedge should international forces one day withdraw from Afghanistan.
If such sentiments carry the day, the effectiveness of Chinese cajoling could be limited -- and achieving Beijing's and Washington's shared goal of a stable Pakistan will grow ever more challenging. Nonetheless, enlisting China's help will go a long way toward promoting better stability in Pakistan -- and, by extension, in Afghanistan.
Michael Kugelman is program associate with the Asia Program at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where he specializes in South Asia. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Can China Deliver in Pakistan?
Here is an interesting OpEd by Michael Kugelman, what do you think?
Posted by Coatepeque at 10:55 AM