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South Asia

Pakistan-China Relations in the 21st Century

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Authors: Areeja Syed and Ahmed Bux Jamali*

Pakistan recognized the People’s Republic of China in 1950 and started diplomatic relations on 21st May 1951. Pakistan from the very beginning has kept its foreign policy approach very friendly as both are immediate neighbors as well. Historically, four major events reshaped the smoothness of relationship towards more cooperation which are the boundary agreement in March 1963, support in 1965 war, the Kissinger secret visit arranged by Pakistan to China and rare veto option adapted by China in United Nations Security Council. The essence of relationship is termed by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto “I should like to make it clear beyond all doubt that we have friendly relations with the People’s Republic of China and that nothing will be permitted in any way to endanger those relations. Our relations with China are an independent factor in our foreign policy and not contingent on any other. In the best interests of Pakistan, we shall maintain the spirit of goodwill, friendship and cordiality with the great People’s Republic of China. I declare that our friendship with China is not tainted by any form of bargain or barter. It is steadfast amity between two neighboring Asian States.”  and one of the famous statement of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang “If you love China, Love Pakistan too.” These statements are not only the building blocks but the proven realities of the glories of time between the two countries. Over 60 years of cordial relations, the depth has escalated more and more keeping in view changing international stages from global war on terror to other major international events onwards . China proved her all seasoned friendship based on equality and mutual respect and harmony. The high level talks and invitations to dignitaries creates a conducive atmosphere for the bilateral relationship. Pakistan and china need each other in the field of economy, strategic alliances, military joint ventures as both are nuclear power countries and student’s exchanges programs to further strengthen the ties in the advancement of science and technology and many more aspects of life.

Economic Relationship

The economy is the soul of foreign policy so is the case here in Pak-China relations. Pakistan and China signed a preferential trade agreement in 2003 where goods and services started revolving around the two countries. With the passage of time, China signed The free trade agreement (FTA) which was adapted in 2006. It was estimated that the bilateral trade was estimated to hit $15 billion by 2011. One basic advantage of signing of FTA was economic enhancement and its operationalization in October 2009 proved to be very economic-oriented outlook for Pakistan’s exports with China.  On the other hand, Pakistani and Chinese banking sectors are cooperating for a long time. Earlier, Bank of China was opened with two branches in 1951 but couldn’t succeeded. Pakistani governmental banks such as National Bank of Pakistan prepared to open branches in China in April 2008 which was later on negotiated between the officials. It was during the previous Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s visit to Pakistan in December 2010 that the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) was invited to open branches in Pakistan and the National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) was offered to commence activities in China.

There must be a series of visit of businessman and tycoons of both countries to expand the volume of trade of different items of the two countries. The economic strength must be revolutionized to keep this zone well established and free from any trade barriers. The business communities must create a platform to encourage the new products to China and then at the global market. The two sides expressed satisfaction over the growing volume of their bilateral trade, which has crossed US$ 15 billion and agreed to make efforts to raise it to US$ 20 billion in next three years. The growth rate must be positive and new avenues must be created for investors of both countries.

Strategic Partnership

Pakistan being a highly strategic country, is very much advantageous and pivotal to China keeping in view her strategic interests in this region. The enhancement in the cooperation of defense production regarding aircrafts, fighter bombs, tanks, and heavy artillery is remarkable for the changing regional dynamics.  The main reason of such a huge cooperation of China is to secure the region and achieving the desired goals such as access to Indian and Arabian sea, surveillance to US and Indian Naval activities and access to the markets of Middle East particularly in the field of energy. Their joint ventures and joint production have led to manufacture the MBT 2000 Al-Khalid Tank and JF-17 Thunder, a fighter aircraft, which has the strategic significance and is a unique example of Sino-Pak deep rooted friendship. The unprecedented level of friendship can be evaluated in the views of the Advisor to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz that; “The relations between the two countries are growing very fast, particularly for development of communication and energy sectors, Pak-China cooperative partnership has ushered in a new era in line with the ideas and vision, conceived by the leadership of the two countries”

This idea has been inherited from generations to generations among the nations of two countries, that Pakistan is always their first and foremost priority in the foreign policy and China is the cornerstone for Pakistan’s foreign policy as well. The strategic relationship of China with Pakistan is very important for both because it enables China to limit the regional ambitions of India towards its hegemonic designs and further strengthening the Pakistan as a major strategic partner in this region.

