Zardari’s China Visit: Follow the Leader?

From the NY Times (via Small Wars Journal), President Ali Zardari of Pakistan is headed to China, Pakistan’s longtime ally and hedge against India. My first thought was that if politics is war by other means, then this represented Pakistan’s efforts to find a way of waging its war against domestic terrorism independently of America’s regional interests. But Arif Rafiq, my source for all things Pakistan over at The Pakistan Policy Blog, is quoted in the fourth paragraph of the piece as saying:

. . .”the two closely timed visits to China by President Zardari and General Kayani are not part of a strategy by Pakistan to play Beijing and Washington off one another.” Rather, he said the timing was coincidental.

That got me wondering if the visit might instead be driven by the internal power struggle between Pakistan’s military and civilian government. Presidents who follow up on their chiefs of staff’s visits are generally presidents who don’t trust their chiefs of staffs.

Be that as it may, with all the recent discussion broadening the Afghanistan War to the wider context of Pakistan-India relations, it seems like a good time to mention that China, with its historic wariness of India’s emergence as a regional and global power, plays a significant role in that rivalry. Stabilizing Afghanistan by solidifying Pakistan-India relations might have the unforeseen effect of raising China’s anxiety level.

On the other hand, China faces a separatist Uighur movement in its predominantly Muslim Xianjing province, and has an interest in avoiding the spread of extremist Islamic violence. So there’s quite a bit of common ground as well. The question being whether a regional solution can accomodate enough of the common interests to outweigh the divergent ones.

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