China counters US criticism of Pakistan

China counters US criticism of Pakistan

Islamabad: Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao lauded on Sunday Pakistan’s efforts to battle al Qaeda, just days after the United States said its ally could do more to crack down on militants, especially along the Afghan border.

Wen’s comments, made in a speech to parliament, appear part of China’s strategy to lend support to old friend Pakistan, often criticised by the United States and many in the West as an unreliable, but necessary, ally in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

“Strengthening and promoting strategic, brotherly relations is our joint strategic choice and they are in the interests of two countries and their people," Wen said, as he wrapped up a three-day visit to Pakistan.

Chinese leaders applaud Pakistan’s efforts to fight al Qaeda -led terrorism, he added, urging the international community to “endose and support" them.

“Pakistan has given great sacrifices and made great efforts in the fight against terrorism. It is a reality...and the international community should respect Pakistan’s efforts," he said.

He said China would try to enhance cooperation with Pakistan in the endeavour.

Pakistan’s porous border with Afghanistan is seen as a haven for militants and US defense secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday that it needed to do more to control the flow of extremists, which a US review of the Afghan war said was the main obstacle to ending the conflict.

While boosting trade and investment has been the main focus of Wen’s visit—the first in five years by a Chinese premier—analysts say the trip is about more than money.

“It’s a clear signal of China’s growing, assertive diplomacy," said independent analyst Hamayoun Khan.

“They (China) do not want Pakistan to be entirely dependent on the United States and the International Monetary Fund, and then get dictation from them," Khan said.

“China’s massive investment in this time proves two things. One is that China is a genuine ally of Pakistan, and second, it is a clear signal to the US that if the US supports India against China, China will support Pakistan."

During the visit, which followed a three-day trip to India, the two countries signed commercial and trade deals worth at least $25 billion.

By comparison, Wen signed $16 billion in deals in India before arriving in Islamabad on Friday.

Analysts say China is investing in Pakistan to such a large degree for two reasons: because it sees the country as a genuine friend, and because it irks India.

Sino-Indian relations have been dogged by longstanding border disputes, which led to a war nearly four decades ago. Since then, though, the world’s two fastest-growing big economies have forged a major trade relationship over the years.

China is the main supplier of defence and military hardware to Pakistan. China has also helped Pakistan to build its main nuclear power generation facility and is helping build another one.

Pakistani diplomats like to refer to China as an “all-weather friend", whose needs—strategic and economic—fit in with what Pakistan wants and has to offer.

China wants to use Pakistan as a gateway to the Muslim world and as a new Silk Road for China’s energy-hungry interior, as well as a balance against India’s military rise.

Pakistan, in turn, plans to further rely on China for the bulk of its weapon systems, as a major investor for its ports and roads, and as a counterweight to American demands and conditions in the fight against Islamist militancy.