The Pakistani media gave a lot of attention to Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s recent visit to India and then Pakistan. Since we consider our friendship with China to be higher than the mountains and deeper than the oceans, it was understandably a matter of concern for us how such a friend would relate to a country with which we profess enmity that, by the same token, may be higher than all the known mountains and deeper than all the known oceans. Reliance on superlatives rather than normal expression is indeed our forte. I do not understand why we need to exaggerate some relationships and oversimplify others. The problem is that hyperbolic descriptions of our friends and enemies are delusional.
Foreign relations and foreign policy cannot reasonably be based on poetic licence, though there is no reason to ground them on cold-blooded instrumentalism either. A middle course based on facts and enlightened pragmatism is always better. Was it not so that we were once calling ourselves the most allied-ally of the US? The Americans, on the other hand, never at any stage encouraged us to make such declarations of love. Even during the Eisenhower period, the Americans were very clear that India was the paramount power in South Asia and also the only democracy.
In my forthcoming book on the role of the military in Pakistan, I have demonstrated that by the 1960s the Americans were very clear that we had entered military pacts with them to deal with India and not because of our zeal to fight communism. Of course, the US-Pakistan courtship warmed up after the Soviet Union sent troops to aid their beleaguered comrades in Afghanistan, but even then both sides were allied to each other for purely instrumental reasons.
Another example of our extravagance is the way we suck up to the Saudis. Some years ago, when one of the Saudi Kings expired, former President Musharraf declared one week of national mourning. The Saudis themselves did nothing of the sort because, from the Wahabi point of view, any such display of feelings for a human being is heresy. I think these examples should suffice to establish the point I want to make.
So then, what happened during Wen Jiabao’s recent visit to India and Pakistan? China and India agreed to increase their trade to $ 100 billion by 2015. The Chinese also promised to rectify the trade imbalance between them; at present, China exports much more than it imports from India. The Chinese premier said that there was room for both India and China to grow and therefore there was no need to go down the path of confrontation. He did not, however, make concessions on their border disputes. About India’s ambitions to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the Chinese were reticent.
The Chinese probably want to keep the pressure on India in case India gets too cosy with the Americans. The Chinese also did not agree to mention a Pakistani hand in the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 26, 2008. Even more significant was that China advised India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute through negotiations. China is no less worried than India about Pakistan becoming a springboard for a Taliban type of jihad. That could entail the Muslim-majority Xinjiang being destabilised.
Pakistan does enjoy a special status in terms of Chinese strategy to maintain a presence in South Asia. The port at Gwadar and prospective minerals in Balochistan make Pakistan dear to the Chinese. We are going to benefit from Chinese investments to the tune of $ 25 billion. China has sold us MIG aircraft and other armament and it is commonly believed in both Washington DC and Delhi that China also assisted us in becoming a nuclear power. From the Chinese point of view, an overbearing India in South Asia is not good for them. However, from this it does not follow that China would risk its own security or economic interests if we provoke a conflict with India.
In the 1965 war, the Chinese ambassador to Islamabad was advising guerrilla warfare to Pakistan when both Ayub Khan and Z A Bhutto were worried to death that the Indians could walk into Lahore anytime. I am sure the Chinese knew that the Pakistani leadership was not even remotely capable of fighting guerrilla warfare so their advice only won them brownie points and nothing more. It is foolish to believe that it was because of China that India did not invade East Pakistan in 1965. The Indians are not stupid. At that time, the Bengalis were still not alienated from West Pakistan. Equally, in November 1971, when Z A Bhutto was sent to China to solicit help in case of war with India, he returned home without any Chinese guarantees because that could have meant war — it being drawn into a war with the Soviet Union, with which India had recently entered into a 20-year treaty of mutual help.
Keeping these facts in view, if China and India can put their border disputes aside and the contentious issue of Tibet can also be set aside while they increase their trade, why can we not follow suit? Pakistan’s economic prosperity is dependent largely on us normalising relations with India. Of course it takes two to tango and we have to find out how serious India is about fair and equal trade with us. I have met many Pakistanis who say that the Indians talk with a silver tongue when it comes to generalities about trade and so on. However, when it comes to actual practice, Indian bureaucracy is narrow-minded and mean and creates such hurdles that Pakistani traders give up in frustration.
Recently, I learnt that Pakistan has challenged in Indian courts the fact that a special variety of basmati rice called Super Basmati, developed by Pakistani scientists, is now being grown in India. According to the gentleman who informed me, this is not acceptable behaviour and constitutes a breach of the law. This is only one case. More examples can be given.
Equally, Pakistan’s security depends upon normalising relations with India. One cannot reasonably claim that India constitutes a threat to us when out of the four wars with India, three were initiated by us: 1947-48, 1965 and 1999. Since we are now a nuclear power, India cannot hit us with impunity. Therefore, a reasonable basis exists for us to work out a new relationship with India. Let us find out what India really wants. This we can do without worrying about Chinese and American reactions. Pakistan is not that important for either of them.