China welcomes Pakistan with open arms
Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani shakes hands with China's President Hu Jintao during a meeting at the Great Hall of the People on May 20, 2011 in Beijing, China. (Getty Images)
May 30th, 2011
05:06 PM ET

China welcomes Pakistan with open arms

Editor's Note: Shahid Javed Burki, former Finance Minister of Pakistan and Vice President of the World Bank, is currently Chairman of the Institute of Public Policy, Lahore. For more from Burki, visit Project Syndicate online or through Facebook and Twitter.

By Shahid Javed Burki

ISLAMABAD – Large events sometimes have unintended strategic consequences. This is turning out to be the case following the killing of Osama bin Laden in a compound in Abbottabad, a military-dominated town near Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital.

The fact that the world’s most wanted man lived for a half-dozen years in a large house within spitting distance of Pakistan Military Academy, where the country trains its officers, has provoked a reaction that Pakistanis should have expected, but did not.

The country’s civilian and military establishment has been surprised and troubled by the level of suspicion aroused by the events leading to Bin Laden’s death – many Pakistanis call it “martyrdom” – and there is growing popular demand for a major reorientation of Pakistan’s relations with the world.

Unless the West acts quickly, Bin Laden’s death is likely to result in a major realignment of world politics, driven in part by Pakistan’s shift from America’s strategic orbit to that of China.

I have personal experience of how quickly China can move when it sees its “all-weather friend” (Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani’s phrase) in extreme distress. In 1996, when Pakistan was near bankruptcy and contemplating default, I went to Beijing as the country’s finance minister to ask for help. My years of service overseeing the World Bank’s operations in China had put me in close contact with some of the country’s senior leaders, including then-Prime Minister Zhu Rongji.

At a meeting in Beijing, after telling me that China would not allow Pakistan to go bankrupt under my watch, Zhu ordered $500 million to be placed immediately in Pakistan’s account with the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. That infusion of money enabled Pakistan to pay its bills while I was in charge of its economy.

China seems to have adopted the same approach to Pakistan today, as the United States Congress threatens to cut off all aid. Gilani recently took a quick trip over the mountains to Beijing, and returned with an offer of immediate delivery of 50 fighter planes to Pakistan. Much more has been promised. Given China’s record as a provider of aid to Pakistan, these promises will quickly be realized.

In the meantime, Pakistan continues to pay the price for Bin Laden’s death, with his supporters striking a town not far from Islamabad just days later, killing more than 80 people. That was followed by a brazen attack on a naval base in Karachi, in which some very expensive equipment, including aircraft, was destroyed. The terrorists struck for a third time two days later, killing a dozen people in a town near Abbottabad. The human toll continues to rise, as does the cost to the economy.

On May 23, the government issued an estimate of the economic cost of the “war on terror” that put the total at $60 billion, compared to the $20 billon the Americans have supposedly paid in compensation. In fact, a substantial share of the promised US aid has yet to arrive, particularly the part that is meant to rescue the economy from a deep downturn.

While Gilani was in Beijing, Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh returned from Washington with empty hands. He had gone there to persuade the International Monetary Fund to release the roughly $4 billion that it was withholding from the $11 billion that Pakistan had been promised in late 2008 to save the country from defaulting on its foreign debt. The IMF’s decision was in response to the Pakistani government’s failure to take promised steps to increase its abysmal tax-to-GDP ratio, which stands at less that 10%, one of the lowest levels in the emerging world.

The Fund was right to insist that Pakistan stand on its own feet economically, but, in early June, Shaikh will present his 2011-2012 budget, in which he wants to ease the burden on ordinary Pakistanis. This has put Gilani’s two-year-old government in a real bind. Whether Shaikh can balance the IMF’s demands with ordinary people’s needs will not only determine the Pakistani economy’s direction, but will also have an enormous impact on how Pakistan and its citizens view the world.

The only comfort that Pakistan has received from the West came in the form of assurances given by US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron following Obama’s state visit to London. In a joint press conference, both promised that their countries would stand with Pakistan’s government and people. Pakistan, they said, was as deeply engaged as their countries in the war against terrorism.

Pakistan will continue to receive American and British help. But the US and Britain find it difficult to move quickly, and strong voices in their capitals want Pakistan to be punished, not helped, for its wayward ways. In the meantime, China waits with open arms.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Shahid Javed Burki. Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011 To read more from Burki, visit Project Syndicate. Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.

soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Satish

    Why does Pakistan measure friendship by how much money is doled out to them. This senior official does not feel any hitch in using such a language like "empty handed". I used to believe India and Pakistan match in culture. I am an Indian Punjabi see friendship with an entirely different perspective. Forget countries, for normal people, a friend is one who can make them see what is wrong. Friend is not the one who comes when you are go bankrupt, friend is one who guides you in such a manner that you never such situation. Decades long "friendship" with US, the only superpower in that time and now China, when they are becoming rich. What does that show? If you cannot guess, then I will write, it shows you go after rich "friends". This friendship is not based on principles and will never last long as with US. Practically, there cannot be any friendship between a rich and a poor. It is just business. Pakistani leaders need money and China needs business. But after a few decades, pakistan will be right where it is after decades of the same friendship with its rich friend US. Indian leaders make us fools but Pakistani leaders need not do that also because public already is, at least it seems like. They do not want food and employment, they want nuclear bombs and F-16s and missiles. Keep going, in a decade India will be safe.

    May 30, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Nanga Pir

      Satish someone had replied your question months ago. Please watch and pass it on.

