Why Pakistan is becoming China's 23rd province

It would not be possible for Islamabad to wage its proxy war against India but for Beijing's military backing and support.

 |  4-minute read |   20-04-2015
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President Xi Jinping of China will announce plans for massive investment in the development of infrastructure for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor linking Xinjiang with Gwadar port during his visit to Islamabad on April 20-21, 2015. The amount planned to be invested - US$ 46 billion - is more than Pakistan's entire budget - US$ 39.8 billion - for FY 2014-15.

China is Pakistan's second largest trading partner. In the words of the leaders of the two countries, the China-Pakistan friendship is "strategic" and is "higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans and sweeter than honey." China has "guaranteed Pakistan's territorial integrity", but it is not clear against whom. It is well-known that Pakistan's foremost national security threat is on the internal security front from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its sister extremist organisations.

The collusive nuclear-missile-military hardware nexus between China and Pakistan poses a major strategic challenge to India. China is known to have provided direct assistance to Pakistan for its nuclear weapons programme, including nuclear warhead designs and enough HEU (highly enriched uranium) for at least two nuclear bombs and transferred dual-use technology and materials for the development of nuclear weapons.

China has violated its treaty obligations under the NPT and the MTCR to help Pakistan with its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles programmes. It has helped Pakistan to build nuclear reactors to produce weapons-grade plutonium at the Chashma and Khushab nuclear facilities, enabling Pakistan to produce weapons-grade Plutonium. China has transferred M-9 and M-11 nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and has facilitated the transfer of Taepo Dong and No Dong ballistic missiles from North Korea to Pakistan.

China subsidises Pakistan's defence budget as almost 50 per cent of China's surplus arms are exported to Pakistan at 'friendship' prices. China and Pakistan have jointly developed a fighter aircraft - JF-17 Thunder/ FC-1 Fierce - and a main battle tank - Al Khalid, besides other military hardware like anti-tank missiles.

Chinese military personnel are known to be present in Gilgit-Baltistan in large numbers, ostensibly to construct roads and hydel projects. However, it is likely that Pakistan has outsourced counter-terrorism operations against extremists of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), who are active in Xingjian, to the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China.

Chinese engineers have been engaged in building Pakistan's second major port at Gwadar on the Makran coast as part of its "string of pearls" strategy in the Indian Ocean. This port could be upgraded to a naval base for Chinese naval vessels with minimum effort. China is quite obviously engaged in the strategic encirclement of India.

In fact, given its internal instability, fissiparous tendencies and doddering economy, it would not be possible for Pakistan to wage its proxy war against India in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of the country, but for China's military backing and support. In as much as that, it is also China's proxy war with Pakistan acting as China's proxy.

The history of the military collusion between China and Pakistan goes back over fifty years. During the 1965 and 1971 India-Pakistan wars, China had made some threatening military manoeuvres in Tibet in support of Pakistan. It is also noteworthy that during the Kargil conflict in 1999, Chinese military advisors were reported to have been present at Skardu in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

China has consistently shown inflexibility on the resolution of the territorial and boundary dispute with India since the two nations fought a war over it in 1962. Despite 18 rounds of talks between political interlocutors and many meetings of the Joint Working Group, there has been no progress. Even the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has not been clearly demarcated on military maps and on the ground due to China's intransigence. Patrol face-offs are common and an armed clash could take place any time. If it is not contained quickly, it could lead to another border conflict.

While a semblance of stability prevails at the strategic level, in recent years China has exhibited marked political, diplomatic and military aggressiveness at the tactical level. The large-scale transgressions at Demchok, Depsang and Chumar - the last one during the visit of President Xi Jinping - in Ladakh are particularly noteworthy.

Hence, it would be prudent to conclude that during a future Indian military conflict with China, Pakistan is likely to come to China's military aid and vice versa. It was in this context that General Deepak Kapoor, former COAS, had said during the Army Training Command doctrine seminar in end-December 2009 that the Indian armed forces must prepare for a two-front war.

The China-Pakistan nexus has naturally led to anxiety about China's future intentions. While capabilities take decades to develop, intentions can change overnight. India should concentrate its energies on developing its economy and building its military capabilities in order to face up to the Chinese challenge.

Writer

Gurmeet Kanwal Gurmeet Kanwal @gurmeetkanwal

The writer is former director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi

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