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A Loyal, if Shifting, Partnership

Author: Esther Pan
March 8, 2006

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Just prior to U.S. President George Bush's strained 26-hour visit to Islamabad in early March, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf made a clear statement of his own: He went to China on a five-day state visit touting "our political and economic friendship." Musharraf celebrated the fifty-fifth anniversary of Sino-Pakistani ties with glowing words for his hosts, and returned with deals to increase already significant cooperation between the two countries on everything from nuclear power to trade. In a speech after his return, Musharraf said Pakistan will continue its relationship with the United States, but praised the "strategic" nature of its ties with China, its largest arms supplier and longtime security patron. This new CFR Background Q&A outlines the growing relationship between China and Pakistan.

Subhash Kapila of the South Asia Analysis Group writes that Pakistan's foreign policy for decades has centered on its military relationship with China. This is due in large part to what Peter Lavoy of the Naval Postgraduate School calls Pakistan's "intense feelings of insecurity, which are rooted deeply in the past." In an article in Strategic Insights, Lavoy says Pakistan and India may change the dynamic that has found nuclear-armed countries less willing to go to war.

Musharraf, meanwhile, is beset by an array of domestic security problems. The Asia Times says there is now a "virtual mass mutiny" against the Pakistani government and its ties to the United States in the country's northern tribal regions. They are trying to impose sharia, or Islamic law, and have declared themselves "the Islamic State of North Waziristan." A continuing series of violent clashes between government forces and tribal fighters left at least 100 dead over the weekend (RFE/RL). Dozens of people have also been killed in another serious conflict brewing in western Baluchistan province. A visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, Frederic Grare, writes that Baluchis, angry at the exploitation of their province's energy resources by Islamabad, are turning to Baluch nationalism and agitating for independence.

Musharraf's grip on power looks likely to be threatened either by an armed Islamic insurgency or the unhappiness of Pakistani citizens. A Congressional Research Service country report on Pakistan says domestic terrorists are attacking both the state and the country's Shiite minority. Roedad Khan, a former Pakistani interior minister, writes in the Nation that Pakistanis "are sick and tired of military rule, tired of tyranny, tired of being deprived of our right to elect our rulers." And some analysts say the United States may be rethinking its support of Musharraf. Kapila says tensions in the Pakistan-U.S. relationship may indicate that Musharraf's usefulness to the United States is waning.

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