Li Keqiang’s first visit to Pakistan and confusing plans for peace

Published: May 22, 2013
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Mr Li offers to help end Pakistan energy crisis. PHOTO: AFP

Mr Li offers to help end Pakistan energy crisis. PHOTO: AFP

Excitement is abuzz as the Chinese Premier begins his visit to Pakistan today. Mobile services have been suspended in Rawalpindi and Islamabad as a preemptive security measure and the Pakistan Army has assumed the responsibility to provide security for Li Keqiang’s first visit to Pakistan.

The newly elected Chinese Premier had been in India before where he couldn’t escape India’s objections and had to offer explanations about the Chinese interest in development activities in Pakistan. Additionally, he spoke of about ways to improve Sino-India relations over border disputes.

Li’s visit to Pakistan, however, is significant in many ways. Not only has he received the prestigious award of Nishan-e-Pakistan, he will be addressing the Senate and planting a sapling at Shakar Parian in Islamabad. Furthermore, he is expected to sign many important MoUs in the field of economy, science, technology, space and upper atmosphere communication and energy.

Do make note that India is wary of China’s interest in Pakistan because it is widely believed that eventually China will expand its influence to Afghanistan. China, on the other hand, is trying to convince India that what it is planning to do will benefit the entire region.

Keeping the Indian misgiving in mind, let’s not forget that Gawadar port is another issue where India and China do not see eye to eye on.

The control of the Gawadar port was given to China this February. Pakistan expects the port to open a wealth of economic opportunities in the midst of the political turmoil in Balochistan. While Pakistan and China are elated about this development, India views China’s $200 million investment in Gawadar as a Sino-Pak expansionist design. Experts also believe that China will eventually build a naval base at Gawadar port to add another important location along its sea-lines, the so called, “string of pearls”.

It’s interesting to note how the goal of each country is common; every nation is desperate for peace and stability in their own country and for the people that dwell around them. The problem arises because each nation wants to take a different path to reach the same destination. Hence, the mistrust.

The Afghan President Hamid Karzai in New Delhi stated that he wants India to help Afghanistan meet its security needs. Afghanistan’s military has already been receiving training from India but now the Afghan Army requires military hardware from India too?

We need to remember that this urgent need comes as the death toll of Afghan security personnel reaches around 1,170 – this is three times higher than the number of NATO soldiers killed in 2012.

By 2014 the Afghan Army is to take full charge.

Let’s go back to the Afghan-Indian romance and recall that if India is disturbed with China expanding in Pakistan and investing in developing Afghanistan’s natural resources, Pakistan too, has been very irked with India increasing its influence and goodwill in Afghanistan. Talks with the Taliban haven’t seen any encouraging development (Chequers, Qatar and Brussels meetings haven’t borne any fruit) and now that the expected Prime Minister has signaled for peace talks with the Taliban, Afghans worry that Nawaz Sharif will just reconcile with the Pakistan Taliban and not sort out Afghan Taliban.

It is starkly evident that although Pakistan and Afghanistan – in formal Foreign Office press releases – call each other ‘brother’, bad blood is visible amongst the two neighbours. Border clashes over the issue of Pakistani check posts recently and the exchange of harsh words from the Afghan leadership raise serious questions about what exactly the countries mean when they say they wish to see stability and prosperity in the region. 

Two teams can be seen developing in the region Pakistan- China and India-Afghanistan. But, because the countries that are on the opposite team have mutual interests with each other there is a lot of grey area and this is where all countries require robust diplomatic effort to build trust at least.

We are yet to see any positive impacts of these high level visits that take place between Pakistan, China, India and Afghanistan. So far, one appears to be watching a TV soap episode instead, that should be titled,

 “How can you be my friend if you’re friends with my neighbour?”

However, for Pakistan, the Chinese Prime Minister’s visit is important not only for its domestic needs in the energy and infrastructure sector but also for forging a better understanding between the new leadership in Pakistan and China, given that Mr Nawaz Sharif has already extended a hand of friendship to India.

Maybe the leaders of all four countries should sit in one room to discuss their respective plans and proposals of peace because the current method is clearly not working!

Read more by Waqas here.

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Waqas Rafique

An Islamabad based journalist who was a former employee of Express News. He tweets @waqasrafique (twitter.com/waqasrafique)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.