* Visit by Pakistani intelligence chief underscores
importance of ties
* China major trading partner, top arms supplier to Pakistan
* Analysts say Pakistan should not overstate its importance
By Chris Allbritton
ISLAMABAD, Aug 2 (Reuters) - Pakistan's quick response to
charges by China that militants involved in attacks in Xinjiang
had trained on its soil shows the importance of its ties with
Beijing, but it could be a mistake for Islamabad if it relies
too much on China.
Pakistan immediately dispatched Lieutenant-General Ahmed
Shuja Pasha, director general of Pakistan's powerful
Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency, to Beijing after
Islamic militants mounted a weekend attack that left 11 people
dead in the western region of Xinjiang, according to media
While the ISI declined to confirm the trip, Western
diplomats and Pakistani analysts agreed that the attacks would
likely be at the top of any agenda.
"We cannot allow Pakistani territory to be used for any
activities against any neighbour, especially a close ally like
China," said Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Chairman of the
"There are strong ties between Pakistan and China, and we
are cooperating closely on this issue."
Pasha's speedy trip was a clear sign of Pakistan's
The United States rarely gets that level of cooperation when
it presses Pakistan on militants operating in its border
regions. American officials for years said al Qaeda leader Osama
bin Laden, killed in a U.S. raid in Pakistan in May, was hiding
in the country.
Pakistan often responded with demands for specific,
actionable intelligence before it would consider investigating.
Islamabad makes no secret of its preference for China over
the United States as a military patron, calling Beijing an
"all-weather" ally in contrast to Washington's supposedly fickle
The Pakistani foreign ministry issued a statement on Monday
extending "full support" to China.
China is a major investor in predominantly Muslim Pakistan
in areas such as telecommunications, ports and infrastructure.
The countries are linked by a Chinese-built road pushed through
Pakistan's northern mountains.
Trade with Pakistan is worth almost $9 billion a year for
Pakistan, and China is its top arms supplier.
But all that matters only up to a point.
"Pakistan wants to play its own game by creating a front
against the United States," said Hasan Askari-Rizvi, an
independent political analyst.
"That will not happen. ... Now China has the same complaint
which the United States has with Pakistan."
Barry Sautman, a professor at Hong Kong University of
Science and Technology, said that China, like the United States,
wanted Pakistan to help it control Islamist militancy. But it is
frustrated by the chaotic nature of Pakistani governance, and
its inability to control militants or militant-friendly elements
in its security agencies.
"I would think the Chinese government would want to have its
military and security apparatus liaise with Pakistani
authorities to come up with a common plan, but the U.S. found
that very difficult to do," he said. "And I am sure China will
find it difficult as well."
Furthermore, Pakistan's usefulness to China is only in South
Asia, where it competes with India. But China has global
ambitions; it is unlikely to sacrifice them for an ally that has
proved a headache to the United States, which has its own deep
relationship with China.
"Being seen to take a provocative stand alongside Pakistan
comes at a substantial cost, but provides little strategic
benefit," Urmila Venugopalan, an independent analyst and former
Asia editor at Jane's Intelligence Review, wrote last month in
China, he wrote, does not want to push India deeper into the
"An escalation in Chinese aid to Pakistan would surely
antagonise India, creating a new point of friction in the
triangular relationship between Beijing, New Delhi, and
China has also shown no sign that it is willing to shoulder
some of the financial burden of propping up Pakistan that the
United States has so far been willing to bear.
In 2008, when Pakistan was suffering a balance of payments
crisis and sought China's support to avoid turning to the
International Monetary Fund and its restrictive terms on a $7.5
billion loan, China provided only $500 million.
China may share concerns over Pakistan's stability,
Venugopalan writes, "but it has preferred to let Americans bear
the costs of improving the country's security".
Pakistan's attempts to play China off the United States will
ultimately backfire, analysts say. Although important, Pakistan
is not the most important issue for Beijing and Washington.
"It is our misunderstanding if we think that we will team up
with China if we are pressed by the United States," Rizvi said.
"China and the United States have their own relations and they
cannot compromise them for the sake of Pakistan."
(Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider and Qasim Nauman in
Islamabad, and Michael Martina in Beijing; Editing by Ron
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