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

This is one of the best mega project in the history of the two states and indeed a great symbol of the deep rooted friendship of Sino-Pak relationship from 1951 to 2015. The agreement was signed between the leaders of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping on his visit to Pakistan in April 2015 respectively. The historic words of Xi are remarkable for the glory as he described that “This will be my first trip to Pakistan, but I feel as if I am going to visit the home of my own brother.” The main aims of such a project is to connect Gwadar Port in southwestern Pakistan to China’s northwestern autonomous region of Xinjiang through a network of highways, railways and pipelines to transport oil and gas and will operationalize from Gwadar to Kashgar. Overall construction costs are estimated over $46 billion with the entire project. The Corridor is an extension of China’s proposed 21st century Silk Road initiative and indeed a fate changer of billions of people. It will open new avenues for employments and trade pathway from China and the Middle East and Africa at large . Moreover, CPEC is not bound on One Belt One Road policy, its maximize the opportunities between two countries which has various initiatives for the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiatives globally. China has a lot to gain from its economic corridor arrangement with Pakistan; its centuries ‘old vision of reaching the warm waters through the shortest route is coming to fruition through peaceful ways. This will represent a new model of regional and South Asia cooperation which will offer new opportunities for Asia’s rejuvenation and the common prosperity of all countries of the globe led by China and its vision of connectivity.

Challenges And Opportunities

The world has entered into a new era of Globalization and interdependence and the nations have opted mutually beneficial foreign policy behaviors. Those behaviors are based on economic integration and security cooperation, strategic partnership and making peaceful alliances. Pakistan and China are the well-wishers of peace and prosperity not only in South Asia but the world at large. With the changing geopolitical, geostrategic and geo-economic realities, it is necessary for Pakistan to keep on testing the loyalty, limits and trust of China relationship. Ostensibly, the dynamics of the world have changed as the world has fast traversed the era of economic war and has also has entered the new era of economic cooperation simultaneously. Resultantly, the neighboring countries collaborate with one another economically so that the whole region reaps dividends. The changing dynamics can be seen on10th July,2015 at the 15th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at Ufa, Russia where the status of both Pakistan and India was raised from observer to full member. This will reshape the strategic dynamics and pose new challenges between Pakistan and China relations. Just a few years ago, no one could have imagined that Russia, China, India and Pakistan would opt to join hands for shared economic interests, regardless of their long-standing disputes. This will ultimately lead towards new horizon of changing scenarios within South Asian states. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Iranian Nuclear agreement with P5+1, Kashmir issue with India, revival of the old silk route and Afghan peace process will reshape the regional paradigm in Pakistan’s foreign policy. During Cold war era,US-Russian relations were always based on aggressive posture. They both were ready for every single competition in international arena. US will prefer China as a counter-weight against Russian designs.  This will create favorable conditions for China and Pakistan.

Conclusion

After touching all the dimensions of Pakistan China relationship, one thing that comes to mind is that; its high time for Pakistan to be more focused one Self-reliance policies ratherthan focusing on assistance of China and other international players. China being an immediate neighbor is historic and all seasoned friend but we must establish our potential and increase our international outlook. This will prove to be Pakistan’s less dependency on China and other international players. Economically speaking, Pakistan must settle down its economic issues so that it can enhance its economy smoothly. Resultantly, it will be less dictated in the matters of Political and Economic issues of the foreign policy of Pakistan. Pakistan must keep amicable relations with its neighboring countries especially with India which is historic rival to avoid further notorious actions via Afghanistan and Baluch separatist movement. The four wars never came with any results for both India and Pakistan. The solution of Kashmir issue and other major issues must be settled without using force or inviting other players to deteriorate the relationship. It is our mutual issue and we have to settle it with win-win goals. We need to compromise our designs and ambitions so that South Asian region can be made more peaceful. Pakistan must learn lessons from history of China as she could not get its parts as Hong Kong, Macao form Britain until it became politically strong and economically sound player. Summing up, China and Pakistan are great nations and close neighbors bound by common destiny and goals. No matters how scenarios are changing, both of the countries have to overcome all challenges and carry forward the traditional friendship more deeply. The Chinese-Pakistani government must strengthen people to people contact for further strengthening Sino-Pak partnership for building a harmonious world of enduring peace and common prosperity.

