In Focus

Pakistan and China: Two Iron Brothers Striving for Regional Peace Brig Tariq M. Mir (R)

Historical Background/Evolution

  • The Chinese Revolution originated a century before 1949 as it claimed to have been ignited by the incursions of foreign powers and the subsequent rise of nationalism. The Peoples Republic was established on October 1, 1949, it bordered many states and became Pakistan’s largest neighbor. The two countries have been connected from ancient times, and the archaeological finds in Pakistan bear witness to the existence of trade over the Karakoram Pass and the onward connection to the Middle East. Chinese strategic thinking developed over centuries of experience is marked by anti-colonialism, disdain for the exploitation of national resources of a trading partner and aggrandizement of territory.
  • Indo-Pak War 1947/48. Immediately after independence in 1947, Indian efforts to establish its hegemony created friction in the region. An unfairly influenced Indo-Pak boundary award gave India a connection into Kashmir which eventually led to a war to decide its future.  The UN supervised ceasefire line divided the state, and both states were able to have access to China through the Karakoram mountains. This dispute is the major cause of enmity between India and Pakistan and has caused them to seek global allies.  
  • Security and Development. General Ayub Khan told us that in 1951, while discussing the Cold War at the Annual CIGS conference in London, the Indian Army Chief had mentioned to him that he had advised his leaders you cannot defend a room if you are at loggerheads with the other person with whom you share the room. Co-existence is the answer.
  • Bandung Conference 1955. During the Bandung Conference on April 23, 1955, Prime Minister Zhou Enlai said that he accepted Pakistan’s position that “although it was part of a military treaty, Pakistan was not against China”.  
  • Relations are Forged. Sino-Pakistan relations grew gradually in the fifties, from an indifferent start.  Pakistan’s offer to India of joint defence against any threat from the North drew Nehru’s response “against whom”. The idea was that while the political dispute remained unresolved a strategic accommodation could be achieved between the two states.  At this time, globally, the world was divided between the two superpowers and our region became of strategic interest.  China’s relations began to worsen with the USSR over border issues and India clashed with China on its eastern border. Thus India and Soviet Russia drew close and at the same time Sino-Pakistan relations began to take shape.
  • Sino-Indian War 1962. India, 1962, in pursuit of a so-called forward policy, clashed with China in NEFA. It suffered heavy losses in men and material and rushed to the U.S. for support. An air bridge for armament and logistic supply was provided. An airfield at Leh (Ladakh) and connecting road was built by the U.S.  Thus, India acquired modern arms to match those with Pakistan.  The U.S. explained that it was better to have India non-aligned than as an active partner of the USSR. Pakistan now understood that India had the support of both the U.S. and USSR.
  • Border Agreement 1963. “Friends in adversity”, China and Pakistan developed mutual trust and began to strengthen their relationship. On March 2, 1963, a Sino-Pakistan Border Agreement was signed in Beijing. It demarcated the border between Chinese territory and liberated GB/Kashmir. It was agreed that the final status of Kashmir was to be determined by UN resolutions which had declared it to be a disputed territory. India, it was noted, was party to the UN resolutions calling for a plebiscite to settle the disputed area.
  • Indo-Pak War 1965. In 1965, an uprising in Kashmir led to an Indo-Pak war, which spilled across the international border. China declared support for Pakistan and delivered an ultimatum, which contributed towards an early ceasefire. The war ended quickly but Pakistan suffered an arms embargo imposed by the U.S. India was speedily replenished by the USSR.  In this difficult time, China came to Pakistan’s assistance and became the main source of its arms supply.  The Cold War was ongoing.  The U.S. saw the dangers of allowing an imbalance in military strength in South Asia and, therefore again opened the arms supply to Pakistan.
  • Indo-Pak War 1971. Pakistan in 1971 helped the U.S. in establishing a rapport with China.  This act disclosed the developing rift between the two communist giants given the background of the Cold War.  This riposte from the Soviets was swift.  They observed the situation developing in East Pakistan and in August 1971, signed the Indo-Soviet treaty, which gave assurance to India to play its role in the creation of Bangladesh. It may thus be seen that India’s implacable hostility has only served to strengthen Pakistan’s relations with China. By 1979 the two nations were connected by road across the Karakoram mountains.

Pak-China – A Friendship for Peace

Pakistan-China relations are based on five principles.  These are: mutual respect for morality, territorial integrity, and mutual non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs, equality, mutual benefit and peaceful co-existence.  Pakistan supports China in its stance on Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang etc. and China regards Kashmir as disputed territory and supports Pakistan’s stand in the UN.

