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Strategic calculus

Dr Taimur Shamil
Saturday, Apr 13, 2024

A series of terrorist attacks in Pakistan has once again stirred a debate on how terrorists are undermining the overall security situation in Pakistan, specifically undermining Chinese and Pakistani interests.

Such attacks are not new; Chinese workers have been targeted many times in Pakistan earlier as well. These attacks reassert the point that terrorist organizations are focused on undermining any development project in the country – from Gwadar to Gilgit-Baltistan.

Do such attacks really undermine the Pakistan-China relationship in general? Do these attacks change the larger Chinese and Pakistani strategic and security calculus?

In a recent article for ‘Dawn’, my friend and renowned Pakistani security analyst, Amir Rana, raised pertinent questions on Pakistan’s overall approach to counterterrorism. His point is that Pakistani policymakers need to approach the matter more practically instead of giving out boilerplate condemnation statements.

Pakistan must take firm action against the culprits involved in disturbing peace. Nonetheless, after every such attack on the Chinese, various circles in Islamabad and elsewhere jump to the point that Pakistan and Chinese relations are on the edge. The answer is: not really.

These attacks do undermine the security situation, but they do not change the nature of the larger security and strategic partnership. These attacks do come as a challenge for Pakistan, a country that is struggling with its economy and security simultaneously.

The issue of terrorism remains a common concern between Pakistan and China and requires enhanced collaboration and cooperation. The Chinese strategic community is well aware of the challenges that the larger region inherits because of its volatile security situation. Pakistan, in this case, is not the only affected country.

From Moscow to Afghanistan and from Iran to China, terrorism is a menace that transcends regions and borders. The realization is deep that terrorists must be dealt with using a firm hand. It is also important to call out the supporters and financiers of these terrorist organizations – individuals, groups or states, whoever they are.

Pakistan-China relations are strategic in nature. It is unlikely that it would be damaged by any of the sporadic terrorist attacks. Over the years, Chinese officials have shown increased support for Pakistan, whenever such issues have erupted. Statements by Chinese officials, diplomatic gestures and security engagement have signalled unwavering support for Pakistan in challenging times.

To better understand the nature of this relationship, take a look at various levels of engagement – from international politics at the UN Security Council to regional mechanisms like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Pakistan and China’s common goals go well beyond immediate challenges.

China is focused on connectivity around the globe. It must have taken into account the challenges it may face in the shape of terrorism, political instability, and much more. Still, it continues to support countries it considers crucial. Pakistan appears to have taken various considerations into account while strengthening its relations with China.

Factors like Pakistan’s relationship with the West, the strategic environment in South Asia, the ever-changing global strategic landscape, and constant threats from neighbouring India add up to bilateral China-Pakistan relations.

China is likely to face challenges and threats that might appear in many theatres across the globe. Pakistan, being close to China, is likely to feel the heat even more. It continues to face terrorist threats coming out of Afghanistan, a country that has been stuck in wars for the last four decades.

The neighbourhood is not very welcoming for both Pakistan and China. In these times and for the times to come, it would be prudent for Pakistan and China to make foolproof security mechanisms to thwart the terrorist threat that might undermine development projects.

Pakistan’s policymakers need to realize that human security is national security; Pakistan cannot (and must not) tolerate any attacks in the future. In recent times, Pakistan has asserted itself by striking terrorists inside Afghanistan and Iran, reemerging as a responsible and assertive state. Moreover, Pakistan is likely to continue to carry on the image established.

It is important to know that terrorist attacks do undermine the security situation in the country, but they do not undermine the direction or the strategic relationship between Pakistan and China in any way.

The writer, an academic based in New York, holds a PhD in International

Relations.