*Ahmed Bux Jamali holds a Masters in International Relations from Jilin University China Presently, he is serving as Research Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies Islamabad. He is available at ab_ir92[at]yahoo.com

Author is pursuing MPhil in International Relations from COMSATS University Islamabad. Her area of research focuses on International Security, Strategic issues and Public Diplomacy.

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South Asia

Bhashan Char Relocation: Bangladesh’s Effort Appreciated by UN

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Bhashan Char. Image source: dhakatribune.com

Bhashan Char, situated in the district of Noakhali, is one of the 75 islands of Bangladesh. To ease the pressure on the digested camps in Cox’s Bazar and to maintain law and order, Bangladesh has relocated about 18,500 Rohingya refugees from the overcrowded camps to the island since December last year. The Rohingya relocation plan to Bhashan Char aligns with the Bangladesh government’s all-encompassing efforts towards repatriation. The initial plan was to relocate 100,000 of the more than a million refugees from the clogged camps to the island. From the onset of the relocation process, the UN and some other human rights organizations criticized the decision pointing to remoteness and sustainability. UNHCR showed their concern over the island’s susceptibility to seasonal storm and flood. They proposed for a “technical assessment” of the Bhashan Char facilities.

An 18-member UN delegation visited Bhashan Char Island on March 17 this year to have a first-hand assessment of the housing facility for the Rohingya forcibly displaced Myanmar Nationals (FDMNs). Shortly after the UN’s visit, a team with 10 diplomats including heads of missions of embassies and delegations from Turkey, the EU, US, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands also went to the island on April 3 to appraise the facilities. All the members of the technical team opined that they are ‘satisfied’ with the facilities in Bhashan Char. The experts of the UN told, they will hand over a 10-page report of their annotations and they have already submitted a two-page abridgment. On April 16, they released the two-page synopsis after a month of the visit.  After the three-day study of Bhashan Char by the UN delegates, they recommended the Bangladesh government to continue the relocation process to the island in a ‘phased manner’. The team twigged three points – education for Rohingya children, increasing heights of the embankments and better communication system. The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh A. K. Abdul Momen concerted to take the necessary measures to create a safe and secure environment for the Rohingya refugees until the repatriation takes place. The relocation is not the solution of the Rohingya crisis rather the over emphasis of the relocation and facilities inside Bangladesh is protracting the crisis and distracting the attention from the broader emphasis on the repatriation to Myanmar.

The UNHCR and other concerned parties should plan for a long run repatriation process. Repatriation is the only durable solution, not the relocation of the Rohingya refugees. For the time being, resettlement under the Asrayan-3 project is an ease for the FDMNs but in the long run the Rohingya crisis is going to turn as a tremendous threat for regional peace and stability. Besides, resentment in the host community in Bangladesh due to the scarce resources may emerge as a critical security and socio-economic concern for Bangladesh.  It is not new that the Rohingyas are repatriated in Myanmar during the Military rule. Around 20,000 Rohingya refugees were repatriated to Myanmar in the 2000s. The focus of the world community should be creating favourable conditions for the Rohingyas to return safely regardless who is in the power seat of Myanmar-civilian or military government. The UN should largely focus on repatriating the Rohingya refugees in a “phased manner”, let alone deciding their concern in the camps and the Bhashan Char. After the praiseworthy relocation plan, they should now concentrate on implementing speedy and durable repatriation. Proactive initiatives are essential from all walks for a safe and dignified return of the FDMNs. To be specific, the relocation is a part of the repatriation, not the solution of the problem. 

