Ambassador Alam Brohi comments on a recent visit
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s return from Beijing visit to China was significant from many perspectives. It must be borne in mind that PM Khan rarely ventures out and he is known to be the least travelled head of the government in Pakistan. PM Khan appears not to have given much thought to the crucial popular value of conveying images of being received and feted in foreign countries and has preferred to stay home for most of his tenure. Since his first visit to Imran Khan’s return from Beijing in October 2019, many political and strategic issues of bilateral, regional and international concern had surfaced to the fore, particularly in the South and South-West Asia that needed to be reviewed at the highest leadership level to develop a mutually supportive understanding in view of the fast-changing global political and strategic situation.
The agenda of the Prime Minister’s talks with President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang was elaborate and wide-ranging and included issues of immediate concern to Pakistan; namely, the recognition of the Taliban’s de facto rule by the international community; the grave humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan; Pakistan’s ebbing relations with the US; the Indian atrocities in the Jammu and Kashmir; the security threats to Pakistan by non-state actors and dissidents abetted by India; the accelerated implementation of CPEC; the strategic and defence needs of Pakistan and debt relief etc.
These issues were thoroughly reviewed. As reflected by the 33-point Joint Statement issued at the end of the visit, the Chinese leadership renewed in no ambiguous terms their support to the security of Pakistan, condemned the Indian unilateral action to abolish the “Special Status” of Jammu and Kashmir and demanded the resolution of this festering dispute in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolutions. Both the countries synchronised their stance on the current situation in Afghanistan; deciding to reactivate and expand the troika consultative forum—Pakistan, China and Russia—to include other regional countries to deal with the overall situation in Afghanistan.
Chinese leaders, recognising the importance of Gwadar Seaport in the implementation of the CPEC as the flagship project of BRI, reiterated their commitment to the implementation of the second phase of the multibillion project on fast track; including the development of Gwadar into a modern city with all necessary amenities, and an airport of international standard; the establishment of Special Economic Zones; Agricultural development and transfer of technology; and pledged to consider the rollover of debt of over $4.5 billion that was due for payment in March this year. It was also agreed to extend the CPEC to Afghanistan and other neighbouring countries and international organisations to broaden the economic connectivity.
This should put at rest speculations whipped up by the opposition about the implementation of the CPEC. The Government was blamed that it had slowed down the pace of implementation of CPEC due to the US pressure. The Chinese leadership has had legitimate concerns about the security threats to their people working on CPEC projects, which were duly addressed during the high-level talks. The CPEC has emerged as a national development project of bipartisan consensus.
Prime Minister Imran Khan well utilised his visit to have bilateral meetings with many leaders including Vladimir Putin. He also received the Chief Executives of the Chinese companies of international repute and corporate leaders to explore vistas for trade and investment and relocation of Chinese industries. He assured the Chinese corporate leaders to drastically reduce the procedural requirements for investment and relocation of industries in his country. At present, foreign investors need to obtain over three dozen of NOCs to make investments in Pakistan.
Prime Minister’s bilateral meeting with President Vladimir Putin paved the way for his impending visit to Moscow by the end of this month. This would be the first head of government-level visit to Russia after an interregnum of almost two decades. Pakistan has been gradually deepening its bilateral relations with Russia. Historically, Pakistan, being in the Western camp, could not establish close relations with the erstwhile Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Russia remained in decade-long political and economic disarray. However, it started reasserting its position on the global scene under President Putin.
The deepening understanding between China and Russia on the geopolitical and strategic situation in Eurasia is fast developing into an alliance to strengthen multi-polarity in the world. This would present a window to smaller countries already marginalised into peripheral positions in the current unipolar and US-dominated international order. Pakistan sits on the mouth of three interlocking regions and has the potential of emerging as an economic and strategic power. Russia recognises the importance of its strategic location and has responded well to Pakistan’s endeavours to strengthen bilateral political and strategic relations. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit, if materialised, would give a boost to these efforts.
There are apprehensions that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s defiant decision to schedule his bilateral visit to China with the inauguration of the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, the US boycott notwithstanding, would anger American leadership stalling any chance of thaw in the already strained bilateral relations with Washington DC. These apprehensions are too early, and apparently don’t hold water. The analysts keenly observing the global scene agree that the US and China would not allow the existing competition and confrontation to spiral into intense Cold War requiring other states to take sides. Pakistan, on its part, has engaged the US for normal relations beyond the narrow spectrum of anti-terrorism war. Its all-weather friendship with China remained intact even when Pakistan was a close ally of the US.
However, the Prime Minister’s decision to undertake his visit to Moscow at a time when the situation in Ukraine is fast spiraling into military conflagration would clearly showcase Pakistan as a willing and active member of the existing understanding between China and Russia to challenge the unipolar international order. The visit could have waited for an opportune time until the current strategic tension between the US-led NATO countries and the Kremlin was defused. Pakistan has substantial exports to the US and the European Union and is much independent of bail-outs on the US-dominated international financial institutions. Moscow could not in any way provide alternative economic and financial advantages. The diplomatic path ahead is bumpy with many pitfalls. It needs a tight rope walk. TW
Alam Brohi is former Ambassador of Pakistan and was associated with Foreign Service of Pakistan