On August 1st, Indian media reported that Pakistan's inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, chief ,Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, went on a secret visit to China as part of Islamabad's efforts to reduce its dependence on the United States. In the Indian daily, The Express Tribune, quoted sources as saying that Pasha is expected to open a "broad-based strategic dialogue" with Beijing.
The secret visit came only two weeks after the Pakistani chief of general staff of the army, Gen. Waheed Arshad, visited Beijing.. Arshad was reported to have discussed "the option of a strategic dialogue" between Pakistan and China, based on the pattern of the Pakistan-US engagement.
Pasha travelled to China soon after the sudden departure of America's CIA station chief in Islamabad, an exit that marked another sign of the troublesome relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan which became even more strained after the May 2 operation that that killed Osama bin Laden.
However, the reasons for Gen. Pasha's visit to China might lie in Beijing's recent claim that Uighur Muslim militants, who were involved in two bombings on July 30 and July 31 in the Kashgar city of China's Xinjiang province, had been trained to use explosives in the Pakistani tribal areas. Pakistan might therefore be in a rush to reestablish trust with its "all-weather" ally.
Pakistan is not hiding its preference for China over the U.S. as an ally. It was China that gave Pakistan the know-how to become a nuclear power; and both countries have an interest in downsizing India's economic and political hegemony in the region. The fatal attraction that seems to link the two countries is merely enhanced by their common rivalry with India.
In 1962, China and India clashed on the issue of a disputed Himalayan territory on the border between the two countries. China started the attack, managing to humiliate India militarily. The clash led to a de facto Chinese occupation of the Aksai Chin, a region claimed by India as a part of its northern state of Jammu and Kashmir. Encouraged by the Chinese success, Pakistan initiated a war in 1965 to take back Kashmir. However, even though China declared its support of Pakistan, Islamabad was not as powerful as Beijing, and India managed not only to stop the insurgency but also to be perceived as the Asian emerging power.
Along the years, Sino-Indian relations have been characterized by mistrust, but have not return to an armed conflict. Instead, Pakistan did no hesitate to engage in four wars with its neighbor; but each time, India managed to stop Pakistani hegemonic ambitions. The last time Pakistan attacked India was in 1999, in the so called Kargil War that ended, once again, in Islamabad's defeat. As Pakistani analyst Manzur Ejaz recently wrote in the Pakistani newspaper Daily Times: "…unlike China, Pakistan does not base its policies on economic and other pragmatic bases; it reverts to so-called ideological sentimentalism. We [Pakistanis] have everything contrary to the Chinese approach and the results are self-evident: China has climbed to the top and Pakistan has skipped to the bottom."
This "ideological sentimentalism" is composed mainly of a sense of religious superiority coupled with a nationalistic sentiment -- feelings that became evident in the aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden. The reaction of Pakistani authorities was an outburst of rage for the violation of national sovereignty and for the fact that Pakistan's double-cross had been exposed.
Pakistan-China friendship receives a setback
Many analysts consider Pakistan to be, by now, a "client state" of China; they predict that the U.S. is not going to retain its role as a long term ally. In Pakistan, even religious parties view favorably a realignment with China. "China's friendship to Pakistan is an important guarantee for our stability," writes Liaquat Baloch, a senior leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, a mainstream religious political party; "China relates to other countries without any agenda, where the US has an agenda which is all about interfering in the lives of others."
However, as the Hindustan Times puts it: "…in the face of a spreading Uighur rebellion China's love-fest with its 'all-weather ally', Pakistan, may have started to turn a bit sour, with Xinjiang authorities charging that a prominent Uighur separatist they captured had received terrorist training in Pakistan." Paradoxically, China is now accusing Pakistan of not doing enough to counter terrorism.After straining its relations with U.S. for the same reason -- not fighting extremists groups --Pakistan is now afraid of losing China's support.
The Pakistani paper, The News, reports that the Pakistani military authorities are under mounting pressure from Beijing to allow the establishment of military bases in the tribal areas of Pakistan to counter the Chinese rebels operating from its soil: "In fact, the growing strength of the Pakistan-based Chinese separatist movement is a matter of serious concern for Beijing which had even asked Islamabad to allow its military presence [in the tribal areas], just like the Americans, so that Beijing could effectively counter the Chinese separatists there," The News writes. Pakistani ISI chief's visit to China can be seen as an attempt to restore this crack in the diplomatic relationship. After the visit, Chinese media did indeed start to downplay Pakistan's role in training the Uighur militant groups. Beijing's leadership is strictly pragmatic; China does not want to clash with Pakistan, which can give China support in developing its hegemonic ambitions in Afghanistan and against India. China, however, is now becoming aware of the Islamabad's volatility.