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South Asia

Afghan peace options

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President Biden’s decision to withdraw unconditionally all foreign forces from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021 will leave behind an uncertain and genuine security concerns that ramifications will be born by Afghanistan as well as the region.

The Taliban seems least interested in peace talks with the Afghan government and appear determined to take control of the entire afghan government territory by force during post-withdrawal of American forces. Short of the total surrender, Afghan government has no possible influence to force the Taliban to prefer talks over violence. Resultantly, the apprehensions that Afghanistan could plunge into another civil war runs very high.

The consequences of yet another civil war will be deadly for Afghanistan and the whole region as well. Among the neighboring countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan will bear the severe burnt of an escalation of violence in particular. A civil war or possible Taliban takeover will surely upsurge and reinvigorate the Islamic militancy in Pakistan, thus threatening to lose the hard won gains made against militancy over the past decade.

The afghan and Pakistani Taliban, nevertheless, are the two sides of the same coin. Coming back to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan is surely emboldened and revives Pakistani Taliban and other militant outfits. Moreover, spread of violence not only reduce all chances of repatriation of refugees but possibly increase the inflow of refugees from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Furthermore, worsening of the security situation in Afghanistan will jeopardize the prospects of  trade, foreign investment and economic development initiatives such as china-Pakistan economic corridor. The chances of Gawadar and Karachi port to become a transit trade route for the region and link the energy rich region of central asia will become bleak until a sustainable peace and stability is achieved in Afghanistan.

It is against this background that the successful end of the intra-afghan talk is highly required for Pakistan, for its own sake.  Officially, Islamabad stated policy is to ensure the afghan-led and afghan-owned peace solution of the afghan conflict. It helped in bringing the Taliban on the negotiation table, which finally resulted in the signing of the Doha deal between US and Taliban. Further, Pakistan has time and again pressurized the Taliban to resume the dialogue. Moreover, Islamabad holds that, unlike in the past when it wanted a friendly regime in Kabul, it aims to develop a friendly and diplomatic relation whoever is on the power in Kabul.

Notwithstanding the stated policy and position of the Islamabad, the afghan government and the many in the US remains dubious of Pakistan’s commitment. Against these concerns, Islamabad categorically stated that it does not have complete control over the Taliban.

The success of the peace process will require coordination and cooperation among the all regional actors and the US and afghan government. Pakistan’s role is of an immense significance because of its past relation with the Taliban. There is no denying of the fact that Pakistan has not complete control over the Taliban. Despite, it has more leverage than the other actors in the region.

The Islamabad’s willingness to use its influence over the Taliban is her real test in the achievement of peace process. However, Pakistan has successfully used its leverage and brought the Taliban on negotiations table. Although, history is the testimony of the fact that mere cajoling won’t dissuade the Taliban from unleashing violence.

The prospects of intra-afghan talks will develop in success when the cajoling strategy is backed up by with credible threats of crackdown which may involve denial of safe heaven to militant leaders and their families, stopping medical treatment, and disruption of finance etc. on the other hand, strong arm tactics fail to bring the Taliban to the table, then Pakistan should make sure that its territory is not used to carry out attacks in Afghanistan.

The afghan peace process has an opportunity for Pakistan to bury its hatchets with Afghanistan and start its diplomatic journey with a new vigor. While Kabul every time attach its failure with the Pakistan and shun away from its responsibility of providing peace to people of Afghanistan, it has a fair point about our pro Taliban afghan policy. Now that the US is leaving Afghanistan, it is high time that Pakistan bring forth a shift in its Afghanistan policy. Sustainable peace in Pakistan, especially Balochistan and ex-fata region is unlikely to achieve without Pakistan contributing to peace in Afghanistan.    

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South Asia

Pakistani Fanatics and their Foreign Policy Overtures

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A prudent leader ought to have regard not only for present troubles but also for future ones. They must prepare with every energy because, when foreseen, it is easy to remedy them; but if you wait until they approach, the medicine is no longer in time. Through not having been foreseen, they have been permitted to grow in a way that everyone can see them, there is no longer a remedy. These words are famously attributed to 16th-century Italian Philosopher Machiavelli, advising the ruler about statecraft, in his Magnus Opus, The Prince.

