S M Hali
If a mega project like the CPEC is threatened by people who would like to see the project fail, then Pakistan's priorities should be to assure the security of the project
Every country has the right to pursue policies that are in consonance with its national interests and priorities. This aspect is defined in diplomatic relations as ethnocentrism, which enables nations to perceive and examine various options that favour their own welfare above all. Pakistani policymakers have, in the recent past, been in a quandary over the Saudi request to send military personnel and weapons platforms to support its war in Yemen. The request was debated in parliament in the light of two constraints: firstly, the preoccupation of Pakistan’s own military in anti-terror operations and, secondly, avoiding taking sides in what is perceived as Saudi military action against another sovereign Muslim state, Yemen, and by extension a proxy war with another Muslim state, Iran. Parliament’s decision to abstain from dispatching its troops except in the event of a threat to Saudi sovereignty must be respected.
Meanwhile, another aspect — the delegation of an exclusive, armed force to ensure the security of the workforce executing the completion of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) - was highlighted. It is a question of according priorities to Pakistan’s national interests. Some critics of Chinese munificence towards Pakistan are denigrating the project. A section of the Pakistani press labelled President Xi Jinping’s visit as a call by the “Chinese Santa” while others questioned Pakistan “placing all its eggs in the Chinese basket”, forgetting that Pakistan’s economy is already in the doldrums. It has few friends and limited financial credibility and direct foreign investment. Under these circumstances, if China extends a helping hand, enabling Pakistan to stand on its own two feet, it must be welcomed rather than biting it.
On the other hand, if a mega project like the CPEC is threatened by people who would like to see the project fail, then Pakistan’s priorities should be to assure the security of the project. If, in the pursuit of this priority, scarce defence resources are allocated to the CPEC project, then it should not be perceived as an affront to the Saudis or as favouring Iran.
Bruce Riedel, in his op-ed column "The Pakistani pivot from Saudi Arabia to China" draws unrealistic parallels between the Saudi request for Pakistani military support vis-à-vis what he labels as the Sharif’s promise to President Xi that Pakistan will create a new 10,000-strong “special security division” of the Pakistani army commanded by a two star general to protect Chinese workers in Pakistan. Riedel explicates that 50 percent of the personnel will comprise the Special Services Group of commandos and the force will have its own organic air support.
Cynically, Riedel comments: “So no troops for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; 10,000 troops for the People’s Republic of China. There are major differences in the specifics of course: troops for a foreign war versus troops at home; compensation for past payment versus securing future investment; Islamic unity versus Pakistan’s all-weather ally since 1962.”
Coincidentally, Bruce Riedel has been conjuring scenarios where militants “snatch and grab” Pakistan’s nukes, endangering the Occident. Mr Riedel, who served for 30 years at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was a senior advisor on South Asia and the Middle East to the last four presidents of the US in the staff of the National Security Council at the White House, and has long been urging strong action to defang Pakistan by confiscating its nuclear weapons through use of force.
Riedel’s latest op-ed on the issue should be taken with a pinch of salt since it is laden with his personal biases and perhaps US ethnocentrism. His opening comments imply that the Saudi decision to launch a military intervention into Yemen represents a break with its past practice. He surmises that Saudi Arabia has brushed aside the need for US leadership or even participation, pushing forward with forming its own coalition from among its Arab and Muslim allies. He construes that “in dealing with Pakistan, traditionally one of its closest allies, Saudi Arabia is discovering that even close allies often have other priorities.”
Firstly, it is Pakistan’s internal decision as to which alliances it wishes to pursue and, secondly, perhaps Mr Bruce Riedel is oblivious to the fact that the House of Saud is close only to the ruling class in Pakistan. Average Pakistanis receive little respect there while our labour class, toiling under the hot sun in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is treated as serfs and minions. Contrarily, the people of China and its leadership, through six and a half decades, have treated Pakistani citizens with brotherly love and respect. Thus, local media pundits should avoid jumping on the bandwagon, parroting warped theories like Mr Bruce Riedel’s. If, finally, Pakistan has found the spine to stand up to honour the diktats of its own priorities, it must be appreciated rather than questioned.