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Interesting times

The Chinese curse of living in interesting times is upon us, but what the Chinese cannot understand is why we have wished this curse onto ourselves. And, even more shockingly, why are we so happy about it?

From the point of view of Beijing, Pakistan’s stability is of the utmost importance: not because the Chinese love us (this phrase is best left to fill official press releases) but because we happen to have a geography that fits into their plan for the next century, which they believe will have them on top of the hierarchy of nations. Trade routes are their lifeline. So are energy corridors. We happen to provide both.

The shortest and best connectivity with the rest of the world which also allows them to develop the whole of their country by harnessing its vast landmass for more production – that’s what we are to the Chinese.

For us, China is a friend in deed because we are always in need – of strategic wherewithal like nuclear cooperation; of vital diplomatic support to offset the Goliath in the east, India, and of investment from outside sources most of which, other than the Chinese, have become exceedingly risk-weary and therefore averse to putting their pretty penny in our land.

It is not a free lunch for us: modern-day China is too practical-minded to offer anything free. We are bordering on becoming China’s backyard where it would land its goods and elbow out ours. We are also getting recruited in a power game of a global scale that is likely to cut the world into Eastern and Western blocks precariously balanced on an uncertain nuclear threshold.

It is dangerous to be tied to the knee of a behemoth. Every move can shatter the bones. But we have few options except to cling on. China is a friendly giant whose embrace we feel comfortable in.

Logically, the mutuality of these interests should keep things stable between us and the Chinese. And this is how it is as well. Things are stable. Nobody wants to lose Chinese goodwill, their advice and of course their time-tested friendship and trust. From Maulana Fazlur Rehman to Ayaz Lateef Palejo, from Imran Khan to Nawaz Sharif and from retired generals to the serving ones, there is a stated consensus that China is holier than all external cows and must be treated as such too.

But logic also demands that we ought to demonstrate through our actions that we understand the Chinese sensitivities and, more important, realise that their global agenda presupposes a certain rationality on our part in our actions. Of late this presupposed rationality has gone up in smoke, leaving the Chinese on the verge of tearing their hair out over the bewildering speed at which we are journeying down into chaos, singing all the way.

From the Chinese point of view, there has not been a moment’s prudent silence in Pakistan ever since the CPEC has come to the fore. An engineered and provincialised internal controversy on how the western route is missing from the whole scheme was followed by endless political turmoil in the country threatening to unleash disorder that could affect the whole timetable of the CPEC.

The last dharna by Imran Khan caused the CPEC signing to be postponed (the Chinese have long-term memory and events are meticulously filed in durable shelves and never forgotten) and it was not lost on Beijing how Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was taking the lead in protesting the alleged bias in the CPEC and threatening to not let this scheme take off in that part of Pakistan if its complaints weren’t addressed.

It is a coincidence (Chinese do not believe in coincidences) that KP Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak is still on a self-declared war-path with the centre on this vital corridor and his leader is a few days away from laying a siege on the capital city demanding the prime minister’s resignation and effectively dissolving the government.

One does not have to meet anyone to know (this qualification has importance since the Cyril story, and now all journalists must insist that they get their stories through intuition) how frustrated the Chinese are over these matters that hang in the air like a bad smell refusing to go away. The Chinese have taken the unusual step of explaining the CPEC to the sceptics via Twitter (just imagine!) where their diplomats take public questions and unravel the so-called mystery of which route is being built first and which is being left out.

They have met all significant leaders in Pakistan, pleading sanity and advising rationality for the larger interest of both the countries. They have complained (in a nice Chinese way that involves sobriety and careful formulations) that Pakistan ought to get its priorities straight and desist from taking a path that leads nowhere except to the derailment of the mutual understanding on the CPEC. However, to no avail.

The Chinese have had far little success in drilling their message home on this count as compared to the earlier problem when a virtual power struggle broke out within the decision-making echelons over who would control the execution of the CPEC schemes. In that case they were able to shoot trouble by meeting all ‘stakeholders’ (post the Dawn-story episode it is now imperative for the sake of national interest that stakeholders must never be named) and cautioning that these squabbles are quite petty.

But now the Chinese aren’t making any headway. Their efforts have been fruitless to point to the gains of the CPEC as a way to suggest that the present bout of political warfare is totally counter-productive. Every day the spiral of political hate goes a circle higher and the possibility of events spinning out of control inches closer to becoming reality.

Knowing the Chinese propensity to analyse all situations in expanded frameworks, it would not be wrong to assume that Beijing sees the events in Pakistan as part of a struggle that involves global interests. (Beijing must have also noticed foreign-funded non-governmental organisations running open campaigns against the CPEC and motivating public sentiment against the CPEC.)

The Chinese can be forgiven for assuming that Pakistan’s power elite are actually divided into three distinct groups: the Washington-London Group; the Middle-Eastern Group; the Chinese Group. And while everyone pays homage to Beijing, the reality of the situation is that external lobbies are working their agendas through their chosen ones.

These groups have their interests aligned in different world capitals. Their children, their families, their businesses, their future jobs – everything is wired to world centres. (A profile of whose family interests lie outside Pakistan would be a fascinating study except that no one will be able to publish it here.)

Which lobby will prevail? Only time will tell. Which group will survive this battle of giant interests? A few months wait will bring us answers. But one thing is for sure: this battle will be bloody and bruising, not because the groups in Pakistan have so much fire in their bellies but because the global stakes of what happens in Pakistan are very high.

We need to remember that in the 18th and 19th centuries the British fought 30 wars to keep their sea route from Africa to India safe. The First World War was a trade routes and colonies war. Since then wars are conducted through proxies and agents. In modern times, the US has interfered in almost 80 elections around the world to secure its own interests. Washington has fought two dozen wars (on other soils) and has caused displacement of millions from their homes to ensure that it retains its strategic advantages, which inevitably involve keeping oil supplies and markets safe.

Global interests will keep the times in Pakistan interesting. There will not be a moment of stability in this land because of its geography. With this in mind, see it from the Chinese point of view: they may conclude that the uproar in Pakistan is not about Panama: it is about China.

Email: syedtalathussain@gmail.com

Twitter: @TalatHussain12 The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV.

Syed Talat Hussain, "Interesting times," The News. 2016-10-24.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political turmoil , Political crisis , Global agenda , Corruption , Democracy , Politics , Maulana Fazlur Rehman , Ayaz Lateef Palejo , Imran Khan , Pakistan , CPEC