guest at Pakistan’s military parade when it is
held for the first time in seven years next month.
What does this symbolism tell you?
Is it at one level telling the Indians that if you
can get President Obama for your Republic Day,
we have our friends too? :)
Xi is the most powerful Chinese leader in 20
years or more. How do you expect the China-
Pakistan relationship to evolve on his watch?
Will we see greater Chinese pragmatism towards
Pakistan under Xi? Or will it much the same as
We’ll see whether that actually happens —
there is a bit of a debate underway about
whether this like-for-like symbolism is entirely
sensible, as that’s certainly the signal that the
two sides would be sending.
China wasn’t above receiving the chief of army
staff, Raheel Sharif, on the same day as Obama’s
visit to India, but that was considerably less visible.
From Xi, Pakistan can certainly expect pragmatism —
he is unsentimental about old principles and hang-ups in
Chinese foreign policy, and if Pakistan doesn’t get its act
together on certain issues, he could push them quite hard
or simply de-prioritize the relationship.
But Xi is also far more comfortable with China’s position as a great power than his immediate predecessor,
which means less nervousness about other countries’ reactions to Chinese strategic moves and greater willingness
to work with friends and allies.
Whether it’s investments in Kashmir, building naval
facilities, or selling top-of-the-range military equipment,
Pakistan could well benefit more under Xi’s watch.
What can India expect from the China-Pakistan relation-
ship going forward? What must the strategists in Delhi
watch for in the signs coming from Beijing and
What can the world expect from the China-Pakistan relationship? In the event that Islamists take power in
Islamabad, what role will China take in subduing their
expected hostility towards India and anyone else it consid-ers an enemy?
In the highly unlikely scenario that Islamists took power
in Islamabad it would have extremely far-reaching consequences for the relationship, and China would do its very
best to help head off such an eventuality.
More important is whether Chinese concerns about the
‘Islamization’ of Pakistan give it pause about how quickly
to move forward with other security and economic projects, though at the moment the indication is quite the opposite: That
China is doubling down on its support
to Pakistan, partly because of its fears
about where the country is headed.
A few aspects of interest to follow in
the coming years are: Will the strategic economic projects come off, and
A lot will hinge on whether they
actually happen, or just get embroiled
in another set of political, security and
Will China-Pakistan ties move more
openly in the direction of a quasi-alliance?
Of course, Beijing doesn’t want to
take on treaty obligations, but there
are various aspects in which Pakistan
could de facto become China’s only
real ally (North Korea doesn’t
count...); the development and use of
facilities for the PLA navy, whether at
Gwadar or Karachi, will be an interesting indicator.
How much of the PLA;s very best
equipment will Pakistan get its hands
on? This mattered less in the past
when the PLA was still relatively technologically back-
ward in many areas, but in the next decade and beyond it
will start to have more of an effect on the conven-
Will China move from its extremely narrow
focus on Uighur groups to look at the enabling
conditions for terrorism in the region? The North
Waziristan operation and China’s shifting stance
in Afghanistan is an indication of the sort of pressure that could be brought to bear if the terrorism
problem in China continues to worsen and if
Beijing decides that its previous approach is no
Broadly speaking, this whole region of the world
is one where a more assertive Chinese stance in
looking out for its interests would be beneficial to
all parties, including India.
Please tell us about your book. You spent six
years researching the China-Pakistan relationship,
not only in the ministries in Beijing and Islamabad
it is said, but also in places like Kashgar and Gilgit.
What did you discover?
Did you encounter a loquaciousness in Islamabad and a
reticence in Beijing to discuss the association? What can
we expect to find in your book that we have not known
It is somewhat true that there is more openness on the
Pakistani side about the relationship than from the
Chinese officials and analysts did grow more willing to
talk about the relationship though — especially as their
worries about developments in Pakistan grew, alongside
the need to start coordinating more closely with the West
over the militancy situation in the region.
The book benefits from some of that frankness, which
made it easier to give behind-the-scenes accounts of a
host of different episodes in the relationship, and probe
more fully into current issues between the two sides than
had been possible in the past.
Much of the book focuses on recent political history —
from the Red Mosque to the present day, and ranges from
China-Taliban relations to the story of the Obama administration’s effort to solicit Chinese cooperation in
Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Some of the early reviews have focused on the previous-
ly unreported levels of tensions between China and
The book goes further back through
the history of the relationship too —
The book was also intended to pull
together in one place a lot of the dis-
parate material that is out there — on
China’s support to Pakistan’s nuclear
program, on China’s involvement in
These all help to place in context
the current debates in Beijing about
the future role that Pakistan should
play in Chinese foreign policy:
There are some wild rumors that
the book refutes, but the China-
Pakistan relationship has been at
the heart of some of the most dra-
matic and strategically consequen-
tial developments in Chinese policy
in recent decades and that is likely
to remain true.
‘Beijing has been reluctant
to provide comprehensive
support when it has felt that
the problems are of Pakistan’s
making — Kargil in 1999,
Mumbai in 2008, or
Abbottabad in 2011, for
instance. But it is possible
to hypothesize scenarios in
which China would swing in
behind Pakistan militarily if it
felt that India were the
Pakistan's Hatf IX (NASR) mis- sile being fired during a test. China provided great support to Pakistan's missile program, says Andrew Small.
Women mourn Mohammed Ali Khan, 15, a student who was killed during the attack by the Taliban on the Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. ZOHRA BENSEMRA