Khan Goes to China -- Unusual Invitation for Man Who Has Never Been in Government

Pakistan's emerging frontrunner in the next elections, Imran Khan, has displayed in a remarkable first, his consummate skill as a rising statesman as well as politician. His recent visit to China at the invitation of the Chinese Communist Party is highly unusual for a man who has not been in government since his party was founded in 1996. Previous Pakistani leaders were invited to China only after they had been elected Prime Minister so it is clear that Chinese leadership recognizes Imran Khan as a future leader of Pakistan.

The meeting in Beijing on October 25th, 2011, was an opportunity for in-depth discussions on increasing trade relations between the two countries and to discuss cooperative ventures in sectors such as energy, telecommunications, infrastructure and port development. China's trade with Pakistan grew to nearly $9 billion in 2010 and Pakistan is now China's second-largest trade partner in South Asia.

Imran Khan is wise to build on bilateral ties between China and Pakistan as China is so obviously the giant in that part of the world, needing new markets for Chinese goods and in return seeking to strengthen a relationship with a newly internationally focused Pakistan. As Dr. Henry Kissinger stated November 2 in Washington, Pakistan needs to find a national identity that is not based on fear of India and the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan will give its neighbors, Iran and Pakistan, a new incentive to establish their influence in the region.

Imran Khan's stated policy towards America has been misinterpreted by his political opponents, as he is clear that he wants to remain a friend of America, but not at the expense of Pakistan's sovereignty. There is general distrust about U.S. strategies in the region and Vali Nasr, professor at Tufts and former member of Richard Holbrooke's team, speaking at the same event as Dr. Kissinger, said that both countries are planning for a post-U.S. scenario.

China as a powerful friend, ally and trading partner would give important weight to Pakistan's international relations, and Khan is to be congratulated for his diplomatic finesse in creating a newly forged friendship with China and at the same time it seems, a new and hopeful direction for Pakistan's troubled economy.

Dr Azeem Ibrahim is a Fellow and Member of the Board of Directors at the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding and a former Research Scholar at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and World Fellow at Yale.

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