The visit of Pakistan’s premier Yusuf Raza Gilani to China this week has underlined Washington’s enduring primacy on our Western frontiers and Beijing’s reluctance to present China as an alternative to the United States.
That might happen some day in the not too distant future; but not right away. That was the main message from Beijing as it serenaded Gilani.
Last month, two weeks before the killing of Osama bin Laden, Gilani had led a powerful team to Kabul that included all the top civilian ministers as well as the army chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and the ISI boss, Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha.
Gilani’s delegation met the Afghan President Hamid Karzai to define a new framework for peace and reconciliation within Afghanistan and the construction of a special relationship between Islamabad and Kabul.
According to leaks in the Western media, Gilani had apparently told Karzai to dump the diminishing United States in favour of a rising China.In the wake of raid on Abbottabad on May 2, it appeared that both Islamabad and Beijing flaunted their special relationship as the location and execution of Osama bin Laden deep inside Pakistan’s territory exposed the Pak army’s double dealing on terror.
As the rest of the world questioned the role of Pakistan’s security establishment in harbouring bin Laden, China was quick to offer a strong public defence Islamabad’s policy.
As the US mounted pressure to do more against the al Qaeda and the Taliban, Pakistan’s establishment flashed its China card. The hint was that if Washington pushed it too hard it had the option to deepen its alignment with Beijing.Although his visit to China was planned much earlier, there was much expectation that it would unveil their intent to join hands against the United States. Both had reasons to hold back.
For all its anti-American bravado, the Pak establishment knows the dangers of an overt defiance of the United States. The prospects for being branded as a rogue state and sanctioned again by the West can’t be too appealing for the economic managers of Pakistan.
China, too, made it clear that while the relationship with Pakistan was one of its most valued, it was not ready to paint in anti-American colours. While Beijing brings a lot of aid and investment into Pakistan, it can’t provide the kind of international political legitimacy and financial support that Islamabad gets from its Western patrons.
After rocking the bilateral relationship with its assertiveness in 2010, Beijing is in the mode of improving ties with Washington. As Gilani arrived in China, a senior Chinese military official was in Washington to lay the foundation for a new security dialogue.Last week, China and the United States also agreed to establish a special dialogue on Afghanistan. Beijing knows that its moment in the Sun in south-west Asia and the Persian Gulf is not far away. For now it might more sense not to contest the dominance of the United States in the region.
As Gilani arrived in Beijing, the ‘China Daily’ in an editorial cautioned against the impression that China is ganging up with Pakistan against the United States. “Any over-interpretation of Gilani's ongoing visit to China will prove to be superficial and speculative”. The Daily added that “China hopes to see US-Pakistani relations improve as it is in the same boat with the two countries in fighting terrorism.”.