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After the Flood: Pakistan Domestic Security and Implications for Sino-Pakistan Relations

Photo: A baby cries as his mother joins the scramble for food aid packages on the outskirts of Muzaffargarh in Punjab. Source: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Recovering from its worst flood in 80 years, Pakistan is facing—among a laundry list of woes—gas shortages, food and water scarcity, agricultural losses, infrastructural damage, and a significant population of displaced persons. The calamities left by the deluge exacerbate Pakistan’s fragile political-security environment, allowing regions and actors (such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban) beyond government control to thrive and expand, while security loopholes in Pakistan’s judicial and law enforcement system undermine effective responses.

As international relief contributions pour into Islamabad, China has dispatched rescue teams and four military rescue helicopters and pledged donations totaling USD$250 million. While China’s support was positively received by both the Pakistani population and officials, underlying Beijing’s aid is concern for Pakistan’s steadily declining situation. The recent natural disaster complicates Pakistan’s security efforts in militant safe havens in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) that lie close to the China-Pakistan border.

China’s longstanding concern about the destabilizing effect of Pakistan’s militant insurgents on radical Muslims in Xinjiang has led to joint counterterrorism efforts. This July, the two countries completed their third joint military exercise, codenamed Sino-Pak Friendship 2010, which included counterterrorism drills to enhance interoperability.

While China is ostensibly a close partner in counterterrorism, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari hints that China could do more to stabilize the country and help recover its losses, including expanding military cooperation and investment. One possibility is to enhance cross-military, police, and counterinsurgency training initiatives. China could also support capacity building and supervise the effective allocation of aid funding. It is uncertain to what extent Chinese are ensuring the distribution of funds to the organizations and people with greatest need. Going forward, both countries must address the rampant corruption and the lack of accountability in Pakistan’s security and government apparatuses to improve both the image and implementation of Chinese support for Pakistan.

Prior to the floods, China has also invested heavily in infrastructure such as nuclear power projects, hydropower dams, gold and copper mines, telecommunications, highways and railways, and defense production. Continued Chinese investment is vital to easing economic burdens, restoring order, and preventing future environmental destruction. It is especially helpful in FATA, where efforts can undermine Taliban recruitment efforts and provide employment opportunities for local citizens. China also welcomes the opportunity to expand its strategic access in South Asia and the Persian Gulf through these incentives.

In addition to robust military cooperation, China has dedicated resources providing humanitarian relief and infrastructure rebuilding efforts in Pakistan. While the relationship will face challenges, recent bilateral developments and the number of high-level bilateral visits this year—including President Zardari’s recent visit to China for the Asian Games and the planned visit of Premier Wen Jiabao to Pakistan this December—are compelling evidence to a durable Sino-Pakistan relationship for the foreseeable future.