Pakistan, China assess the shifts in regional politics

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M K Bhadrakumar |

Pakistan and China have set the ball rolling to coordinate their approaches to the United States’ new Afghan strategy outlined by President Donald Trump last Monday. Trump’s strategy creates new fault lines. An open-ended US deployment to Afghanistan, no-holds-barred military operations, direct threats to Pakistan and a key role for India in the US’ South Asian strategy – these impact the geopolitics of the region, especially against the backdrop of the US’ containment strategies against Iran, Russia, and China.

The bottom line is that the geopolitics of the Afghan problem has surged on a scale that is comparable only to the eighties – although, with a curious role reversal

Unsurprisingly, China’s Special Envoy for Afghan Affairs Ambassador Deng Xijun traveled to Islamabad on Monday “for crucial discussions with Pakistani authorities on the implications of Trump’s Afghan strategy,” to quote from Express Tribune. The Pakistani newspaper further reported, citing foreign ministry statement in Islamabad that:

Read more: Pakistan and China jointly snub Trump and his Generals

  • The Chinese envoy reaffirmed his country’s “continuing and firm support to Pakistan’s commitment and efforts for peace and stability in Afghanistan” while emphasizing that there was no military solution to the conflict. He also underlined the need for a politically-negotiated settlement through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process… Chinese envoy… said: “Pakistan’s efforts towards eliminating the scourge of terrorism should be fully recognized by the international community.”
  • Foreign Secretary Janjua underlined the importance of the Pakistan-China strategic partnership while emphasizing the need for close cooperation and coordination between the two countries for promoting the shared objective of peace and stability in the region. She also expressed satisfaction at the productive deliberations held between the two sides during her visit to Beijing last week.
  • They (Deng and Janjua) agreed to strengthen cooperation in the ongoing efforts to facilitate peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan as well as promoting meaningful engagement between the three neighboring countries.

If it was US+Pakistan versus the Soviet Union + India in the eighties over Afghanistan, what is at work today is a US-Indian alliance pitted against the ‘all-weather friendship’ between China and Pakistan

Separately, General Li Zuocheng, chief of the Joint Staff Department under China’s Central Military Commission, had met with Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa on the sidelines of the Second High Level Military Leaders’ Meeting on Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism (QCCM) in Counter Terrorism by Afghanistan-China-Pakistan-Tajikistan Armed Forces/Militaries which took place in Dushanbe in the weekend.

The Chinese MOD press release quoted Gen. Li as offering to “provide security products” in the joint fight against terrorism and “to maintain regional peace and stability.”

Read more: China lambasts Trump as the battle lines are drawn in South…

It is entirely conceivable that the meeting between the two generals, taking place only six days after Trump’s speech, touched on Afghanistan. Interestingly, Lieutenant General Rong Guiqing, deputy commander and chief of staff of PLA Western Theatre Command (which covers Xinjiang and Tibet) attended the meeting between Gen. Li and Gen. Bajwa.

Pakistan prefers to hold dialogue with the Trump administration after a new policy line is formulated. Pakistan and the US have a long history of cooperation over Afghanistan

The Express Tribune also reported that Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif may visit China shortly. Do the Pakistani-Chinese consultations imply a ‘strategic defiance’ of the US? On the contrary, both China and Pakistan ascribe much importance to their dialogue with the US regarding Afghanistan.

Preparations have already begun for Trump’s state visit to China (possibly, in November.) China is openly skeptical of Trump’s strategy but also keeps the door open to work with the US, while US officials have hinted at their expectations of China’s moderating influence on Pakistan.

John Bolton, former US deputy secretary of state and American ambassador to the UN, did some plain speaking in an Op-Ed in The Wall Street Journal newspaper on Monday:

Read more: Iran joins China, Russia and Pakistan in rejecting Trump’s Afghan policy

  • It must, therefore, be core American policy to hold China to account, even belatedly. The U.S. can use its leverage to induce China to join the world in telling Pakistan it must sever ties with terrorists and close their sanctuaries. The Trump administration should make clear that Beijing will face consequences if it does not bring to bear its massive interests in support of this goal. Washington could also point out that this is in Beijing’s own interest, lest the terrorists rise next among the Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang province, what was once “East Turkestan.”
  • Whether Beijing truly intends to be a “responsible stakeholder” in international affairs, as its U.S. advocates insist, should be put to the test—and not merely on monetary and trade issues.
  • Fighting international terrorism and nuclear proliferation require determination and action, not the kind of smiling repetition of bumper-sticker phrases that the People’s Liberation Army and China’s political leadership blithely ignore.
  • Starting now in Afghanistan and Pakistan, China should be told its bona fides as a state engaging in a “peaceful rise” are on the line. If real proof of that conceit does not emerge, Washington will be entitled to draw the appropriate conclusions.

China is openly skeptical of Trump’s strategy but also keeps the door open to work with the US, while US officials have hinted at their expectations of China’s moderating influence on Pakistan

Pakistan has deferred Foreign Minister Khawaja’s visit to Washington (originally scheduled for August 25) and also called off two planned trips by US officials to Pakistan in this week – visits by US Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice Well and the senior director for South and Central Asia at the NSC Lisa Curtis.

Pakistan prefers to hold dialogue with the Trump administration after a new policy line is formulated. Pakistan and the US have a long history of cooperation over Afghanistan. However, the bottom line is that the geopolitics of the Afghan problem has surged on a scale that is comparable only to the eighties – although, with a curious role reversal.

Read more: Sixty years of Pak-China friendship

An open-ended US deployment to Afghanistan, no-holds-barred military operations, direct threats to Pakistan and a key role for India in the US’ South Asian strategy

If it was US+Pakistan versus the Soviet Union + India in the eighties over Afghanistan, what is at work today is a US-Indian alliance pitted against the ‘all-weather friendship’ between China and Pakistan (plus, arguably, Russia and/or Iran.) To be sure, Pakistan needs to integrate these emergent geopolitical realities into its Afghan policies.

Two opinion pieces this week have highlighted the new geopolitical imperatives facing Pakistan – The Greater Game by Ambassador Ashraf Jehangir Qazi in Dawn newspaper and Has Narendra Modi Switched Sides? by William Engdahl appearing in the New Easter Outlook magazine (interestingly, a Russian publication)Both pieces have underscored that the geopolitics of the region witnesses a US-Indian strategic axis in the making, which has no precedents in modern history. They give full credit to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for bringing about this profound transformation of the geopolitics of the region in a short period of three years only.

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”.

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