      May 30, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • ali

      well what else can you expect from indian,, india was in soviet camp in days of cold war now in american camp becuase grass is green on otherside. pakistan .always been and will be friend of china .. infact pakistan helped u.s to build relation with china in 1970s //..india has more poor people than entire africa almost 410 million people living below poverty line that is 200% more then pakistans entire population yet india spends $32 billion on defence..The Arjun Sengupta Report (from National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector) states that 77% of Indians live on less than 20 a day (about $0.50 per day).[5] The N.C. Saxena Committee report states that 50% of Indians live below the poverty line....bahi tayra bahrat mahan

      May 30, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
      • Mohammed

        Bhai...Grow up... Yes we have poverty.. Yes there is a lot more to be done.. atleast we dont breed hatred and spread fundamentalism... You pakistanis are living in denial, quick to point out India's misery. Why dont you focus on the development of your country, before pointing out fingers at us. Pakistan is the classic example of – 'What you sow is what you reap'. The hatred that you have spewn is now killing your own country.. Relax bhai and take a deep breath!


        June 6, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • AliZee

      Oh well, I totally agree to you Satish (that too being a Pakistani), but cmon, lets not mix 2 things here...u have your morals regarding friendship, so do we, any sane person regardless of faith, geography and all other crap that has bestowed that region till now, would agree to your point...having said that, lets not just have a memory that is only 20 yrs old...China was always there, more reliable than US, the same way for you guys Russia was more reliable than the European block, lets not delve into the benefits of befriending the powerful (I dont want to go in the details of Russian MIGS & Swedish Buffors my friend!!)...all I know is that the people of Pakistan are sandwiched between extremely inept corrupt rulers and a situation brewed by US/PAK think tanks which has unfortunately spiraled out of control.

      @JOE- what yo' smokin ho!....Paki nukes in Talib hands yada yada yada yada!

      June 9, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  2. Nanga Pir

    1. The people of Pakistan should not be held responsible and punished for the crimes committed by the rulers of Pakistan. There should be full accountability for all the events that led to massacre of Bengali masses to the current mess where Pakistani civilian and military bosses are competing for dollars.
    2. Equally the American ruling class should responsible for using the land and rulers of Pakistan for their nefarious designs and evil dirty work.
    3. The money that has been given on the name of Pakistan and been robbed back to Western markets should be recovered.
    4. The Pakistani coward generals and corrupt politicians are playing the Chinese card to blackmail the west. They will never go to china as Chinese do not give barrel s load of dollars.

    May 30, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Satish

      Absolutely right but unless we, the people do not hold ourselves responsible, nothing is going to change.

      May 30, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  3. joe

    If pakistan is dreaming that china will attack the usa in case the usa does another bin ladin in pakistan, then the the pakis are very deluded. The chinese will not like to risk their new found prosperity by losing the usa market, and the dollars kept in usa bonds. The chinese will not even like to lose the indian market for pakistan"s sake. If india stops trading with china, the chinese will lose about 60 billion dollars of business. we are sure that many chinese factories will close as a result , and millions will become unemployed. So the pakis should stop dreaming of their chinese friend. The chinese are only cozying up to the pakis because they wish to keep india in check – and not allow india to become a great economic power.

    May 30, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • Joseph

      Joe the indian speakth

      May 30, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
      • Playfulguisse

        Yes he does. So does the Pakistani and the Chinese. And the American. So?

        May 30, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
      • Joe_d

        What's your point? Trading is for mutual benefits. Are you saying that Indians are dumb and give 60 billion dollars to the Chinese??

        May 30, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • Saqib

      Mr. Joe, I want to tell you about the history of Pakistan right from 1947, when India and Pakistan were came into existence. There were two Super Powers in World, 1- Russia 2- USA. India choosed Russia and Pakistan choosed USA. Pakistan fought a 10 years war in Afghanistan to block Russain advancement to Arabian Sea. During this time Pakistan sacrificed its peace, economy and faced Russia as Enemy, during this time Indian Agencies supported Russian Agencies, while Pakistan was fighting for the sake of Europe & America. It is a matter of great sorrow for us that our friends are today talking against us inspite of so much sacrifice and damage to Pakistan.

      June 1, 2011 at 5:58 am |
  4. Jose

    Pakistan and China–made for each other.

    May 30, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  5. Onesmallvoice

    Maybe the good relations with China could remove from Pakistan it's dangerous dependence on the U.S. for it's foreign aid. The right-wing thugs in Washington have been using foreign aid as a tool to keep it's leverage on all these countries abroad,including Pakistan and thus compelling it to fight it's civil war against the Taliban there. This needs to come to an end!!!

    May 30, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  6. james2

    Let them have it. Pakistan is a hot potato, and I hope greedy, lassiez-faire China gets burned.

    May 30, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  7. 2Cents

    China just wants to get a hands on that helicopter equipment.

    May 31, 2011 at 1:39 am |
  8. gnp in d island

    Pakistan goes to China,..... best news I've heard in a long while. Should save us a bundle. The sooner we extricate ourselves from the entire mid/near east quagmire the better. Close every base and just buy and sell whatever the market dictates. Peace on earth good will towards man/woman.

    May 31, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  9. j. von hettlingen

    It's sad that the officials in Pakistan spend most of their time streching out their hands, hoping to receive financial aid. It's time for the Pakistanis to take the destiny of their country in their hands and make the best out of it. Apart from their nuclear capability Pakistanis have nothing to offer the world except for fear and terror. I hope they will one day be proud of their country.

    May 31, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  10. joe

    China and pakistan praise their all-weather friendship- so much so that China has accepted the fact that Pakistan has done no wrong in hiding bin ladin for so long. So tomorrow if the talebanis capture the paki nukes, and use them against the usa, europe, india etc, the whole world should claim for all damages from china and pakistan. right???. In fact the whole world should pre-empt such a disaster by acting proactively in advance.

    May 31, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • fred

      That didn't make sense, just to let you know.

      June 1, 2011 at 10:18 pm |

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