Beijing has brushed off the reports of a rift with Pakistan in the aftermath of the killing of two Chinese nationals in Pakistan. According to Afghan media reports, China is expected to play mediatory role in improving relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. China dismissed the apprehensions that Indo-Pak rivalry and tensions could overwhelm the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) platform. China has urged Pakistan to increase military cooperation between the two countries for regional peace and stability. International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said the outlook for Pakistan’s economy was good because of massive investments under CPEC but has also warned of related risks for progress in the future. Federal Minster for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal has said that China was expected to fund the long-delayed Diamer-Bhasha dam.
China Brushes Off Rift with Pakistan:
Beijing has brushed off the reports of a rift with Pakistan in the aftermath of the killing of two Chinese nationals in Pakistan. Some media outlets had pointed out that during the Astana summit of the SCO this month, President Xi Jinping shunned a meeting with Pakistan’s prime Minster Nawaz Sharif but held meetings with other heads of state at the same time. The move was ascribed to China’s displeasure over Pakistan’s failure to protect Chinese citizens. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that “I can tell you that during the 17th SCO heads of the state meeting, President Xi met with Pakistan Prime Minister Sharif several times.” He added “[S]ome media reports are just nonsense and unwanted. China and Pakistan enjoy an all-weather strategic partnership.” This whole development unfolded in the aftermath of abduction of two Chinese nationals by armed men who claimed to be Islamic State (IS) fighters, in Quetta. Pakistan’s security forces conducted a special military operation in Mastung area of Baluchistan but could not recover the abducted persons. Later on, the IS claimed to have killed the two foreigners. The saga did not come to an end there. It was revealed by Pakistan’s government the two persons while misusing their visas were missionaries and had denied the offer of security provision by police. It gave a sort of reprieve to Pakistan from owning the whole blame and instead put China on defensive. Beijing clarified “[A]s for reports that the relevant Chinese nationals were suspected of illegal missionary work in Pakistan, we will cooperate with the Pakistan government and launch and investigate in accordance with the law.”
The episode highlights some important undercurrents of transforming Pakistan-China relations. That security of its citizens in Pakistan is Beijing’s primary concern was underscored by President Xi’s ignoring of the meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister on the sidelines of SCO summit. For this reason, Pakistani government and security apparatus will be constantly under immense pressure to avoid any such lapse in the future. Simultaneously, it also shows Pakistan can not be discredited so easily as it has been taking several measures to ensure the security of Chinese nationals. If the reports of visa violations are right then China also need soul-searching to avoid any misuse of friendly treatment offered by Pakistan. On the other hand, given the nature of attention that this incident attracted at government-to-government level, subversive elements might look for opportunities to target Chinese nationals to point their score in the future. Most importantly, the episode shows that this relationship should not be considered as problem-free particularly when China has been busy in investing billions of dollars in the country.
China Offers to Mediate Between Pakistan and Afghanistan:
According to Afghan media reports China is contemplating to play mediatory role in improving relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi will visit Kabul to hold discussions with Afghan government officials about the question of Pak-Afghan relations. Mr Wang is believed to discuss the possibility of organising a meeting of Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) between Afghanistan, Pakistan, U.S. and China. QCG was formulated in January 2016 to pave the way for reconciliation between the Kabul government and the Taliban through talks. However, the process was soon derailed when the news of the death of Taliban leader Mullah Umar was leaked. Afghan President while talking about China’s recent move said “[I]t is the first time that China wants to be a mediator in Afghanistan’s peace process and soon the Chinese Foreign Minster will visit Kabul. Peace with Pakistan was our demand and this must be between government and government.”
Pak-Afghan relations have reached probably the lowest ebb. Pakistan closed its border with Afghanistan in mid-February and warned the Kabul government of severe consequences if the cross-border terrorism did not stop. Afghanistan, in return has long blamed Pakistan for hosting insurgents who have waged a deadly war on Kabul. After the Afghan capital saw new a spike in deadly attacks in recent days, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani blamed Pakistan of instigating an “undeclared war of aggression” against his country.
China’s efforts might be helpful in some ways. Unlike the U.S., it does not carry the baggage of mistrust with and hostility toward Taliban and Pakistan. Instead, it enjoys fairly harmonious relations with both the important actors of the issue. China’s call for cooperation might, therefore, have different bearings. However, limitations to any major breakthrough in this regard are manifest and complex. Bringing the demands of all the three major actors – Afghan government, Taliban and Pakistan – to a point of concurrence is far more difficult than one can aspire. The reason is: interests of actors in this conflict sit wide apart from those of each other. But Beijing has historical aversion for involving too deep in the domestic affairs of other countries. In addition, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Taliban and the U.S. are not the only actors involved in Afghanistan. Role of India and Iran also need to be accounted for.
China’s Caution on SCO:
While welcoming India and Pakistan to SCO, China dismissed the apprehension that Indo-Pak rivalry and tensions could overwhelm the SCO platform. The reason China has proffered is that SCO charter prohibits member countries from bringing their hostilities into the organisation. China’s Assistant Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou said “[A]s a founding member of the SCO, we are very happy about the membership of India and Pakistan.” Pakistan and India were given formal membership of organisation during the Astana summit held on June 8-9. SCO is a Eurasian political, economic and military organisation membered by China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
China’s message can also be interpreted as a caution for both Pakistan and India to avoid bringing their bilateral disputes to the forum. Pakistan and India has a long history of mutual rivalry which has also affected the functioning of South Asia Regional Organisation for Cooperation. It has yet to be seen how the two countries mange their relations and issues at the SCO forum.
China has urged Pakistan to increase military cooperation between the two countries for regional peace and stability. IMF has said the outlook for Pakistan’s economy was good because of massive investments under CPEC but has also warned of related risks for progress in the future. Federal Minster for Palnning and Development Ahsan Iqbal has said that China was exited to fund the long-delayed Diamer-Bhasha dam.
This report is compiled and written by Abdur Rehman Shah, Research Associate at the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), Islamabad. He tweets @abdur_shah