Trust Deficit

It is pertinent for Pakistan to strengthen its bond with China by bringing forth long-term policies, especially on the economic and diplomatic front.

By Salis Malik | June 2023

China-Pakistan friendship, from the word go, has stood the tests of time, helping Pakistan fill the lacuna in trust and unswerving bilateral relations which had bedeviled Pakistan in its nascent stages. China has consistently helped Pakistan over the years and has been striving to revitalize Islamabad’s moribund economy. However, recent socio-political developments in Pakistan has once again cast shadows on its relationship and the country is unable to reap the benefits of its friendship with China. That being said, it is pertinent for Islamabad to strengthen the bond it has with Beijing by bringing forth policies on the economic and diplomatic front; otherwise, Pakistan might see itself slowly ensnared within the icy clutches of a myriad of non-state actors trying to foment anarchy within the country.

The recently held 11th meeting of the Joint Cooperation Committee that reviewed wide ranging cooperation under the CPEC framework and the visit of PM Shehbaz Sharif sent a loud and clear message that the CPEC projects, and in retrospect, the unwavering friendship between the two countries needs to be further underpinned. Despite this encouraging message, there is still skepticism as to why no official announcement of the beginning of any significant projects, such as the anticipated multibillion-dollar ML-1 railway line project was made. The joint statement only ‘appreciated’ the project and called for its earliest implementations. The leaders also agreed to “speed up progress” on Gwadar port and Khunjerab border port. However, no specific projects were announced. When viewed through the prism of statecraft, one may infer that Pakistan is indeed entwined within a socio-political quagmire. This has impeded Islamabad to find any leverage from its friendship with Beijing for now and this entails for a surfeit of reasons.

One of the biggest reasons behind the widening gap between the efficacies of this bilateral relation is Islamabad’s swinging foreign policy which has created a trust vacuum between the two countries. This inconsistency is more profound due to Pakistan’s dependency on the IMF. On the global level, China and the United States have indeed locked horns; whether it is Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, the emergence of global bloc politics, the US policy of containment of China within the Indo-Pacific, or the great game between the US and China that is gradually planting its foot within the Middle East. Therefore, any visible lean towards one side could drastically place Pakistan in a quandary of trust deficit with the other country. Hence, Pakistan needs to be cautious when dealing with China and the USA and uphold its policy of neutrality.

Another reason for Pakistan’s inability to garner any visible benefit from the cordial friendship with China is due to the recent proliferation of terrorism and the perpetually aggravating security situation within Pakistan. This can be seen from an upsurge in terrorist attacks in various regions of Pakistan; namely the region of Dasu, North Waziristan and various other areas of the merged districts after the 25th amendment in the Constitution of Pakistan. Moreover, the recent terrorist attack upon the Confucius institute of Karachi also tried to drive a wedge between the bilateral relations between the two countries.

The perpetually diminishing foreign exchange reserves and Pakistan’s incapacity to pay back loans has not only become a bone of contention for the Pakistani economy but has also become the bane of existence for future Chinese projects to formally initiate within the country. By March of 2023, Pakistan had about a meager sum of USD 4.3 billion worth of liquid foreign exchange reserves. Just for reference, in August 2022 alone, Pakistan’s imports amounted to USD 6.9 billion. Pakistan now faces a much more volatile cyclic depletion trend in its foreign exchange reserves.

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