A regional grand opera

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Youd think with its present culture of shootings and suicide bombings Pakistan would discover an alternative method of welcoming VIPs, but no, the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao arriving in Pakistan was treated not just to a normal gun salute, but to a gunshot for each step he took. That may be our idea of honouring someone, but the Premier, poor man was probably a nervous wreck by the time he wobbled off the tarmac and into his car, in no fit state to handle his chopsticks for quite some time to come…and that is a pity, because Pakistan has done well to retain China as a close ally, and would do well to keep it so. The last thing we need is the responsibility for Mr Jiabao being driven to an overdose of Ativan, or a frantic course of acupuncture, after he arrived for a three day diplomatic visit to Islamabad on the 17th of December.

Pakistans friendship with China dates back to 1949 when Mao Zedongs Peoples Republic of China (PRC) came into being. An innate suspicion of Mao, his communism and his communist party among the capitalist world, meant that Pakistan in its own interests was one of the few nations to recognise the PRC at the outset.

China has stood by Pakistan as a staunch ally. With the threatening presence of India to the East, a turbulent Kashmir, and a troubled border with Afghanistan on the West, the friendship has been in Chinas interests as well as Pakistans.

For Pakistan, it has been reassuring to possess a powerful ally to its north, particularly given the massive presence of Russia over its shoulder, and the now added threat of Indias overreaching ambitions. Chinas superpower status has added a measure of balance to the regional grand opera (one can hardly call it harmony), in which the US has played the role of the unreliable (albeit powerful) interpolative voice.

Mismanagement of its affairs, corruption, a disorganised lay abed mentality and a tendency to rhetoric has made Pakistan something of a perpetual adolescent, from which it appears unable to extricate itself. China has played the role of an overindulgent parent to Pakistans immature demands, always willing to come to its financial aid. Unlike the US which offers conditional aid, Chinas aid has always come without any strings attached. As such, China has assisted Pakistan in many fields, education, transport, defence, construction, and now nuclear, and Pakistan is always looking for more.

While the Premiers current visit to Pakistan holds a further promise of deals worth several billion dollars as a result of Chinese investment in various projects in Pakistan, his visit follows on the heels of one to India, with the announcement of deals worth substantially more, between those two countries.

Pakistans growing volatility and its worsening financial condition is cause for concern for the world community, and no less for China, which has thus far supported, what it hoped, was Pakistans progress towards stability. However, the unchecked activities of terrorists within Pakistans borders and the threat they pose not just to Chinese investment, but to Chinese persons on Pakistani soil, is enough to make even an overindulgent parent reconsider their policies. It may be that in future, Chinas relations with India will improve further, which should have interesting implications for Pakistan.

The Talibans anti American rhetoric does not exclude a rabid view of other nationalities. This was illustrated by the kidnapping in 1998 in Pakistan of the Chinese engineer Long Xiaowei. Although Xiaoweis release was subsequently brokered, Beijings reaction to the event was terse. Given the previous analogy of the regional situation to an opera, the image is similar to the comparatively delicate Jose Carreras administering a kick in the shins to Luciano Pavarotti.

It is probably to Pakistans good if China does amend its policies. It is time Pakistan was painted into a corner, and forced to bring about some much needed changes on its domestic front. This, however, will not happen so long as our leaders see any scope of profit to themselves in the status quo. The strings, if attached, will one hopes be finely tuned so that they ping in all the right places, without snapping and hurting the common man as American aid often does. This is an expectation one can have only have from a friend such as China has proved to be.