Nirupama Subramanian

President Musharraf's visit to Shanghai is being seen as an attempt to look beyond the U.S. in international relations.

PRESIDENT PERVEZ Musharraf, who has described his country's relations with China as "higher than the highest mountain and deeper than the deepest sea" is scheduled to leave this week for Shanghai on a visit that analysts view as an attempt by the Pakistani leadership to look beyond the United States in its international relations.

President Musharraf is leading the Pakistani delegation at the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation meeting on June 15. Pakistan, with India, Iran, and Mongolia, has observer status at the SCO, a group that brings together China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. In addition, China has invited Afghan President Hamid Karzai as a special guest to the meeting.

Pakistan's top-level representation at the meeting indicates the importance it attaches both to engagement with China and its participation in the SCO.

Writing in Daily Times, Shaukat Qadir of the Islamabad Policy research Institute said General Musharraf was trying to reach out to "alternative power sources internationally," such as China, " a constant [friend of Pakistan] despite new realities, Iran, a fresh option..."

During the visit, President Musharraf is likely to push for Chinese investment and other assistance in the building of two more nuclear power plants of 300 megawatts each, The News reported on Sunday.

The Pakistan Foreign Office had said the two leaders would discuss a range of bilateral issues. Spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said she was not aware of any likely discussions on the subject of the nuclear power plants.

The estimated cost of the two plants is $1.2 billion. China helped Pakistan build Chashma-I and Chashma-II, each with a capacity for generating 300 megawatts of nuclear power. The first has been in operation since 2000 and construction of the second, which began recently, is expected to take five or six years. Both are based on a Chinese prototype.

Ever since the civilian nuclear deal between India and the U.S., and especially after it became clear that the U.S. would not extend the same kind of offer to Pakistan, President Musharraf has been keen on concluding a deal with China along similar lines. The two countries signed a "framework agreement" on energy cooperation during President Musharraf's visit to Beijing in February.

During the celebrations to commemorate the 55th anniversary of Pakistan-China relations last month, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said the two countries were working at enhancing cooperation in the field of "nuclear energy for peaceful purposes under international safeguards for the production of electricity."

In addition, Pakistan is seeking Chinese assistance in developing its oil and gas sector. It is seriously pushing the idea of oil and gas pipelines from Gwadar in Balochistan to western China. At the same function, Mr. Aziz said such a facility would provide China with a shorter and more economical route for its oil supplies from the Gulf region. Mr. Aziz also spoke of setting up a "mega oil-refinery" at Gwadar to "further facilitate China's oil imports from our region."

Pakistan wants to build on its "all-weather" friendship with China in other areas too. The two countries are set to inaugurate a daily bus service that will link the Chinese city of Kashgar with Gilgit on June 15. Another bus, three times a week, with operate between Tashkurgan in China's northwestern Muslim-dominated region of Xinjiang and Sost, a Pakistani border town.

China will also provide $350 million for repairs to the Karakoram Highway, damaged badly in the October 2005 earthquake. It is an important route in the overland trade between the two countries.

The two countries also collaborate on defence projects such as the co-production of JF-17 fighter aircraft. Last year, Pakistan signed a deal for Chinese F-22P frigates for its navy. The two navies conducted joint exercises in the Arabian Sea last November. During President Musharraf's visit to Beijing in February, the two countries concluded another framework agreement aside from the one on energy cooperation on defence cooperation.

President Musharraf is also expected to hold bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the SCO meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

It will give him an opportunity to meet Mr. Karzai. The Afghan leader visited Pakistan earlier this year but was unable to meet President Musharraf.