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Pakistan hosts top Chinese security official and war games with Saudi as ties with US plunge

Date: Monday, 26-September-2011
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The Washington Post
By Associated Press
Updated: Monday, September 26, 3:13 PM

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan hosted China’s top security official and staged war games with Saudi Arabia on Monday, strengthening ties with two regional players as its relationship with the United States plummets over allegations Islamabad supports insurgents in Afghanistan.

Ties with Washington have soured over the last year, but Pakistani officials and commentators have been talking up their country’s relationship with Beijing. Some have suggested Pakistan’s emboldened alliance with China could replace its strategic relationship with the United States if the Obama administration decides to downgrade engagement with Islamabad.

China’s Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu met his Pakistani counterpart, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who brushed aside questions on the timing of the visit.

“Let’s not talk USA here. I am here with my friend China,” Malik told reporters. “China is always there for us in the most difficult moments.”

His remarks echo an often-heard line here about Beijing’s attitude toward Islamabad, one that stands in contrast with what officials perceive as a fickle relationship with Washington.

Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani canceled a trip to London where he had been scheduled to meet the UK defense minister, according to a Pakistani official and the defense minister’s office. The official, who wished not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to reporters, said the trip was canceled so Kayani could handle the crisis after high-level U.S. security officials levied the accusations against Pakistan’s military-run intelligence agency.

Kayani met Monday with Meng, according to local Pakistani TV reports.

Prior to his meetings in Pakistan, Meng said he would discuss ways to “contribute to national security and regional stability” with Pakistani leaders.

Beijing provides Pakistan with aid and direct foreign investment, while Pakistan offers Beijing important diplomatic backing in the face of Muslim-majority nations who might otherwise criticize China’s handling of its Muslim Uighur population.

China is concerned that Uighur militants are living in northwest Pakistan alongside al-Qaida-linked extremists. Pakistan says it has killed or extradited several of those militants over the past few years, but acknowledges that some remain at-large in the area.

China and Pakistan have long had good ties, in large part due to their mutual distrust of India.

While China fought India in a brief but bloody 1962 border war, Pakistan has fought its neighbor three times since 1947.

Relations between Washington and Islamabad hit rock bottom after high-level U.S. security officials alleged last week that Pakistani intelligence forces had backed insurgents who attacked the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan and, separately, wounded 77 American soldiers in a truck bomb this month.

Washington is demanding that Pakistan launch an attack against those insurgents, whose leadership is believed to be based in northwest Pakistan close to the Afghan border. The U.S. has given Pakistan billions of dollars in military and non-military aid over the last 10 years to try and secure its cooperation.

Pakistani leaders have dismissed the U.S. allegations and have shown no signs that they plan to act on the renewed American demand.

As if to underline that Pakistan can look elsewhere for defense support, the army took part in joint exercises with forces from Saudi Arabia. The exercises took place close to the town of Jhelum in Punjab province. An army statement noted that Saudi Arabia was “Pakistan’s special friend.”

Saudi Arabia has given millions of dollars to Pakistan and its religious clerics over the past 20 years, seeking to cultivate it as a Sunni Muslim ally against Muslim Shiite-led Iran.

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