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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

China and Pakistan

From an exceedingly thoughtful if occasionally problematic post-Bin Laden-execution piece in The National Interest by the New America Foundation and King College's Anatol Lieven.
Instead of economic pressure, what has been widely advanced as a means of U.S. coercion is a radical reduction in military aid to Pakistan. [...]

The problem here can be summed up in one word: China; for Pakistan is in fact China’s only real ally in the world, and energy land routes through Pakistan are regarded in Beijing as an important insurance against the possibility of U.S. or Indian naval blockade of the sea lanes from the Persian Gulf. Nonetheless, in recent years, Beijing has seemed to take a very cautious approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan, largely (or so I have been told by well-informed Chinese sources) because the Chinese government has genuinely not been sure how to proceed, given the hideous complexity of the issues, fear of antagonising the U.S., lack of confidence in the Pakistani state and economy, and its own concerns about Islamist militancy.

However, Chinese investment in Pakistani infrastructure has been considerable, and Chinese supplies of arms to Pakistan have also been growing steeply. Since the death of Bin Laden, however, Chinese statements have emphasised their support for Pakistan and their appreciation for Pakistan’s antiterrorism efforts. This raises the strong possibility that any reduction in U.S. help to Pakistan will simply be matched by an increase in Chinese help. That at least is the hope of the Pakistani establishment, and they may well be right. [...]

What then should Washington do? Firstly—unless, once again, there was a secret deal with the Pakistani military over Bin Laden—military assistance to Pakistan should be reduced as a sign of acute displeasure. Secondly, to try to ward off rivalry with China over Pakistan, the United States needs to begin intensive talks with Beijing on the subject of Pakistan, on the same level and with the same seriousness as those concerning North Korea.

In these talks, the U.S. side should stress that the U.S. and China share strong interests in maintaining Pakistan as a successful state, but among those interests are that Pakistan cooperate in preventing international terrorism—terrorism of which China itself is bound to be a victim in the long term, just as the United States eventually suffered from its appallingly misguided support for the Afghan Mujahedin and their Arab radical allies in the 1980s.

Finally, both Pakistan and China need to be told the following, very firmly indeed: A restrained U.S. response to the location of Bin Laden and the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008 has only been possible because no successful terrorist attack based from Pakistan has in fact yet struck the United States. [...] If after what has now been revealed about Bin Laden’s location, the United States does suffer a major Pakistan-based attack, then all the political and moral constraints on U.S. retaliation against Pakistan which I outlined above will fly out of the window.

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