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Pakistan-Russia-China nexus

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While commenting on the political situation in Pakistan — and the no confidence motion which the Pakistan Tehreek E Insaaf (PTI) government led by Pakistani PM Imran Khan is facing on April 3, 2022 — China said that it would not like to interfere in the domestic affairs of Pakistan.

Said the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin:

    ‘China is committed to non-interference policy, adding that as an all weather strategic cooperative partner and friendly neighbour of Pakistan, it is our sincere hope that all parties in Pakistan will stay united and uphold the major interest of country’s developments and stability.’

Imran Khan has accused the west, specifically the US, of seeking to dislodge him in cohorts with opposition leaders in Pakistan, because of his Pro-Russia stance (Khan was in Russia when Moscow invaded Ukraine). Khan has repeatedly said that he has suffered because of his independent foreign policy. In an address to the nation on Friday, April 1, 2022, Khan had referred to a ‘foreign conspiracy’ to oust him, and Pakistan also summoned a US envoy to lodge a protest against ‘interference’ in its domestic manners. The US denied these allegations vehemently.

While it is true, that Khan’s relations may have deteriorated with the US in recent months including the fact that US President Joe Biden had not even called Khan, it is important to bear in mind that months after taking over there were differences between China and Pakistan because some members of Khan’s government had questioned the economic sustainability of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Projects. China had conveyed its displeasure with regard to these comments. Pakistan had also sacked the head of CPEC Authority due to the slow progress of the project (the decision had been taken days after a visit to China by Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi)

The previous PML-N government headed by Nawaz Sharif had good relations with China and the $ 46 billion CPEC project was launched during this period. While Imran Khan has accused the opposition parties – Pakistan Muslim League (N) – PML (N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of being servile to the West, Former Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif had  said that Pakistan needed to move away from aid to trade, because the former creates dependency (Sharif was referring to the dependence upon assistance from other countries – including the US). During the tenure of the PML-N government (2013-2018) ties with the US had begun to witness a significant downward slope, and more attention was given to relations with China.

Here it would also be pertinent to point out, that China also has a good relationship with PML-N Supremo and Leader of Opposition Shehbaz Sharif who is likely to replace PM, if Khan loses the vote of confidence on April 3, 2022. Shehbaz, Former CM of Punjab and brother of Former Pakistan PM, Nawaz Sharif was hailed for his efficiency by the Chinese. A former envoy in his farewell letter to Shehbaz described him as an old friend of ‘China and the Chinese people’. Significantly, the PML-N was also described as a friend of the Chinese Communist Party in this letter. After taking over as Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, Nong Rong, last year, he met with Shehbaz Sharif and both sides had discussed the importance of the bilateral relationship.

The PML-N Supremo and Former Punjab CM has been hailed for his style of working which has been dubbed as ‘Shehbaz speed’ and ‘Punjab speed’.

While all eyes have been on Imran Khan’s Anti-west posturing and a lot of analysts would be focusing on the Pakistan-Russia-China nexus, it would be important to bear in mind, that for China, its strategic and economic interests are paramount. Beijing realises, that it is ultimately the Pakistan military which has the final say on important matters and has robust relations with the latter. Apart from this, China would avoid supporting any specific political outfit as it would not like to be seen as interfering in Pakistan’s domestic affairs.