US’ Assessment of China Grooming Pakistan

Pakistan is under the patronage of China for all purposes
Keywords: China, Pakistan, USA, Patronage, Conflict, Alliances, Partnerships, Defence, Challenges, US Congress, Report
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The US Department of Defence released its annual report on the “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” commonly known as the China Military Power Report (CMPR), on November 29, 2022. This Congressionally-mandated report serves as an authoritative assessment of the defence Department’s pacing challenge and charts the current course of the PRC’s military and security strategy.

This year’s report follows the Defence Department’s release of its unclassified National Defence Strategy in October, which identified the PRC as the most consequential and systemic challenge to U.S. national security and a free and open international system. The report covers the contours of the People’s Liberation Army’s way of war, surveys the PLA’s current activities and capabilities etc. 

What is of particular interest to us is embodied in observations on defence and security ties between China and Pakistan as seen from the Pentagon’s binoculars. The Chinese Military Power – 2022 report, as it is called, examines how China seeks to achieve its “national rejuvenation” objective by 2049 with the help of international partners, such as Pakistan.

The report ranks Pakistan as its “only all-weather strategic partner” while Russia is the only “comprehensive strategic partnership with coordination relations.” Pakistan is also one of the places that China has likely “considered a location for military logistics facilities.” 

China justifies its special relationship with Pakistan for more than one reason. China’s BRI is allied to the pipeline and port construction projects in Pakistan. China aims to reduce its dependence on transporting energy resources through vulnerable choke points like the Straits of Malacca.   

The report recalls that suicide bombers attacked a workers’ bus on its way to a BRI infrastructure development project in Pakistan. 10 Chinese nationals were killed and 26 others were injured. The report does not mention anything about the bomber but unofficial sources said they were active members of the Pakhtun National Movement.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Amusingly, the report says that China used the incident to “extend its ability to project military power to safeguard its overseas interests, including BRI, by developing closer regional and bilateral counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan.” China’s double standards of dealing with the issue of counter-terrorism will be understood without difficulty. This is the reason why Pakistan has given a clean chit to China in the context of blatant violation of the human rights of Uyghurs of Xinjiang province while viciously maligning India by bringing in baseless charges of human violations in Kashmir. 

As we see, one of the main reasons for the Baluch insurgency in Pakistan is the sell-out of Baluch resources to China whose benefits fill the coffers of the Punjabi elite and landlords in the province of Punjab of Pakistan. 

A significant part of the report deals with strategic defence cooperation between China and Pakistan. Beijing has helped Islamabad complete the in-orbit delivery of the Pakistan Remote-Sensing Satellite. The report includes observation of joint military exercises between the two countries. In 2020-21 China participated in a joint naval exercise with Pakistan and also supplied strike-capable Caihong and Wing Loong Unmanned Aircraft Systems to Pakistan. These are spy vehicles and of late Pakistan has been using these against India in the border region of Jammu. Pakistani drones are deployed to drop arms, ammunition, drugs and Indian currency and anti-India propaganda literature.

In October 2018, it was announced that Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and Chengdu Aircraft Corporation of China would jointly produce 48 Wing Loong II UAVs for use by the Pakistan Air Force. The Chengdu GJ-2, also known as Wing Loong 2, is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capable of remotely controlled or autonomous flight developed by the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group in the People’s Republic of China. Intended for use as a surveillance and aerial reconnaissance and precision strike platform, Chengdu unveiled the concept of Wing Loong II at the Aviation Expo China in Beijing in September 2015. Wing Loong II has long-range strike capability with a satellite link.

China supplied major naval vessels to its partners particularly Pakistan that purchased 8 Yuan class submarines for more than 3 billion US dollars. Two years later, China sold four naval frigates to Pakistan. Under the PLANMC – a supporter of PRC’s military diplomacy— Chinese forces have trained with Thai, Pakistani, Saudi Arabia, South African and Djiboutian forces. Pakistan is also a member of the China-led Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization.

The Report released in November follows the Pentagon’s release of the National Defence Strategy in October, which identified China as the “most consequential and systemic challenge” to US national security and a free and open international system.

Pakistan’s relations with China are of a different pattern. The US and its allies in the Western world have always considered Pakistan as a country very important to their strategic interests in the Asian Continent. China, too, has strategic interests in befriending Pakistan but for a different purpose which is to challenge India’s growing economic and political power by creating a proxy to engage India. While the western countries want to checkmate Russian designs southward, China wants to contain India because she finds a veritable political, economic and military threat in the rise of India in the Asian Continent. Keeping the Kashmir pot boiling serves the interests of both power blocs. 

It is also in their interests that Islamic religious sensitivity is sharpened among the people in the entire area lying at the underbelly of the Russian State. First, they had made an experiment through the Basmachi (terrorist groups in Turkistan) in the second and third decades of the 20th century in which they met with reversals.

The failure of the Basmachi movement in Central Asia made the imperialists think seriously of an alternative region that could serve their objective of containment of Russia. This led to the theory of partition of India. This plan was subtly initiated and carried forward. In this way, the creation of the State of Pakistan in the most sensitive geographical part of India became a reality in 1947. Anti-Soviet and anti-Russia forces found a foothold strategically important for them. To maintain the foothold they forged the political weapon of Pan-Islamism. Now we have the Basmachis in a new avatar of LeT, JeM, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Hizbul Mujahideen, Ansar Ghazavatul Hind and a dozen of new versions of sub-continental terror groups directly or indirectly supported by the two contesting super-powers of the world. 

Now Pakistan is under the patronage of China for all purposes.  However, its elite still swears by the US. Speaking at a recently held seminar in the US on Pak-America relations, Chinese foreign policy expert Yun Sun said that Pakistan’s relations with the US were a factor in China’s overall strategy for South Asia, but China has plenty of confidence that its relationship with Pakistan is going to continue regardless of the modality of US-Pakistan relations.” She made a very interesting point by saying that China was also adjusting or recalibrating its policy and expectations toward reaching out to the US, especially in terms of CEPC. And from that recalibration, there is almost a welcoming attitude in China that Pakistan again.”

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K N Pandita

K N Pandita has a PhD in Iranian Studies from the University of Teheran. He is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.

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