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Takeaways from PM Khan’s recent visit to China

This trip affirmed the historical relationship between both countries and further consolidated and expanded the blueprint for the envisaged work of CPEC, Phase-II giving a death blow to the overactive rumour mills of Islamabad that had been claiming that CPEC is stalled.

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On 6th Feb, many in Islamabad huffed and puffed on social and electronic media over whether a meeting between PM Imran Khan and President Xi took place or not; their feisty speculations did not end even when the information minister Fawad Chaudhury tweeted from Beijing that PM has left for the airport after his meeting with President Xi.

But the nature of “Joint Communique” and tv footage stunned these cynics and revealed that it was a landmark trip to China, with a meeting of minds between Pakistani and Chinese leadership.

PM Imran Khan clearly defined and set out proposals for the envisaged work as part of phase II CPEC to enable Pakistan’s industrialization and improve the quality of life for its people. He and his select team of senior ministers and SAPMS not only had talks with H.E. President Xi Jinping and H.E. Premier Li Keqiang but had up to 20 other meetings – virtual and physical- with the Chinese political and corporate leadership.

The above-mentioned joint statement consisting of 33 points, informed the world that an exchange of views on the entire spectrum of bilateral relations, regional situation, and international political landscape took place.

This trip affirmed the historical relationship between both countries and further consolidated and expanded the blueprint for the envisaged work of CPEC, Phase-II giving a death blow to the overactive rumour mills of Islamabad that had been claiming that CPEC is stalled.

The two sides signed several agreements/MoUs, covering bilateral cooperation in diverse areas of economic cooperation, technical exchanges, industrial investment, infrastructure development, space programs, pharmaceuticals, digitalization, standardization, disaster management, culture, sports, and vocational education. Both leaders reaffirmed their principled stance on One China Policy, Kashmir, and Afghanistan. Joint communique reveals a significant hardening of Chinese position on Modi’s India.

While both sides acknowledged the significant contribution of CPEC projects; Pakistani bureaucrats, CPEC authority, and FBR should also observe that the joint statement noted that it was important to ensure “the smooth operation of completed projects and the timely completion of projects under construction.”

The recent launch of the Pakistan-China Business and Investment Forum was recognized, and it was hoped that it would enhance B2B cooperation between the business sectors of both countries. However, delivery and capacity issues on the Pakistani side remain (both in the government and private sector). Until Pakistan does not resolve these, asking the Chinese to do something will achieve very little in the long run.

Upsetting for anti—China press was the agreement from both sides that “CPEC was a win-win enterprise and pivotal for regional prosperity and enhanced connectivity.” They also noted that as an open and inclusive initiative, third parties were welcome to benefit from investment opportunities in CPEC SEZs.”

Something Pakistan needs to proactively work on independently creating a Win:Win solution for other country corporate entities as this will benefit all involved, including the Chinese. Talks with Saudi or Qatar involvement that surfaced a couple of years ago need to be reignited and actively pushed. Dr. Moeed Pirzada, Editor GVS, has written a detailed analysis, in this issue, on the nature and significance of Joint Communique and what it means for bilateral and regional dynamics.

On another note, the Prime Minister is to make his maiden visit to Russia later this month, the first visit by an elected Pakistani Prime Minister in 23 years. President Putin has invited the prime minister. The trip’s focus is expected to be on several matters, including the Afghanistan situation, developing cooperation in trade and economic sectors, and ostensibly discussions over increasing Islamophobias worldwide.

The cherry on the cake – if it happens- would be the signing of the 1100 km, $3 billion North Stream Gas Pipeline Project between Karachi to Kasur being built by a Russian company. The whirlwind foreign policy drive to engage multiple partners in Afghanistan and bring stability to the region includes the Prime Minister’s visits to the E.U. and Germany expected to happen soon.

While both (China and Russia) visits give the optics of an increasingly assertive regional Pakistani foreign policy in light of U.S. indifference to the country post its withdrawal from Afghanistan, it is not the case. Improvement in Pakistan’s relationship with Russia has been ongoing for several years since 2015, and military diplomacy started a while back. Recently, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi clearly stated that visits to either Russia or China were not at the cost of any relationship with the U.S.

From the U.S. front, on the eve of the Olympics opening ceremony, a surprising comment came from the State Department briefing spokesperson. In response to a question from a journalist, he stated, “Pakistan is a strategic partner of the United States. We have an important relationship with the government in Islamabad, and it’s a relationship that we value across a number of fronts.”

A comment we have not heard for a couple of years now. Excitable chirping was heard across Islamabad from our western educated think tank and political elite – who think they know the U.S. after spending a couple of years getting an education there.

Hmmm…When I first moved to the U.S., I was advised, when Americans greet you with Hi, how was ya day? It’s only a greeting. It doesn’t mean you should tell them how your day was. Let’s not get too hyped up about a random statement by a junior functionary – until some follow-through happens, but maybe some ice is slowly melting between the two countries!

In the meantime, in Pakistan, the opposition, having lost earlier initiatives, is again deciding dates for new long marches and trying to bring a no-confidence motion against the Prime minister. PML-N top leadership has started saying they want early elections. Sources say that Nawaz Sharif is compelling certain powers to ‘persuade’ the MQM and PML-Q, junior allies of PTI, to exit from the government.

Smart strategy since if the coalition partners indicate they have separated ways from the government – PM is then obliged to hold a vote of confidence within seven days as per the constitution.

If they don’t win, they have to dissolve the government themselves and take the country to early elections. By comparison, a vote of no confidence, if lost by the government, would compel the opposition parties to bring their consensus nominee for PM – and finding such consensus between PPP and PMLN, between Zardari and Nawaz, will not happen till the doomsday.

Unfortunately, this means further instability is in store for the country, which is in the midst of a challenging economic period already with record-high oil prices this year, worldwide logistics crisis causing shortages and price hikes, still under the IMF program, which country had to enter after it was left bankrupt in 2018 and coming out of COVID pandemic.

There is no doubt that since 2018, whichever government had come into power would have had to make these difficult and painful adjustments and would have lost political capital due to the tough decisions it had to make, but the country is turning the corner.

Even more unfortunate is that when things are looking more stable on the external front, the opposition has decided to introduce this instability into the democratic process. From their political calculations, it makes perfect sense.

Get early elections so that the government does not see any benefits from the tough decisions it had to take, and in particular, what is threatening them is the radical health insurance program that the government has instituted across the country that by mid-2022 is expected to cover close to 80 percent of the population (see in this issue our piece on its introduction in Punjab).

But then, as they say, “there is many a slip twixt the cup and the lip,” and this latest move by the combined opposition may fail again. Eternal joke in political Islamabad is: Next few days are important – maybe this time they are!

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