China takes Pakistan under its wing as U.S. backs off

Pakistan | The Communist nation has pledged billions in aid to the Muslim country
by Anna K. Poole
Posted 3/09/17, 03:02 pm

As the United States increasingly holds Pakistan at arm’s length, China is sweeping in to embrace the Muslim nation, pledging billions of dollars in energy, industry, and infrastructure investment by 2030.

Meanwhile, the Washington-Islamabad rift has deepened in the first months of President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump supports closer ties with India, Pakistan’s neighbor and long-time enemy. The withdrawal of American support from Pakistan might have far-reaching implications for stability in the Muslim nation, a regional tinderbox of Islamic extremism and political strife.

In recent months, U.S. policymakers have slashed funding for the coalition fighting terrorism in Pakistan and blocked sales of F-16 fighter jets to the government.

While the United States has not outlined its policy toward Pakistan, some lawmakers are sick of helping the terror-wracked nation and say the $30 billion in security and economic aid released since 9/11 has proved a dismal investment. Pakistan’s dire power shortage, not to mention the presence of Islamic extremism, spooks many foreign firms. 

“I get the sense that we are the dispensable ally once again,” Pakistani opposition party leader Bilalwal Bhutto said during a recent visit to Washington.

 But with Beijing’s bankrolling, “the story of Pakistan is changing,” Ahsan Iqbal, the country’s planning and development minister, told a Washington think tank last month.

China’s investment could prove transformative for the Muslim nation. “If everything goes to plan, then Pakistan could enjoy a bonanza of benefits from easing its energy crisis to providing badly needed infrastructure,” said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at Washington’s Wilson Center.

The ironclad friendship between Beijing and Islamabad dates to the 1950s, when Pakistan became one of the first nations to recognize the People’s Republic of China and begin formal diplomatic relations.

“Pakistan and China’s struggles have brought their hearts and minds together,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a 2015 parliament address in which he pledged to disburse $46 billion over the next two decades to bolster Pakistan’s economy.

The alliance is a critical part of China’s “One Belt, One Road” project, an ambitious plan to link markets in Asia and Europe. Critics say the Chinese deals are opaque, leaving uncertainty about how impoverished local communities will benefit. In northern Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, the plan has irked locals, who say Chinese development is aimed at making them “slaves,” according to The Indian Express.

Some warn against overconfidence in China, saying it is a characteristically self-interested nation.

“China is not a country that particularly believes in altruistic largesse toward its neighbors. The aim here is to gain access through Pakistan to the Indian Ocean,” Elliot Wilson, business analyst who has lived and worked in China, told the BBC, adding that Beijing’s economic inroad with Islamabad “links into China’s desire to rebuild the world in its own image.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Anna K. Poole

Anna is a WORLD Journalism Institute graduate and former WORLD correspondent.

 

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