On the one hand Beijing was satisfied to receive full support from the President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari while suppressing unrest in Urumqi in July 2009. It was even more important that the support came from the leader of a «major» Muslim state that formally dissociated itself from the ‘International Islamic Resistance Movement’ in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. According to some Western experts the «jihadists» make up 5-10% of the «Uygur movement». On the other hand China has doubts about the Pakistan authorities’ ability to exercise effective control over all its territory. Some steps taken by Islamabad against extremists, in particular tough measures against the Uygur settlements and their religious schools in Pakistan, that have become ‘nurseries’ for the future separatists, failed to convince Beijing the control was really effective. The doubts materialized in a direct agreement on multilateral cooperation between the China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan (NWFP). The goal of agreement is establishing direct contacts with the NWFP leaders in order to suppress the activities of Islamists carried out from the territory of the province. The agreement also has an important socio-economic content. Looks like its ‘supporting structure’ is the project to make wider (with China's help) the Karakorum Highway of strategic importance for both countries. The road connects Xinjiang and the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan (through the Khunjerab pass located at an altitude of 4,693 meters above the sea). The Pakistani authorities seek to persuade China of expediency to use the Karakorum Highway as a main international communication link for transfer of imported goods to China from Pakistan's ports, in particular from Gwadar in the Arabian Sea upgraded with the Beijing's help. In addition to the transport infrastructure, the agreement also envisages cooperation in interregional trade, science and technology, culture, education, health, agriculture, sports and tourism. Making a complicated situation a bit more simple, it can be said that China would seek to involve possibly large labor force as in the implementation of bilateral interregional economic projects in order to curb the activities in Xinjiang that are potentially destructive for China.
Still interregional relations are only a part of the Beijing’s general course aimed at stabilization of the situation in Pakistan. The Chinese leadership is aware that Pakistan's problems are of systemic origin, generated by the state's policy that constantly broadens and aggravates the contradictions threatening the country’s unity and territorial integrity.
The whole range of problems appears to be viewed by Beijing the following way:
1. The fact that in 1947 the state was established on the confessional rather than political and economic basis resulted in insufficient attention paid by the Pakistani elite to development (economic growth based on possibly maximum employment and subsequent erasing socio-property differences in society) and frequent crises of «modernization project» ending up in military coming to power. The last ones hardly belonged to supporters of constructive ideas and focused on «establishing law and order» in the country while postponing the reforms needed by society for uncertain future.
2. The alternation of «military» and «civilian» rule cycles stood in the way of political representative institutions getting mature in Pakistan. It also hindered the formation of effective political elite focused on the interest of society as a whole rather than its separate segments.
3. The absence of progressive economic and political changes strengthened the military’s conviction that there was no alternative to their rule, the conviction that made the whole country dependent on personal qualities of military leaders. No doubt General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988) was the most odious personality. His condescending attitude towards political Islam finally resulted in making it strong enough to struggle for power with the military, something we see taking place at present. Such «dual power» is equally perilous for India, as well as for China.
4. The problems (strengthening of the Islamists) generated by the military in the late 1970s – early 1980s have transformed into a real threat to unity and territorial integrity of Pakistan. In its turn the probable dismemberment of the Pakistani state, something the international media continues to discuss, threatens the internal stability of China («porous» borders»), India, Iran, and Central Asia (the collapse of secular state).
5. China, India and the South and Central Asia states are interested in unity and territorial integrity of the country because Pakistan boasts possession of significant nuclear potential (80-100 munitions according to the estimates of Western experts) growing stronger as time goes by.
The difficult situation in Pakistan makes Beijing diversify its geopolitical strategy towards Pakistan and South Asia as a whole.
First, Beijing seems to be confident that because of its involvement in military activities in Afghanistan, the weakening of U.S. position in Pakistan has become a hardly noticeable but irreversible trend. Probably the new ‘equation’ of geopolitical power in Central Asia will make China emerge as a dominant «actor» in the area. Beijing softly pushes the U.S. out of Pakistan using time tested practice of expanding foreign economic relations. In addition Pakistan is counting on China's substantial financial assistance as well as cooperation in the «conventional» energy projects, primarily the construction of hydropower stations using tested Chinese technology (based on the experience of the ‘Three Gorges’ dam project on Yangtze River) in the mountains.
Second, true to its strategic principle of «economy defines geopolitics» China actively participates in the modernization of transport infrastructure in Pakistan. In fact, the implementation of projects is aimed at achieving a two-in-one objective: to ensure safe transportation of energy along the Persian Gulf – South China Sea route and to limit the U.S. influence in some area of the Middle East, South and Central Asia that are ‘sensitive’ spots for China. The above-mentioned Gwadar in the north-western part of the Arabian Sea is ideal for control of sea lanes going from the Persian Gulf to the East. If needed it can be used for protection of energy supplies to the Far East. In particular, active participation of Chinese experts in modernizing shore infrastructure for Pakistani submarines supports this assumption.
Third, according to media reports China seeks permission for military presence in Pakistan. Military experts believe that there are at least three strategic objectives pursued: «soft» military – political pressure on India; reduction of U.S. influence in Pakistan and Afghanistan; direct control over the activities of the «Uygur separatists» in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. The official sources in Islamabad refrain from comments on the issue though the government doesn’t exclude the possibility of China using the existing military facilities «outside of public view».
Fourth, according to the Times of India, China has already become a major supplier of military equipment to Pakistan. Supposedly that China-made weapons and equipment make up 70 percent of the Pakistani army’s inventory at present. Moreover, citing some military sources in Delhi, the Indian press says that when the Russia-produced fifth generation fighter joins the Indian Air Force, Pakistan will turn for help to China engaged in similar research project. And finally, China has been an indispensable ally and partner in the upgrade of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems since 1976. And there is no evidence the assistance may come to an end in the foreseeable future.
Thus, the strategic policy of China towards Pakistan is a complex symbiosis of at least three geopolitical goals: 1) containment of political Islam (i.e. the forces operating from the Pakistani territory) preventing its influence on internal developments in China (mainly in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region); 2) curbing India’s clout in South Asia, and 3) «soft squeezing» the USA out of South and Central Asia.
Naturally the question comes up – do the Sino-Pakistan relations influence Russian interests? Seemingly the answer is yes, and there are two reasons for it.
1. Due to a number of reasons Pakistan has transformed into a sort of «nursery» of political Islam and international terrorism. The absence of effective control exercised by central government over the territory results in «exporting" radical ideas and practices to the adjacent territories, China for instance. The Islamic threat becomes more imminent for Central Asia. It seems that Russia needs a change of foreign policy algorithm in relation to Pakistan that is the country’s return to the role of active actor in South Asia. The growing complexity of the geopolitical «equation» in the region meets the long-term interests of the Russian Federation, since, figuratively speaking, the struggle for peace in Central Asia starts in Pakistan. The restoration of political dialogue and foreign economic relations with this country to at least the mid-1960s level will allow Russia to actively influence the foreign policy of Pakistan.
2. The «return» of Russia to South Asia suggests that there should be an organizational and institutional framework appropriate for maintaining dialogue on security of this important region. The active participation of Russia in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) along with full membership of India and Pakistan in this body will facilitate a dialogue and finding solutions to the security problems in South Asia.
Moscow is able to do what it should becoming a counterbalance to Beijing within the framework of this international organization. That’s what finally defines the effectiveness of the SCO as a political tool of international security. It is also expedient to consider Russia's possible participation in one form or another in the activities of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).