Pakistan is going to have a new government in Islamabad and a third-term prime minister installed in less than two weeks. It is almost the same time that the new Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang will visit Pakistan on May 22 and 23, 2013 as a part of efforts to further strengthen bilateral ties between the two nations. Li Keqiang, who became prime minister in March, will be visiting Islamabad on his first foreign trip since assuming office. The Chinese premier is expected to meet the incoming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, as well as President Zardari during his trip.
China and Pakistan call each other ‘all-weather friends’ and their close ties have for decades been underpinned by a desire to hedge against US influence across the region.
The incoming prime minister will face the challenging task of balancing his government’s relationship with China viz-a-viz the United States of America. He has already assured the Americans that he would work with them to rid the region of the menace of terrorism. In order to please the Americans, he has already criticized two decisions of the outgoing Zardari government; handing over management of Gwadar Deep Sea Port to China and Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline. While China may be the direct beneficiary of managing Gwadar Port to strengthen its String of Pearls strategy, it is also a potential beneficiary of the pipeline crossing Pakistani territory. It may be difficult for the new leadership to explain to its visiting friend as to how the bilateral relations would be strengthened if these two decisions were reversed.
Mr Sharif has openly criticized Pakistan Army’s Kargil adventure and promised to constitute an Inquiry Commission. He has also promised to share the findings of this Commission with India, a potential move which has already been severely criticized. People believe that Mr Sharif has gone “too far” to appease Indians, perceived in Pakistan as enemy number one. It would be difficult for the PM to face his Chinese counterpart and support a similar recent adventure of PLA in Ladakh. Chinese forces have not only encamped inside the LAC in Indian territory (read: occupied Indian territory), it has no plans to withdraw from this location. The Kargil was almost similar to Ladakh and if Mr Sharif does not approve of Kargil, he should also condemn or at least disapprove of Chinese adventure.
There are going to be interesting developments. It would not be possible to appease Americans and Indians and simultaneously strengthen Sino-Pak relationship.
- Mr Sharif is between a rock and a hard place (urdumail.wordpress.com)