Imran Khan’s mission to China ended with an embarrassment, a humiliation that adds to the woes of the prime minister who has sold the dream of ‘Naya’ (new) Pakistan to his compatriots….writes Dr Sakariya Kareem
The ‘mountains’ proved too high to be climbed and the ‘oceans’ too deep to navigate for Imran Khan, the new prime minister of Pakistan, as he returned from China after a four-day visit with a begging bowl in hand. His religious extremist allies were holding the country to ransom over the acquittal of a Christian woman on trumped up blasphemy charge when he boarded the plane for Beijing.
The main purpose of his maiden visit as prime minister to his country’s ‘all-weather friend’ was to get a generous financial package to tide over the ‘desperate’ financial position his country faces. Alas, the long trusted friend China sent him back almost empty handed.
There could not have been a clearer rebuff to Pakistan than the Chinese vice foreign minister Kong Xuanyou saying that the details of the Chinese financial assistance for tiding over the acute economic problems of Pakistan would have to be first discussed by ‘relevant authorities’. Pakistan was told that China would provide ‘necessary support and assistance’. But that is always expected of the rich China which props up poor Pakistan to meet the strategic goal of keeping India tied with endless irritants. It appears that Imran Khan was under the illusion that the Chinese will reach out for their wallets when he speaks to them; there was no need to prepare the ground for such a generosity.
The Pakistanis may think that the Imran visit was a great success; after all, the hosts had endorsed Pakistan’s alleged attempts to resolve differences with India peacefully through talks. That is old hat. On the other hand, the Chinese might have played a fast one on the Pakistanis when they said they would work for the membership of Pakistan in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The Chinese know it as well as the Pakistanis that it will be impossible and if at all it is to become a reality the Chinese will have to first give up their haughty and irrational opposition to India’s entry to that exclusive club that controls nuclear trade in the world.
The Chinese, of course, did not respond with a blunt ‘no’ to all the Pakistani entreaties and the Chinese may eventually provide some financial assistance that Pakistan so desperately needs. But what needs to be noted is that everybody in Pakistan had said that Imran Khan would be bringing home a Chinese aid package of at least $6 billion.
He did return after signing a number of MoUs and with assurances of more investments in the so-called China Pakistan Economic Corridor though it is not a project that today every Pakistan is talking about effusively. More than promises of future projects, what Pakistan needs urgently is a financial bailout to tide over the immediate debt repayment problem. Apparently it did not follow from Khan’s much hyped Chinese visit.
His mission to China ended with an embarrassment, a humiliation that adds to the woes of the prime minister who has sold the dream of ‘Naya’ (new) Pakistan to his compatriots. Imran Khan’s dream will be shattered completely if he cannot bank on the Chinese magnanimity completely.
Chances are that the Chinese will find it increasingly hard to fulfill all of Imran Khan’s dreams. There is a basic problem the existence of which the Pakistani leaders do not like to accept. As a result of the fallout of the US-China trade war, China faces the prospect of a liquidity problem and it cannot fully unloosen its purse strings for even an ‘all-weather friend’. There is also the question of looking after Chinese commitments and interests in other parts of the world.
Like their inseparable friend, the Pakistanis, the Chinese had thought that bravado can solve all problems. When President Donald Trump signalled the beginning of a trade war, the Chinese response was: ‘we care a fig’. But in a matter of few weeks, signs of liquidity crunch have started to emerge. Even if it is a bit of exaggeration, it makes sense to believe that the clever Chinese would be cautious on matters that may eventually pose a liquidity problem for them as the trade war with the US escalates.
Before Imran Khan had taken off for Beijing, his government had successfully planted stories in the largely supplicating Pakistani media that the prime minister would be returning with bags full of dollars donated by the Chinese. There would be no need to once again approach the International Monetary Fund for a massive bailout package—13th in the last three decades.
A climate has been created against receiving any package from the IMF which is greatly influenced by its largest donor, the US, a country Pakistanis loath for having discovered in India, their ‘arch enemy’,. a useful and reliable friend.
Pakistan was not sure to begin with if the IMF will agree to assist it after the US made it clear that it will oppose IMF package to Pakistan if it was to be utilized for repaying huge Chinese debts. But an equally worrying factor for Pakistan is that irrespective of the size of the IMF package it will come with ‘strings’ attached. The IMF will certainly ask Pakistan to carry out long overdue reforms in its economy and expand the tax base.
Such stipulations had accompanied the previous IMF loans also but true to its fondness for ‘lies and deceit’, Pakistan did not honour its part of the bargain. That was largely because of the US blessings. The US-Pakistan equation has drastically changed since.
Pakistan has not shown any interest in carrying out economic reforms that experts say are actually in its own interest. It has long been used to pampering by the three of the richest countries in the world—the US, Saudi Arabia and China. The US has gone out of the equation but the Pakistanis believe that the deep pockets of Saudi Arabia, the prime exporter of Wahhabism that acted as the fountain head of militant Islam and which has ardent following in Pakistan, and China would more than compensate for any ‘loss’ after the end of its long love affair with the US.
Over the years, Pakistan has come to believe that its problems are not its own and it is for its close friends—to take care of them. But after the Imran Khan visit to China, Pakistan would have realised that even the Chinese feel that it is primarily for Pakistan to take care of its 220 million people. Unfortunately, China has not been very honest and emphatic in telling Pakistan what it should do to be accepted as a ‘normal’ nation.