MANY years ago, Sharifuddin Pirzada, then piloting Pakistan's foreign affairs, told me at Islamabad: "You will have to go through us to reach China." He was right because even Henry Kissinger had to use the good offices of the then Marital Law Administrator Yahya Khan to arrange a meeting between President Nixon and the Chinese leaders.
In our case, it was an impossibility. Even if we wanted to utilize Islamabad's services, we could not have done it. One, our relations with Beijing had been damaged after it had mauled us badly in the 1962 war. Two, we could not have paid the price that Pakistan would have wanted to exact on Kashmir.
We held back ourselves and allowed time to repair the relationship, which is by no means friendly but by no means cold either. We have come a long way from the frozen ties and the day-to-day irritation on the border. In fact, China has taken many initiatives to maintain peace and it is interested in Indian markets. It is unhappy with us over Tibet but it knows that India is in no way instigating the Dalai Lama.
Today, when the equation between New Delhi and Islamabad is at the lowest ebb it is but natural that Pakistan would flaunt Premier Zhu Rongji's presence on its soil. But, as usual, Islamabad exaggerates its relationship with Beijing. And apart from General Pervez Musharraf propping up his sagging image a bit, nothing concrete seems to have emerged from the visit.
Of course, it is an obsession with both India and Pakistan to ask every visiting dignitary to comment on Kashmir. They are never tired of doing so, even when they know that the answer will be in general terms. When asked, Premier Zhu's observation was no different: "Kashmir is a problem left over by history. We will try our utmost and spare no efforts for the peaceful resolution of this issue."
Still Islamabad hailed it as "China's support to Pakistan's stand." New Delhi would have reacted in a similar manner if the Chinese premier had made the same remark in India. Still that does not stop either New Delhi or Islamabad from embarrassing the visiting dignitaries and presuming support where there is none.
China has kept Pakistan on its side with the minimum input. It has found in it a country which fits into its long-term plan not to let India settle down and ever become a challenge in the region. It is a confrontation between two giants, two ideologies, to powers seeking spheres of influence. Islamabad comes in handy to Beijing - it has only to tell Pakistan when to stoke the fires of disturbance in India.
The question that Islamabad has to ask itself: What is it getting out of it? A few economic projects or some weapons do not add up too much. The six agreements which China signed this time, relating to technology, mining and railways, mean a few crores of rupees. The real thing is defence. Can it depend on Beijing militarily?
The answer is no. In the 1965 war against India, China promised Pakistan that it would open a second front. It even issued an ultimatum to New Delhi to do or not to do certain things. But when it came to taking action, all that China did was to ask New Delhi to return the sheep which had supposedly strayed into the Indian territory. Pakistan fought all by itself and got no Beijing support except in the diplomatic field.
Again, in the 1971 Bangladesh war, Lt Gen A A K Niazi was told by Islamabad that the Chinese soldiers would come to his assistance. Nothing like that happened, although he went on scanning the sky for paratroopers till the day of the surrender. Nixon, who was indebted to General Yahya Khan for opening channels with China, sent at least a fleet to the Bay of Bengal to show his solidarity.
From the reports appearing in the Pakistani press, it appears that the visit of Zhu Rongji was a success. What does it come to in concrete terms? Islamabad has not been made even a member of the Shanghai Five formed in 1996 to fight terrorism. China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. Uzbekistan is also joining soon. But Pakistan is nowhere in the picture. Either it is not considered dependent enough or not relevant enough. Both inferences bring no credit to the country.
Maybe, China has doubts about Pakistan. What should it make out when Islamabad goes on beating its breast every day that it has been jettisoned by America, whom it had "served faithfully" during the cold war and in Afghanistan. Islamabad behaves like a jilted lover. China may be feeling at times that America is Pakistan's "old and tried friend", the words Islamabad uses again and again to complain against Washington's "new-found love for India". Beijing can also think that Islamabad's friendship towards it is born out of hostility to New Delhi. After all, Pakistan has been repeatedly reminding America of the good old days of "alliance and friendship".
What Islamabad has to understand is that China takes Pakistan for granted while Islamabad believes that nothing better could have happened to it than proximity to Beijing. Even the assistance Pakistan has got from China in the nuclear field is because of its strategic consideration against India, not out of love for Pakistan. Beijing is dictated by its own interest and even when it has rubbed its Muslim population on the wrong side, its sensitivity has bothered little about Pakistan's. The inhuman manner in which the Muslim population is being treated at the places where it is concentrated in China shows its disdain towards the Islamic state of Pakistan.
On the other hand, Islamabad has given China even a portion of territory from Kashmir under it. The land ceded by General Ayub Khan gave China access to the otherwise cut off Xinjiang province. Despite the best of relations Zhou Enlai and Jawaharlal Nehru had at one time, New Delhi never gave Beijing the Aksai Chin in the Ladakh for a road to connect Xinjiang.
What this underlines is the gulf between New Delhi and Islamabad. It is a tragedy that Pakistan never tried to make up with India which is its natural ally. We come from the same stock and share the same memories and the same history. We have seldom risen above parochialism. Nor have we identified ourselves as people of South Asia. The amount of money - and energy - we spend fighting against one another can be diverted to tackle poverty, which afflicts the maximum number of people living in the region.
I am not trying to apportion blame. India is probably more at fault than Pakistan. But a pluralistic country has the air blowing from all directions, compared to an authoritarian and undemocratic state. At least, history is not taught wrongly in India and whenever some pro-Hindutva leaders like Murli Manohar Joshi try to inject a bias, there is an outcry. I wish the same thing could happen in Pakistan.
Now that the cold war atmosphere is returning, both New Delhi and Islamabad, the nuclear powers, must chalk out their own independent policies. New Delhi was hasty in supporting the US idea of a nuclear missile shield, just as Islamabad has been hasty in endorsing China's stand against the shield.
It looks as if both India and Pakistan are going to change sides this time, New Delhi tilting towards Washington instead of Moscow and Islamabad towards Beijing instead of Washington. Nothing would be more disastrous than this.
Why can't India and Pakistan think of the region as the whole and its people? The core problem is not Kashmir. Kashmir is a symptom, not the disease. The disease is distrust with which the two countries have lived since partition. Let them shed that first. The rest will follow.
Kuldip Nayar needs no introduction. He is famous journalist, columnist. This article was published in the Pakistan News Paper - The Dawn in its May 26, 2001 edition.