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Pak wants defense pact with China: Report

September 27
03:43 2011

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has apparently been secretly lobbying for a defense pact with China though the initiative has been met with caution in Beijing, which feels that such an agreement could put the two ‘all-weather’ allies in trouble with the US and India, a media report said today.

Pakistan made overtures to China regarding the defense pact early this year when its relationship with the US was weakened by several controversies, ‘The Express Tribune’ quoted unnamed diplomatic and military officials as saying.

However, there is “little hope” for an immediate breakthrough, it said.

Islamabad used “backdoor and regular” diplomatic channels in an attempt to convince the Chinese leadership that the agreement would be “mutually beneficial”, the officials said.

“Our view is, and it is also shared by authorities in Beijing to an extent, that this will send a strong signal to the world that Pakistan is not alone … an emerging world power is standing behind it,” an unnamed official was quoted as saying.

Pakistan formally raised the issue during a visit by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to China immediately after al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was killed in a covert US military raid on May 2 in Abbottabad, the official said.

“He put forward Pakistan’s desire formally,” said an official privy to the development who requested his name not be mentioned due to the sensitivity of the issue.

However, the Chinese leadership advised Pakistan not to push for an agreement that could put Islamabad and Beijing in trouble with Washington and New Delhi, officials said.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson refused to either confirm or deny that Pakistan was seeking a formal pact with China though both countries cooperate extensively in defense production and civil nuclear technology.

“I don’t want to comment on it,” Foreign Office spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua said.

The report contended that recent diplomatic events seemed to add weight to the officials’ claims. Gilani’s visit to China, in which he declared the country Pakistan’s best friend, ruffled feathers in the US.

A key US Senator said such comments made it harder to convince a skeptical public that providing aid to Pakistan was a good idea.

“Frankly, I’m getting tired of it, and I think Americans are getting tired of it as far as shoveling money in there at people who just flat don’t like us,” said Idaho Republican Senator James Risch.

Experts appear to be divided on how China is responding to Pakistan’s request.

Former ISI chief Hamid Gul said he believed China would go to any extent to support Pakistan but expecting a defense pact at this stage was a “little too ambitious.”

Defense analyst Ayesha Siddiqa said it was possible to imagine that Islamabad and Beijing were involved in talks on the pact as they already cooperate regularly on defense matters.

“They (Pakistani leaders) might be trying… and it looks workable as well,” she said. “There might be a lot of reservations in Washington and New Delhi. But it is unlikely to trigger a conflict.”

Following recent US accusations that ISI had backed the Haqqani network in carrying out terror attacks in Afghanistan, several Pakistani retired generals and strategic experts have called on Pakistan to bolster its ties with China and prepare for a possible military action by the US. -PTI

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