Why An Alliance With Pakistan Remains Worth Having

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on July 2, 2011

Do you want to tell me how I should be upset about the fact that the Pakistanis likely sheltered Osama bin Laden from us, instead of telling us that he was in their country, and helping us kill him earlier? Fine, go ahead and tell me; you won’t have much convincing to do, as I am already upset about that. Do you want to tell me that the Pakistanis have generally been unhelpful as allies in the effort to cripple and destroy al Qaeda, and the Taliban? Feel free to do so; you have facts on your side.

But if you choose to tell me that we ought to ditch the Pakistanis as allies, I am going to find a pair of white gloves, slap you across the face with them, and then invite you to choose pistols or sabers, and bring two of your best friends to meet two of mine at a field of honor, at dawn, where we will settle our differences one way or the other. Oh, fear not; I have no intention of protecting the honor of the Pakistani government, seeing as how it has so little. But I certainly will have no truck with an argument that suggests that the United States will benefit by ridding itself of an alliance with Pakistan–especially after I read articles like this one:

It was a piece of intelligence worthy of what the Russians call the “tournament of shadows”, when the great powers of the era – London and St Petersburg – vied over central Asia more than a century ago. Then, maps and mavericks determined who held sway over a North-West Frontier that today has mutated into a battleground between ebbing US and surging Chinese influence. And the claim came from the top of the Indian military establishment.

Speaking in April, Lieutenant General K.T. Patnaik, the head of India’s northern command, maintained that Chinese soldiers were stationed on the highly volatile line of control that divides the disputed territory of Kashmir between India and Pakistan, the nuclear-armed rivals.

“Many people today are concerned about the fact that if there were to be hostilities between us and Pakistan what would be the complicity of the Chinese?” Lt Gen Patnaik told his audience in Jammu and Kashmir, on the Indian side of the line. “Not only because they are in the neighbourhood but [because] they are actually stationed and present on the LoC.”

Pakistan quickly denied the presence of Chinese troops, as it had done earlier claims that the People’s Liberation Army was milling about further north in Gilgit when Pakistan was beset last year by floods. But the general’s fears reflect a widespread unease in the world’s largest democracy about what is seen as a stealthy Chinese annexation of neighbouring Pakistan, which is now front and centre of an intensifying strategic rivalry across the Himalayas.

Supposed sightings of Chinese military personnel serve as evidence of India’s encirclement by the PLA on land borders and out at sea in the Indian Ocean. They also signal a realignment where the US may retreat from Pakistan and seek more common cause with India.

[. . .]

Some political analysts go so far as to refer to Pakistan as a “client state” of China and predict that the US will be displaced as the country’s long-term ally. They consider Pakistan as a test-bed for Chinese exports of sophisticated arms such as submarines as well as nuclear reactors and, in time, finance. “The pattern of trade and investment between Pakistan and China suggests that the US has little chance of retaining its status as Pakistan’s major ally,” says James Brazier, an analyst at IHS, a US-based political risk consultancy.

Referring to nearby Burma, he adds: “Pakistan’s relationship with China could soon resemble that of Myanmar, another former part of British India which is now closely dependent on China.”

Pakistan has made little secret about its fondness for Beijing. Aware that its stance irks India and the US, its leaders call China an “all-weather friend”, striking a deliberate contrast with others they consider less dependable. Wen Jiabao, China’s premier, has returned the compliment with his own rhetorical flourish. “No matter what changes might take place in the international landscape, China and Pakistan will remain forever good neighbours, good friends, good partners and good brothers,” he said in the days following Osama bin Laden’s killing by American forces on Pakistani soil in May.

Marika Vicziany, a professor at Australia’s Monash university and expert in Sino-Pakistani ties, nonetheless describes China as taking a “cautious” approach. “China is winning over the US as the main ally of Pakistan,” she says. “Pakistan is now faced with a balancing act between a new China which is emerging and the new US with its power in decline.”

(Via 3 Quarks Daily.) The United States cannot afford to have itself displaced as Pakistan’s number one ally by a rising China. To allow that to happen is to allow America to lose the ability to help bring about stability in the region, ensure peaceful coexistence between India and Pakistan, ensure stability in Afghanistan, keep al Qaeda and the Taliban firmly in check, and project power in the region in furtherance of American interests. If China becomes first among equals in Pakistan’s eyes, it will be able to use Pakistan to keep the United States tied down and on the defensive by interfering with America’s ability to combat al Qaeda and the Taliban, which will cause significant problems for the United States, and for American interests in the region.

One way to counter China’s rise in the region is via closer relations between India and the United States–which I have been calling for since 2002. But closer relations with India do not, and should not mean a lack of close relations with Pakistan. The Pakistani-American alliance has certainly hit some hard times. But it is in America’s interest to rebuild the alliance, and to make sure that it isn’t crowded out by Chinese moves in the region. And somehow, the United States needs to convince Pakistan that it too has a strong interest in ensuring that close ties remain between it and the United States.

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