THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Pakistani to visit old ally at time of tension with US

By Salman Masood
New York Times News Service / October 13, 2008
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - President Asif Ali Zardari is scheduled to visit China for four days starting tomorrow, in an effort to reinforce Pakistan's ties with a traditional ally at a time when relations with the United States have come under considerable strain.

Zardari's visit comes barely two weeks after General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the country's military chief, made a five-day visit to China.

The high-profile visits signify the importance Pakistan attaches to China, a neighbor that is considered a close and reliable ally. The relationship between the countries is unlike the relationship between Pakistan and the United States, which has been rocky and often complicated, and based on short-term needs and expediency.

Arif Rafiq, an analyst of Pakistan politics, said, however, that "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.

Pakistan, facing economic difficulties, is looking to China for foreign aid and closer economic cooperation. Zardari will also push for cooperation to assist Pakistan's civilian nuclear program. Pakistan relies on nuclear energy for power generation.

Zardari had announced he would visit China last month, soon after assuming office, following the precedent set by other leaders. But his visit was postponed, which drew strong criticism by nationalists and opinion writers. Many of them accused the government of downgrading relations with China while trying to placate the United States.

Pakistani officials deny these assertions.

"Pakistan's relations with the United States and China are not an either-or proposition," said Husain Haqqani, the Pakistani ambassador to Washington, who is thought to be the intellectual driving force behind the government's foreign policy.

"Policymakers in Washington and Beijing share interest in strengthening Pakistan and do not see our country as an area of contention between the two powers," Haqqani said.

He emphasized that in the 1970s, Pakistan acted as a bridge between the United States and China.

In his first speech before the Parliament as president last month, Zardari vowed to take to greater heights what he called the "time-tested and all-weather friendship and strategic partnership with China."

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