  • Economic Cooperation. Economically China is Pakistan’s largest trading partner and major investor.  Bilateral trade between the two countries has reached $18 billion. China and Pakistan also have signed a Free Trade Agreement. The “all-weather strategic cooperation partnership” binds the trade relationship between the two. There is also the Pak-China Joint Committee on Economy, Trade, Science and Technology Cooperation including fishery, forestry etc. Pakistan is seeking help from China to add value to its exportable raw materials e.g., cotton, chrome, copper, and gold, etc.
  • Close Defence Cooperation. China and Pakistan maintain close defence relationship and China has helped Pakistan a great deal. It has helped in indigenous production, transfer of technology and development of our armament industry.  Some of the items under review are Chengdu J-10B Fighter aircraft, JF-17 Thunder Fighter, AWAC systems, AFVs, Low-to-Medium Altitude Air Defence System etc.  Research work is also being conducted on  robotics system, electronics, and space technology etc. Shipbuilding including submarines is yet another area of cooperation. Unfortunately, in the current environment, South Asian countries cannot afford to lower their guard and are thus destined to divert development funds to the defence industry and the import of sophisticated weaponry.  (India is setting the pace) Force multipliers heavily impact military tactics and strategy.

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

This project provides a land corridor, which connects China and Gwadar Port in Pakistan. CPEC is the flagship of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) launched in 2015.  CPEC includes a number of infrastructure projects currently under development in Pakistan. The cumulative value of all CPEC projects is USD 62 billion with future projects expected to amplify the current investment. CPEC has the potential to rapidly improve Pakistan’s economy by enhancing the country’s infrastructure, including modern transportation network, energy projects, and creation of Special Economic Zones e.g., industrial city under execution.  This project is expected to create 2.3 million new jobs in Pakistan. It links our markets with the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

India has opposed the corridor as it passes through Gilgit-Baltistan territory, which India falsely claims as its territory. India cannot rely on a plebiscite to settle the dispute as the residents are Muslims and aware of the Indian government’s barbaric treatment of the Muslims of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir. The region can connect India to Afghanistan, Central Asia, and thus India aims at using it.

