Thursday, 16 April 2015

Storm-tossed

Nguồn tin: nguontinviet.com



A SCATHING synopsis of Pakistan’s foreign policy might boil it down to four principles: provoke India, but not too much; say what America wants to hear; do what China wants done; and provide what rich Arab donors in the Gulf think they have bought. To the surprise of many, that last maxim has just been flouted. This month Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister, referred to Parliament a request from Saudi Arabia to send soldiers to assist in the war in Yemen. Parliament decreed that Pakistan should stay neutral. It is not just governments in the Gulf that are cross with Pakistan. So are India (even more than usual), America and even China. But Mr Sharif may not be too worried: as so often, Pakistan’s international position is stronger than it looks.


Members of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen are certainly incensed. Anwar Mohammed Gargash, a minister from the United Arab Emirates, raised hackles in Pakistan by warning that it would pay a “heavy price” for its “ambiguous stand”. Saudi Arabia had even more reason to complain. Nawaz Sharif owes the kingdom a personal debt. It helped free him from prison and gave him a home in exile after a military coup in 1999 ended an earlier stint as prime minister. A gold-and-silver model of Mecca and Medina, a gift from the late King Abdullah, has pride of place in his plush living room in Lahore. And in March last year Saudi Arabia made Pakistan a “friendly gift” of $1.5 billion, a big boost to the government’s finances. It was an “unconditional” grant, but might have been expected to buy some security co-operation.


Yet not one MP spoke in favour of deploying troops in Yemen. It seemed a bad idea for many reasons. Despite the Pakistani army’s status as the Muslim world’s biggest fighting force, and its long experience of counter-insurgency warfare in rugged terrain, getting sucked into Yemen would be a dangerous gamble. Besides, the army is battling militant groups in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas. Nor is it in Pakistan’s interests to be caught up in a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The kingdom is an important friend and donor, but Pakistan also shares a 900-kilometre (560-mile) border with Iran. It stands to benefit if sanctions are lifted following a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme—especially if a long-mooted pipeline to supply much-needed Iranian gas becomes operational. Conversely, a hostile Iran could meddle dangerously in some of Pakistan’s internal conflicts. It borders the province of Balochistan, where an insurgency simmers. And there and elsewhere, Pakistan suffers frequent sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia Muslim extremists. Like Saudi Arabia, it has a Sunni majority. But about one-fifth of Pakistanis are Shias, as are most Iranians. The last thing Pakistan wants is to take sides in a region-wide Sunni-Shia struggle.


Discussing Parliament’s decision, Mr Sharif chose to stress what it did agree to: that any threat to Saudi Arabia’s territory would “evoke a strong response” from Pakistan. Its ties with the kingdom are deep enough to withstand this upset. And Pakistan has one asset which Saudi Arabia will surely regard as more precious than ever in the light of an Iranian agreement: the bomb. Many believe Saudi Arabia has an understanding with Pakistan that, if disaster threatens, it will help it acquire nuclear weapons.


As “The China-Pakistan Axis”, a recent book by Andrew Small, makes clear, Pakistan owes its nuclear capability in part to Chinese help. When they talk about this friendship, Pakistani leaders seem about to burst into a torch song: “deeper than the deepest ocean”, “sweeter than honey”, etc. But the romance has hit a rocky patch: witness the difficulty in scheduling a first visit to Pakistan by Xi Jinping, China’s president. Unrelated street protests in Islamabad, the capital, last year delayed one attempt. After Barack Obama attended India’s National Day parade in January, Pakistan hoped in vain that Mr Xi would attend its own last month. But China also hopes to get on better with India. Next month it will play host to its prime minister, Narendra Modi.


Moreover, Pakistan has irked officials in Beijing over China’s most pressing domestic-security concern (especially since a horrific knife attack at the railway station in Kunming in south-western China a year ago in which 29 people were killed): terrorism stemming from the grievances of China’s Uighurs, a mainly Muslim Turkic minority in its vast western region of Xinjiang. Some Uighurs have long fought in Afghanistan (22 Uighurs, all now free, were held in Guantánamo Bay) and a few dozen Uighur militants linger on in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Nothing suggests they can stage attacks in China. But Pakistan’s best friend forever wonders why the country’s army has not simply eliminated them.


The Chinese are coming


Mr Xi’s visit now seems about to happen, however. Besides the lovey-dovey speeches, it is likely to be marked by announcements putting flesh on the bones of a proposed “China-Pakistan economic corridor” involving tens of billions of dollars of Chinese investment. The perennial benefit of the relationship for China is that Pakistan preoccupies India, a potential rival to China, with its local difficulties. But there are many other advantages. One is a seaport on the coast near Iran, at Gwadar, which may be useful to China’s navy. Another is intelligence links and access to some of the militant groups that will help shape Afghanistan’s future as American troops withdraw.


So Pakistan can feel confident that China’s recent apparent snubs are blips in relations. India, meanwhile, is furious that a Pakistani court has this month freed on bail Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind of the terrorist attack on Mumbai in 2008 in which 166 people were killed. America, too, has expressed “grave concern”. But neither country seems likely to retaliate. So far it has not, for example, affected Pakistan’s purchase of $1 billion-worth of high-tech American weaponry, approved this month. As even the irascible Mr Gargash may learn, Pakistan has a knack for getting away with angering friend and foe alike.





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