United State’s fall out in relations with Pakistan will be an opportunity for China. When you hear Chinese come out of their to snub west by telling them they “must respect” Pakistan’s sovereignty. It is not unusual for Pakistanis to turn towards Riyadh or Beijing when their belt is tightened elsewhere. You will always find Pakistani leaders rushing to catch the next flight to Beijing or Riyadh when they see a crises emerging to work out a back up plan. With Senator John Kerry and then a series of other high officials started landing one after another in Islamabad it was clear that something is terribly going wrong there. Pakistani PM Yousaf Raza Gilani went off for a four-day visit to China right after that at a time when things were not looking very bright.
I am not going to talk about the political aspects of this relations or the fall out after Osama Bin Laden fiasco. What I am talking about is the emerging fortunes of people in the sub content region especially in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India and to some extent in Bangladesh. The reason for Bangladesh is that an increasing number of Pakistani industrial giants are winding up their businesses and moving to Bangladesh. The giants from the city of Faisalabad who have huge transport and textile business have already moved and within months one of Pakistan’s oldest textile and industrial star Kohinoor is packing its bags and moving to Bangladesh.
China and Pakistan celebrated sixty years of their friendship during the Pakistan PM’s visit to Beijing. The six decades of strategic relations involved nuclear collaboration and Pakistan’s socio economic support.
During this visit further collaboration was chalked out and among those is one of the most important piece of development that could turn the region around if it goes well till the end. China helped Pakistan develop Gawadar, an ultra-strategic deepwater port in the Arabian Sea, in the Balochistan province of Pakistan. The strategic location of Gawadar is not one to be ignored because it is very near to the border of Iran and only 520 km away from the Strait of Hormuz. China Harbour Engineering Company Group constructed this port with 80% funding coming from the Chinese. The decision was made in Beijing to hand over the port to Chinese after the current lease runs out with Singapore port ports. Pakistani are keen that Chinese come to Gawadar and even build a naval base at Gawadar. Don’t hold your breath for the earthquake that is waiting to jolt this region if this plan materialises.
Among other mega projects propping up in the region are the plans for pipelines that are signed or the ones that are under development. As the wikileaks shed some light on American unhappiness about Pakistanis working along with Iranians for the now defunct Iran Pakistan India gas pipeline. Due to the same reasons India got cold feet and pulled out of the project leaving Pakistan in the deal. Pakistanis went ahead contrary to the difference they had with Washington and signed the IP gas pipelines deal and the work commenced on the pipeline. With Chinese in Gawadar it is more likely that the IP (Iran Pakistan India) pipeline could soon become IPC gas pipeline, as China is keen to develop ways to fuel its energy thirst through the vast mineral resources of Pakistan, Iran and maybe Afghanistan.
Americans since the Bill Clinton years wanted Pakistanis to get involved in the TAP (Trans-Afghan) pipeline that is now known as TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India). Pakistan is reluctant from day one to accept this proposal but is dragging its foot along as it has an energy thirsty economy that is suffering to the extent of death because of lack of energy. Taliban were created to settle this issue some say, and to control Afghanistan in order to gain access to central Asia. This project is a wild dream because the major problem in this is Afghanistan. But what many don’t understand now is that maybe out of blue the winner could turn out to be the Chinese.
With India out of this rat race, due to American pressure or its distrust on Pakistan. This left China the only main player in the region to exploit the vast resources and finance the development of major infrastructures. China has proposed to Pakistan to develop a pipeline starting from Gawadar, crossing Balochistan onwards through Karakoram highway all the way to Xinjiang, China’s Far west. The spectacular, Karakoram highway stretching over 1,400 km from Kashgar in Xinjiang, Western China, via the Khunjerab pass to, of all places, Abbottabad in Pakistan, is one of the greatest examples of Pakistan and China’s 6 decades strategic relations. Beijing is also keen to connect Balochistan with Karakoram highway and maybe across the border to China.
Gawadar has the potential to surpass the rise of Dubai or its other Gulf neighbours. According to wikileaks there are convincing evidences that UAE is among those few countries sponsoring insurgency in the area to halt the development and stall the process. Imagine with the development of a Chinese Naval base in Arabian Sea as proposed by Pakistanis means Beijing’s Navy positioned at stone’s throw from the Persian Gulf. That is meant to secure a great deal of its Middle east oil imports shipped through Gawadar onwards via a pipeline or railway right at the doorstep of Kashgar. It is understandable the Chinese thinking to profit from gas provided by Iran shall I say Qatar very soon.
China is supporting Pakistan as it has supported in the past on many fronts, it is developing two new nuclear power stations, and there are talks about one mega nuclear power station under planning. Next August, China will launch a satellite into orbit for Pakistan. Pakistanis acquire roughly 75 per cent of its weapons from China. It has also developed a state of the art fighter jet when Americans ditched Pakistan right in the middle over the F 16 they already paid for. The all-new JF-7 Thunder (FC-1 XIaolong) is a joint venture that has been developed and inducted into Pakistan Air force. Pakistan has placed orders for up to 260 jets. Bangladesh is also one of potential customers of this fighter jet making it a viable alternative of ageing western fighter jets.
If United States blows away its strategic relations in the region this time, China is ready to regain the ground and would definitely make the difference. This in turn will make US position too difficult to manoeuvre and would make its ambition of stability in Afghanistan a nightmare, maybe like Vietnam. Chinese once again proved that economy not military would fuel the future. Those wishing to dominate must work on the economy. As they say “its economy stupid”.