In the midst of growing isolation of Pakistan due to its connection with or inability to handle terrorist outfits within its territory, deeper economic crisis with dwindling US assistance and no possibility of its all-weather friend China coming to help directly, Islamabad’s improving ties with Japan has gone unnoticed by the international community in general and India in particular.
China has an ambitious project widely known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, but at the moment what Pakistan requires is foreign exchange. Beijing would not give any grant, although it is prepared to invest in Pakistan with its own terms and conditions.
The US-Pakistan strategic alliance has also moved into muddy waters due to persistent connection the Deep State in Pakistan maintains with terrorist groups, which operate in Afghanistan. For long Pakistan received money from Washington and assisted terrorist groups who killed American forces in Afghanistan. Now US President Donald Trump means business, and he has imposed restrictions on US assistance to Pakistan and would not even support any IMF bailout for Pakistan unless Islamabad listens and accepts his terms and conditions.
In the backdrop of several woes Pakistan is confronted with, Japan and Pakistan recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding for defense cooperation. Details are not out in public, but is there the likelihood of Pakistan receiving some financial assistance from Japan? Some Indians are apparently unhappy with Pakistan-Russia defense ties in recent years, but surprisingly India has not even taken note of Japan-Pakistan agreeing to forge defense cooperation.
Pakistan-Japan relations have been by and large cordial during the Cold War years and both the countries had entered into bilateral defense pacts with the United States. Like the US-Pakistan relations moving on through ups and downs, similar has been the story of Japan-Pakistan ties. But more recently, Japan has participated in Pakistan-sponsored multinational naval exercise called AMAN. The navies of the two countries have also been part of counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden under CTF-151. The two countries are now aiming at improving the inter-operability at the operational and tactical levels. After about ten rounds of defense dialogues, Japan and Pakistan finally inked the MOU on defense cooperation.
While India keeps objecting to Pakistan sponsoring terrorist activities in India, Afghanistan has been doing the same off late by drawing the attention of the world to cross-border terrorism supported by Pakistan, and even the US has in no uncertain terms spoken against the role of the Pakistani establishment in fomenting terrorist activities, it was a little surprising that Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono during his Pakistan visit early last year expressed Tokyo’s desire to enhance cooperation with Pakistan in the field of counterterrorism.
Japan has decided to build up cooperative projects with Pakistan not only in defense and security areas but also in the fields of economic and social infrastructure development. Tokyo is not opposed to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, part of which is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It rather seeks to complement it through additional projects.
Significantly, Pakistan has been seeking Tokyo’s help in getting membership of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group. The Japanese Ambassador to Pakistan has gone on record suggesting that Japan would not support any discriminatory approach and according to reports in Pakistani media, “Pakistan should not be made an exception in this regard.”
Pakistan is also going to benefit enormously from Japan’s new immigration policy unveiled in April this year. This would allow a large number of Pakistani workers to seek jobs in Japan. The falling birth rate, growing older population, and demands for laborers by Japanese companies would lead to a new social bridge between the two countries.
As Japan aspires to recruit more than 300, 000 skilled workers from abroad, Pakistan seems to be one of the target countries, and Japanese officials have apprised their counterparts in Pakistan that Japanese companies are highly appreciative of Pakistani IT professionals. In February this year, the two countries signed an agreement for the Intern Training program that would open up the Japanese market to Pakistani workers.
Japanese capability in handling natural disasters are well known, and Japan announced in February 2019 a grant assistance of $10.6 million that would assist Pakistan to deal with malnutrition as well as develop resilience to handle natural disasters.
In other words, Japanese presence in Pakistan is going to grow in the coming years and possibly in all sectors, such as economic, military, social, and defense and security. While it is a welcome development, India needs to monitor and maintain awareness. Indian media rarely reports developments linked to Pakistan-Japan relations. One assumes that the Indian Embassy in Islamabad must be doing so. What Russia does with Pakistan is easily noticeable for obvious reasons, but what Japan does in Pakistan draws little attention. The lacuna needs to be covered up.