  • Threats to CPEC

On August 5, 2019, by revoking the Articles 370 and 35A, the Indian Parliament renounced Kashmir’s special status and bifurcated it into Union Territory of Ladakh and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The resolution directed the Government to restore the area of Aksai Chin and Gilgit/Baltistan to Indian control. Aksai Chin is Chinese territory and the Indian announcement drew its ire. An Indian minister stated that plans were ready for the occupation of Gilgit-Baltistan. The situation is developing as follows:
a.  In May 2020, the Himalayan border between China and India (of more than 3440 km) became convulsed in disputes over relating the map alignment on the ground. A major point of focus was the Ladakh region. The Chinese forces were alarmed when it was noted that the Indian base at Daulat Beg Oldie, hitherto a Brigade garrison, had been reinforced by three Divisions, with tanks, artillery, and ground support aircraft.  The Chinese responded and a standoff ensued. The approaching winter, the pandemic and economic recession has cooled the situation.
b. During the SCO meeting in Moscow, September 2020, India was not supported by others in its opposition to the CPEC. Subsequently, in a bilateral Sino-Indian meeting, the communiqué affirmed no war, disengagement of troops, peace in border areas, implying China retains area overlooking the route to the Indian military base, withdrawal of economic sanctions, no threat against development opportunities (CPEC). India’s premature disclosure of its intentions had “triggered”’ a sequence of events culminating in the Chinese changing the status quo on the ground and creating “new facts”.
c. Before the SCO meeting in Moscow, both the External Affairs Minister and the Indian Defence Minister made separate visits to Tehran. It is said that they gave assurances to undertake the Chabahar-Zahedan railway project on an emergency basis and had obtained relief from CAATSA. This would provide a direct connection to Central Asia through Afghanistan which is not available to CPEC.  This fact, if confirmed, will have major regional implications.
d. Intelligence sources report that India’s specially created “Special Frontier Force”, recruited from Tibetens in India and the “Ladakh Scouts” consisting of local Ladakhes – both indigenous and accustomed to living at high attitudes – are being trained as commandos to operate against and interdict the CPEC. 
e.  Hybrid war, the use of psychological psyche war, propaganda, inciting divisions, sectarian violence, disrupting the economy, spreading dissatisfaction against the state, friction with foreigners to disrupt tourism etc. may be expected to be increased by the Indian agency RAW in Gilgit-Baltistan. Friction on the LoC is increasing and Pakistan should keep on insisting on verification by United Nations Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) observers of false Indian claims of cross-border terrorism.
Global Scenario
In the present global strategic scenario, three powers with competing interests have emerged – U.S., Russia and China.  International trade in U.S. dollars is under threat; multi control of world’s energy resources is sought after; trade and sanctions are used as an instrument of foreign policy; ability to interdict external waterways and land connections; race in the development of high tech force multipliers in armament industry; securing the national resources in Central Asia and the creation of pliant regimes seem to be the critical objectives in the multilateral power struggle. Central Asia, Persian Gulf and the South China Sea are considered fulcrum or pivot areas.  There is a competition to gain ascendancy in the region. In this scenario, Pakistan’s geographical position gives it great importance and makes it a critical strategic ally. The policies of the three superpowers have a strong bearing on Pakistan.
Pakistan’s Perspective
Pakistan values its strategic autonomy and retains mutually beneficial relations with Russia and the U.S.  During the recent visit (September 11, 2020) of General K. McKenzie Jr. Commander U.S. CENTCOM, discussions ranged on geo-strategic environment, regional security, Pak-U.S.  military cooperation, Afghanistan peace process and Kashmir.  Pakistan also enjoys brotherly ties with Iran, and important neighbour.  It is working for peace and prosperity in Afghanistan. It, therefore, views with favour China’s strategic partnership treaty with Iran (August 9, 2020).  China will invest a total of USD 400 billion in banking, transport and development sectors and receive Iranian oil at a discounted price for 25 years. Gwadar, Chabahar and Jask provide China with influence in the Gulf and control of the Strait of Hormuz. China is also involved in development projects in Afghanistan. These developments are advantageous for Pakistan.
India regards the China-Pakistan nexus as a very grave danger to its security and its basic foreign policy aim is to nullify its effects.  It also believes that should a geopolitical alliance and convergence of strategic interest between Pakistan and Iran be arrived at, it will eclipse Indian influence in its north and western region (Central Asia and the Persian Gulf).
Geopolitical Alliances
It is noteworthy that geopolitical alignments which could take shape in the region are in a state of flux e.g., Russia-China-Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan grouping (now being actively pursued), Russia-China-Iran group is already in the making, U.S.-Israel-India would be primarily oriented to the Middle East.  Pakistan’s policies are not averse to U.S. or Russian interests in the region.  India’s sole political efforts seem to be to marginalize Pakistan’s influence in the region.
Indian Threats
According to foreign intelligence reports, a “flappy” Indian general staff moved too many troops to the mountains at enormous cost, although warned by Indian strategists that the closing weather, the pandemic and disrupted economy precluded the resort to war.  An excited Indian media raised public jingoism to fever pitch.  India is basically a rich country yet it has the most poverty stricken population in the region.  Society is in imbalance with a xenophobic regime.  BJP’s muscularly foreign policy is in askance. Hence there are reports that the situation along Pakistan borders may be agitated and hostile propaganda increased. Incredibly, India’s insecurity is such that it has asked Russia not to supply arms to Pakistan.  General B. Rawat Indian CDS has now stated that an offensive from Pakistan must be forestalled by an operation by India in the near future.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the global community closer and enhanced interstate collaboration, on the other hand India’s RAW has increased its subversive activities, especially in Karachi. RAW objectives include: a) sowing economic discord between Pakistan and its allies, b) ensure that Pakistan remains in the FATF grey list during scrutiny in October 2020, and c) disrupt progress on CPEC.
Nehru’s hegemonic ambitions forced India’s neighbours to give priority to security over development and, thus, in seventy years they are the most poverty stricken in the region. A stage has now been reached where the escalatory gap for transition from conventional to nuclear war has narrowed. Russia’s Eurasian integration objectives and China’s Silk Road projects are targets of U.S. global strategy in which India has elected to play the role of a puppet.
“China and Pakistan have become all-weather friends and they set a fine example for peaceful co-existence among countries of different systems. With joint efforts, the Sino-Pakistan comprehensive and cooperative partnership will forge ahead in a healthy and solid way”.
– The Information office of the PRC China and Pakistan, 2004.


The writer is a retired Brigadier and former Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Iraq.
E-mail: [email protected]
 

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