A lot has been happening over the last couple of days on the diplomatic front. The Chinese foreign minister came to Islamabad, heralding a more important visit by China’s president – expected to take place soon.
Then, late on Thursday night, US President Barack Obama phoned PM Nawaz Sharif in what can only be described as an “unscheduled call” where the US president briefed the PM on his visit to India and heard Mr Sharif’s concerns. Finally, Friday morning brought with it news of a Modi-Sharif conversation purported to be about the upcoming cricketing tie between the two nations.
To understand the undertones behind these frantic top-level diplomatic efforts, Dawn spoke to noted author and journalist Ahmed Rashid and asked him about the significance of these events.
Q: The past 48 hours have been quite exciting, diplomatically speaking. What do you think set off this hectic round of cross-border politicking?
A: Undermining all the hectic diplomatic moves and activities is the international community’s concern about the future of Pakistan. China, the US, our neighbours and the west are all deeply concerned about whether Pakistan is genuinely pursuing an effective counterterrorism strategy. There is also enormous concern about governance and the apparent failure of governance systems in the country.
In the case of China, for example, the Chinese are bolstering Pakistan’s economy and the Chinese president is coming for a state visit and there are all these other overt gestures of support. But we shouldn’t fall into China’s lap like we fell into the US’ lap for 50 years; critically, we should try and stand on our own two feet.
The Americans on their part are equally concerned about Pakistan, but they have fewer assets here, so to speak. In addition, the US can no longer afford to spend the kind of money the Chinese are spending here. There is already a move in Washington for disengagement with the region. We must remember that the US is a fading power and China is an emerging power.
Q: During his last chat with President Obama, PM Nawaz Sharif was quite blunt in his opposition to India’s bid for a permanent seat on the Security Council. How significant is that?
A: I believe this back and forth about reforming the membership of the United Nations Security Council is very spurious. For many years, we’ve seen so many similar proposals surface and then wither out and die within weeks. There is no sign that the membership of the UNSC will be reformed in the near future.
The US has, on its part, done a great deal to convince India to start talking to Pakistan again. On that front, what is going to be important is Pakistan’s demand that India discuss everything, including Kashmir, versus India’s demand that they discuss only economic measures and bilateral trade above anything else.
Q: Pakistan is obviously looking to woo the major regional and global powers, moving forward. Do you think that our friends will be able to help us out of our current crisis-mode?
A: China’s support for Pakistan is dependent on the country ending the various conflicts that are raging on our soil; such as Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi.
Until the military and the government bring these wars to an end through peaceful means, I don’t think there can be the kind of massive economic investment in the country that people are expecting from the Chinese or other foreign partners.
In the regional context, we have to play a stronger role than we are already playing in helping bring peace to Afghanistan. This means taking tough decisions, such as allowing Kabul access to Taliban that may be on our side of the border.
Published in Dawn February 14th , 2015