If it plays the honest broker, Beijing’s involvement in ‘proximity talks’ between New Delhi and Islamabad could afford Pakistan’s civilian leaders the political cushion they need to honestly pursue the masterminds of 26/11. Among global powers carrying messages back and forth the estranged South Asian neighbours, China alone has the diplomatic clout and popular acceptance to make Islamabad act to New Delhi’s satisfaction.
One read with a sense of déjà vu Pakistani Premier Yusuf Raza Gilani’s comments after Chinese foreign minister Yang Jeichi’s telephonic talk with Indian and Pakistani counterparts Pranab Mukherjee and Shah Mahmood Qureshi. “Common friends are engaged in diplomatic efforts to defuse tensions,” he said.
In a strikingly similar vein, Benazir Bhutto — who fell to an assassin a year ago this day in Rawalpindi — had attributed to Beijing’s friendly advice her decision to abandon a resolution on Kashmir in the United Nations Human Rights Commission. That was in 1994. Two years later, in December 1996, President Jiang Zemin famously counseled Pakistan to set aside Kashmir to build ties with India; a road on which it embarked after the 2004 Musharraf-Vajpayee accord that also committed Pakistan against use of its territory by anti-India terrorist groups.
Even Musharraf used the China card to gain popular approval of the 2007 commando assault on Islamic zealots holed up in Islamabad’s Lal Masjid. “They took the Chinese hostage and tortured them. I had to tell the Chinese leaders that I am ashamed. That they are such great friends and this happened to them.”
Indian Sinologists point to the trust deficit — arising out of Beijing’s support of Pakistan’s nuclear and missile development programmes — despite steady improvement of ties since Rajiv Gandhi’s
historic 1988 China visit, remembered for his ‘long handshake’ with Deng Xiaoping.
“It isn’t an ideal situation. We have to proceed on the assumption that they aren’t playing the games they did till the early 1990s,” said JNU Professor Alka Acharya. She felt “quiet diplomacy” was the way forward — not the expectation of Beijing’s demonstrative support.
The Chinese foreign policy establishment has limited leverage. What drives the strategic Beijing-Islamabad relationship is the linkage between their armies.