Islamabad’s betting on Beijing is a trademark of its foreign policy, especially when Washington tightens screws or catches Pakistan red-handed in its anti-US moves. The latest example is Osama Bin Laden’s years long hiding in a purposely-built mansion in the garrison city of Abbottabad. However, on the calculus of common sense, relations between Pakistan and China are far lower in essence than what Islamabad defines it as ‘higher than the Himalayas’.
To prove it at a common sense level, at the top of the list comes the LANGUAGE barrier. Out of the 180 million population of Pakistan less than a 1000 Pakistanis can speak Chinese. Going by the official literacy rate (57 percent) in Pakistan, over 85 million Pakistanis—a population equivalent to that of Egypt— can speak or understand basic English, a language spoken in the U.S., UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and several former British colonies including India. Language matters and it transcends communication barriers. Despite claims of ‘time tested relations’, excluding a few lucky Chinese-understanding Pakistanis, not a single Pakistani knows what is the Chinese substitute for “Welcome”. Pakistanis’ general knowledge about China is hardly above zero. They know a lot about the U.S., for example. The U.S.’s power, its major cities, politicians, Hollywood, the Facebook, twitter and media are popular topics among politicians, academics and youth in Pakistan.
China has never been a destination for EDUCATION among Pakistanis. Universities in the U.S., UK, Australia and Europe are the most desired education centers for Pakistani youth, irrespective of their social or financial class. Pakistani politicians and generals play a foul game with their nation while betting on China’s power as none of their sons or daughters are graduates from a Chinese university. They send them to Washington and London for higher education and use their influence to find internships for their kids in the US and Europe. The irony is that even the son of a Pakistani politician, who runs a Pak-China think tank in Islamabad, is also studying in the U.S. On TV screens, the same politician advises Pakistanis that US is defaulting and China is the real super power. Just recently, some Pakistani students have got admissions to medical colleges in China as they couldn’t meet the merit criteria of local medical colleges.
Though it is not taught in Pakistan’s text books but individual experiences have proved Chinese TECHNOLOGY as Nr.2—poor in quality, in Pakistan. The Chinese fighter jets are referred to as flying coffins by Pakistani pilots and fit for a suicide sortie, though its presence in the air force is good for a numbers game with India in peace time. The Chinese armored vehicles are like low quality armed tractors and its Kalashnikov is not reliable for a second magazine to fire. The ‘Made in China’ label on products other than weapons is hardly sellable. It will injure the ego of a Pakistani if someone gifts him or her a ‘Made in China’ product. Pakistanis may buy it themselves but will not accept it in gifts as they look down upon Chinese products from day one. They are just not in love with the Chinese technology, come what may. Yes, disposable Chinese products—paper, latex, under wears, braws, clay made products have a good local market. For other products, they will go for Western brands. A General in Pakistan, for instance, may love ‘Made in Italy’ ties just like a poor daily wager prefers a ‘Made in Germany’ knife. The same is the case with Chinese products in Pakistan’s fruit and vegetable markets. They may look beautiful in shape and packing, but people hardly buy them for the second time due to its low quality, with the exception of Chinese green tea.
Dollar too is much charmer than yen, comparing Pakistan’s ECONOMIC INTERESTS. The War on Terror, despite Pakistan’s duplicity, gives Pakistan military an average of (unaccountable) $ 1.5 billion a year since 9/11. The money comes mainly from Washington and Europe. Before 9/11, Pakistan’s military was a US mercenary against the former USSR in Afghanistan in 1980s. The generals and their institute received huge amounts in dollars in return then, enabling their sons and front men as future leaders of Pakistan. Contrary to it, China has never been a financial reliever for Pakistan on its economic canvass. It’s rather Pakistan’s dependence on Washington financial assistance, IMF and World Bank tranches that give bail-outs to moribund Pak economy every now and then.
China is a great POWER, no doubt. However, assuming Beijing will stand by Islamabad for its misadventures, ill-judgment and miscalculations is a self-deceiving theory. China has limitations and that is why it couldn’t annex the tiny Taiwan to the mainland China despite the passage of over 60 years nor it has resolved its border dispute with India. The separatist movements in Tibet, Xingjian and pro-democracy movements are its few other headaches. Pakistan military’s tacit support for al-Qaeda, the Taliban and misadventures in Afghanistan or Kashmir will not bring China to Pakistan’s camp. On top of that, China has suspicions that Islamabad provides ideological support and sanctuaries to separatist Uyghur Muslims of China. The leaders of Eastern Turkestan Movement (ETM) are freely moving around in Islamabad, using their offices and facilities for training radical Uyghurs in Waziristan and Afghanistan.
The Sino-Pak relations have mainly benefited the Pak military and undemocratic forces in Pakistan, speaking from a DEMOCRATE’S PERSPECTIVE. China has always been a source of inspiration for one-party rule for its friends and allies. The Kims of North Korea, the Ayatullahs of Iran and the generals of Burma and Pakistan are bent upon following the Chinese model of government. Pakistani generals have given that demo for more than 30 years of the over 60 years history of the country. For the other 30 years, they pulled the strings from behind. The military deals between the two nations carry a badge of corruption and kickbacks as parties in power in both countries are accountable to none.
The CHINESE INVESTMENT in energy, communication and port (Gawadar) is of more worth for China than for Pakistan. China feels comfortable in its relations with India, having Pakistan as its reliable satellite state on India’s western and north-western wing. The post-9/11 US involvement in the region and Pakistan in particular is more beneficial for the general masses of Pakistan than the defense deals between General Headquarters (GHQ) Pakistan and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China. The billions of dollars worth defense deals are not gonna defend Pakistan if it opts for a war with India or the U.S. as we have seen it in Iraq and Libya—the air force of the two countries couldn’t move a muscle when stronger forces started strikes. The US dollar after 9/11 also didn’t go to civilians but Washington’s strong stand against terrorism and an equally forceful discourse on terrorists is what Pakistan needs amid pro-extremist media, military and apologetic politicians. That slogan of “ bin Laden was a mass murderer” coming from Washington (and not from Beijing) is a huge relief for the peace-loving citizens of Pakistan at a time when the right wing media, military and politicians are labeling him as a hero of Islam.