Eastern alliance

Eastern alliance

Reports in the Pakistani media, that Islamabad has been lobbying for a formal defence pact with China in recent months, are not news for Delhi, which has been closely monitoring the intensified China-Pakistan engagement in recent months.

The question for India is not whether but when and how the China-Pakistan alliance, often described as "deeper than the Arabian Sea and higher than the Himalayas", will acquire a new dimension.

As Pakistan's relations with the United States headed south this year — amidst the Raymond Davis affair and the American raid and execution of Osama bin Laden — Rawalpindi has made no secret of its desire to elevate its strategic partnership with Beijing.

We are now told that the idea of a formal alliance was taken up during the visit of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to Beijing last May, within days of the killing of Osama bin Laden deep inside Pakistan.

According to reports from Pakistan, the Chinese leaders cautioned Gilani against embarking on a formal alliance, given the potential reactions in Washington and Delhi.

Beijing had reportedly advised Gilani to mend fences with the US as well as India and other neighbours. Gilani was also told by Beijing that Pakistan should not expect from China the kind of financial assistance that the US mobilises through the World Bank and other international lending agencies.While China does provide massive project assistance to Pakistan and other countries, it has, until recently, had no policy of helping friends fix their fiscal imbalances.

We don't know if China's discussions with Pakistan have advanced since May. But there is no doubt that matters have gotten a lot worse for Islamabad since then. The recent US-Pakistan spat over the Haqqani network and Washington's threats to cut off aid and take unilateral military action in Pakistan have sent Rawalpindi scurrying for a more open alliance with China.

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