A similar kind of ignorance and obliviousness against which Machiavelli was warning to the ruler of the state was reflected by the government of Imran Khan when protests by a radical religious organization (TLP) shook the country from 11-20 April. Previous to this latest episode, TLP has also staged various sit-in and violent protests by which they effectively froze all life in twin cities as well as in various cities of Punjab.

2017 Faizabad interchange protest was the zenith of its anarchical behavior. In that protest, TLP demanded the resignation of the law minister altering the oath declaration in the election bill 2017. Preceding, the court heard a plea on the stated matter. Justice Qazi Faiz Essa while hearing a plea on the case, remarked; “The ambitious leadership of a fledgling political party [TLP] projected itself as the defender of the Muslim faith. They provoked religious sentiment, stoked the flames of hatred, abused, resorted to violence, and destroyed property worth Rs.163 million.”  Another takeaway from the ruling of the Supreme Court goes like, “Protestors who obstruct people’s right to use roads and damage or destroy property must be proceeded against by the law and held accountable.”

Qazi Faiz Essa’s observation is enough to make a viewpoint on the organization. It is recommended that steps must be taken to curtail the reach of TLP. But allowing its leaders to further myth-spin bogus and inflammatory narratives, catch the attention of masses, effect normalcy in the country, and take hostage federal and provincial capitals many times after that shows sheer incapability on behalf of the state.

Moreover, the recent episode is also another criticism of religiosity interwoven within Pakistani society that has been exploited by opportunists to gain the support of the masses since its birth. TLP, an amalgamation of religio-political narrative, first appeared on the scene when it demanded the release of Mumtaz Qadri, the person who assassinated Governor Punjab Salman Taseer for criticizing blasphemy laws. After the execution of Qadri, Rizvi laid the foundation of Tehreek-E-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) for the purpose to protect the Blasphemy laws of Pakistan under the banner of protecting Honor for Prophet (PBUH). TLP is the political wing of TLYR which emerged as the 5th most popular political group in the electoral race of 2018. These numbers are a barometer to show that the party has gained considerable support among the masses for its narrative

Though the rise of TLP is attributed to fault lines within the domestic political culture of Pakistan and cultural cleavages that exist in the society. The recent protests were the result of its activeness in international affairs relevant to its narrative. The group tried to dictate the foreign relations of Pakistan. In the latest episode, TLP took on the streets again and demanded severing diplomatic ties with France. In the short aftermaths of TLP protests, European Parliament has adopted a resolution calling the review of the GSP+ status of Pakistan for abuse of blasphemy laws and expressed deep concerns over prevailing anti-French sentiments.

To add insult to injury, all of this is happening at a time when Pakistan is looking to create a soft image for herself, seeking an effective role in regional and international organizations for political and economic benefits, lobbying to move out of FATF grey list, and initiating an international campaign to unmask Indian state-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir, etcetera. Unfortunately, this has seriously jeopardized our pursuit of national interests and can nullify progress.

Disrespect for the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is an issue sensitive to all Muslims but there is always a better way of doing things. The goal should be to stop disrespect and blasphemy and not forging further cause of hatred. On the other hand, the French president defended the acts as Freedom of Expression – a value so dear to the west – so even if Pakistan sends the French Ambassador back and suffers all the losses, is there any assurance for improvement in a situation regarding blasphemous content? What will be the next step of TLP if this continues? What will be the alternatives for Pakistan after that? Surely, this calls for some reflection on self-proclaimed defenders of religion. Government, on its part, must opt for softer and diplomatic ways in reaching out to France and making them realize the severity of the issue for Muslims.

To sum up, State ought not to be bogged down by religious pressure groups and fanatics like TLP for the reason being that they have not understood long-term national interests. Pledging to Khadim Rizvi on moving the parliament about French ambassador was never a wise act. One should have been vigilant enough to access the Omens. Furthermore, the government must impart this to such groups that they must not test the nerves of the state. It is in the interest of the state as well as government to not let things slip out of hand and go this further hereafter where one more episode similar to this makes international isolation inevitable.

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