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China “Blast of fresh air” while US ties have “a heavy price”: PM Khan

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News Analysis |

PM Imran Khan in his interview with TRT World, “In this doom and gloom which we inherited, the Chinese have been a breath of a fresh air for us, they have been helpful to us.” PM Khan further said that Pakistan has paid a heavy price in its relationship with the United States (US), adding that the country suffered whenever it relied on loans and aids from foreign countries.

“Whenever you rely on other people for aid and loans, there’s no free lunch … Pakistan has paid a heavy price in its relationship with the US,” the premier said in an interview with TRT World which was telecasted on Monday. “Pakistan has allowed itself to be used [in past].” To a question, the prime minister further said that Pakistan desires good relations with the US that is based on equality and “we are ready to become an ally with the US for peace in Afghanistan”.

PM Khan further said that Pakistan has paid a heavy price in its relationship with the  US, adding that the country suffered whenever it relied on loans and aids from foreign countries.

China vs USA in PTI’s eyes:

The statements of the PM highlight the foreign policy trajectory of the PTI government. China has always been a target of praise from Imran Khan including his inauguration speech in which he lavished praise on the Chinese poverty alleviation program. China and Pakistan reaffirmed their “all-weather” relations in Beijing in November 2018, and in January, China pledged to lend an additional US$2 billion to Pakistan to increase its foreign exchange reserves.

Comparatively, the US does not enjoy the same position in Khan’s eyes. The PTI took off due to its opposition to American interference in Pakistan’s sovereignty such as drone strikes. PM Khan has been often portrayed as an anti-American figure by American media. After his inauguration, Pak-US ties have witnessed a lot of ups and downs after Khan’s rise to power.

Read more: Book Review: The China Pakistan Axis

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made his first official trip to Pakistan on September 5 2017, saying that he hoped to “reset the relationship” with the new government after a period of sharp disagreements between the longtime security allies. Pompeo’s five-hour visit was not welcomed by many Pakistanis, especially because it came just a few days after the Trump administration announced it would suspend $300 million in military support funds to Pakistan as a reprisal for sheltering armed militants who stage attacks on Afghanistan.

In July, Pompeo himself drew Pakistani ire when he stated that he warned against an IMF bailout to Pakistan as it would help “repay Chinese debts”. He however later backtracked in September after his visit and said that the US would not block Pakistan if it went to the IMF. In October, foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi stated that both countries had engaged in constructive talks during his visit.

China has always been a target of praise from Imran Khan including his inauguration speech in which he lavished praise on the Chinese poverty alleviation program.

However, the thaw in ties was marred by a tweet by US president Donald Trump when he launched a tirade on Twitter against Pakistan. On 19 November, Trump tweeted “…We no longer pay Pakistan the $Billions because they would take our money and do nothing for us, Bin Laden being a prime example, Afghanistan being another. They were just one of many countries that take from the United States without giving anything in return. That’s ENDING!”

He further tweeted “Of course we should have captured Osama Bin Laden long before we did. I pointed him out in my book just BEFORE the attack on the World Trade Center. President Clinton famously missed his shot. We paid Pakistan Billions of Dollars & they never told us he was living there. Fools!..”

Read more: Map of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Projects

Of course, PM Khan did not take the Twitter tirade and shot back using the same platform. In a series of tweets, the Pakistani PM said “ Record needs to be put straight on Mr Trump’s tirade against Pakistan: 1. No Pakistani was involved in 9/11 but Pak decided to participate in US War on Terror. 2. Pakistan suffered 75,000 casualties in this war & over $123 bn was lost to the economy. US “aid” was a miniscule $20 bn.”

“3. Our tribal areas were devastated & millions of ppl uprooted from their homes. The war drastically impacted lives of ordinary Pakistanis. 4. Pak continues to provide free lines of ground & air communications (GLOCs/ALOCs). Can Mr Trump name another ally that gave such sacrifices?”

In October, foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi stated that both countries had engaged in constructive talks during his visit.

PM Khan then had the final say in the twitter spat when he wrote “Trump’s false assertions add insult to the injury Pak has suffered in US WoT in terms of lives lost & destabilised & economic costs. He needs to be informed abt historical facts. Pak has suffered enough fighting US’s war. Now we will do what is best for our people & our interests”.

Read more: What can Pakistan learn from China? – Farid A Malik

While many considered the attempt to reach an accord between Pakistan and the US all over after Trump’s tirade, a surprise letter from the US president surprised many. Donald Trump sent a letter to Imran Khan requesting his country’s help to end the nearly two-decades long US-led war in neighboring Afghanistan. It was the US presence in Afghanistan that was a major factor in the deterioration of Pak-US ties.

Pakistan welcomed the letter and stated that it will do everything to strengthen the peace process in the occupied country. According to experts, the fruition of Pakistani efforts can be seen in the recent Afghan Taliban talks.

While many considered the attempt to reach an accord between Pakistan and the US all over after Trump’s tirade, a surprise letter from the US president surprised many.

The new Cold War & Pakistan:

Another point of contention that features in Pak-China and Pak-US ties is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI is one of the largest infrastructure and investment projects in history, covering more than 68 countries, including 65 percent of the world’s population and over 40 percent of global GDP. So far it has involved investments of more than US$200 billion. It is China’s most ambitious international expansion ever.

Read more: China building advanced warship for Pakistan

However, the US is dead set against the BRI. “China has been engaging in dangerous debt diplomacy throughout the region and led several countries to have several debt problems from accepting loans that are not transparent,” a top US administration official told reporters at the APEC summit in Singapore in mid-November.

Pakistan has been integrated into the Chinese project through the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). PM Khan also seems to be a great supporter of the China Belt & Road Initiative. In November, Prime Minister Imran Khan said the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor would serve as a vital link for the two countries to the Middle East and Central Asian Republics and open fresh investment avenues, new markets & vistas.

In the end, it seems that the current PTI government is leaning more towards the Chinese bloc in the new Cold War. it remains wary of American interests in the region and especially in Pakistan while still leaving the door open for a more equal relationship.

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