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China-Pakistan proximity and India The Excelsior 08 Feb 2022
Speaking on the motion of thanks to the President’s address, Congress MP, Rahul Gandhi, blamed the current government for pushing Pakistan and China into a closer embrace. He stated that keeping the two countries apart had been the ‘single biggest strategic goal of India’s foreign policy.’ The fact remains that post 1963, China and Pakistan have always been close, solely because of the India factor. India is perhaps the only country which has two nuclear powered adversaries as neighbours, both seeking large tracts of its territory and operating in unison. Pakistan and China’s proximity in relationship is based on the logic that your enemy’s enemy is my friend.
Masood Azar was declared a global terrorist only after China lifted its technical block in March 2019. Pakistan remains out of the FATF Blacklist by support from few nations, including China. China blocks Indian entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group because Pakistan’s is not being permitted to enter due to its poor nuclear proliferation record. China provided Pakistan with nuclear knowhow to enable it to conduct a nuclear test to counter India’s. Pakistan’s ballistic missiles are all of Chinese origin. While Russia sought Indian entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a counter to China, China inducted Pakistan as a counter to India.
China had backed Pak over the years, funded its economy and provided arms and ammunition to keep India permanently concerned on a two-front threat. Pakistan, which lost global support for backing the Taliban was compelled to turn to China for economic and military aid. The establishment of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in 2015 strengthened the bonds between the two nations and ensured Chinese presence in every sphere of Pakistan’s economy and diplomacy.
China is a major shareholder in Pakistan’s stock exchange and would possibly purchase Pakistan’s largest electric company K-electric. When establishing Gwadar became difficult due to increased attacks by Baloch fighters, China switched its attention towards Karachi, for which it received support from the Pak military. Slowly and steadily China has pushed Pakistan into a debt trap.
Historically, Pakistan always considered India as its enemy. Desire for revenge increased after its defeat in 1971, leading to Zia launching his bleeding India with a thousand cuts strategy. Pakistan’s desperation for Kashmir, is only to safeguard its water resources, which currently are under India’s control. Initially Pakistan was in the US camp, however when the US failed to support it in 1971, it moved closer to China, though on paper is still considered a strategic ally of the US. In recent times, its main hinderance to resolution of the Afghan crisis was Indian presence in Afghanistan.
China exploited Pakistan’s proximity to the Taliban hoping to get its foothold in the country. It believed that Pakistan would push the Taliban to curb the ETIM (East Turkistan Islamic Movement) as also open Afghanistan’s resources to it. It sought to expand the CPEC into Afghanistan. However, neither has happened. With western powers now dealing directly with the Taliban, as the Oslo talks displayed, Pakistan’s control has receded.
The Taliban have even refused to curb the TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan), whose attacks in Pakistan’s Pashtun belt are causing concern in Rawalpindi. Pakistan accused India of supporting the TTP and Baloch fighters from its consulates in Afghanistan. With the Taliban in control of Afghanistan and attacks by the TTP continuing, Pakistan has no one left to blame.
Pakistan’s fixation with India ensures that it will join any group or coalition which opposes India. China, with whom India’s territorial disputes were never resolved and anger over provision of sanctuary to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile continues, became a natural ally for Pakistan.
For China, arming and supporting Pakistan was a cheap option to keep Indian interests diverted. By providing weapons to Pakistan and backing its Kashmir policy by blocking blacklisting of its terrorist groups, attention of Indian armed forces remained divided. Most of Pakistan’s military arsenal is China manufactured. Its air fleet is largely the Chinese J series, battle tanks are Chinese produced VT 4 and recently China has begun providing the Pak navy with Chinese produced frigates.
While Indian military leaders kept raising a two-front to a two and a half front threat, their focus remained Pakistan due to its support to terrorism. Most of India’s military resources were deployed on its western borders. It was wrongly believed that China could be contained by diplomacy and economic ties. Thus, when China launched its intrusion into Ladakh in 2020, India was initially surprised. It has since then reoriented its forces catering for both threats.
To keep Chinese and Pak forces apart and reduce threats to Leh, India has to maintain control over the Siachen glacier as also the Depsang plains in Ladakh. Thus, India’s defence budget must cater for capacity and capability development to handle multiple threats as also for maintaining forces in extreme cold climate throughout the year. This is because both China and Pakistan are close allies. Handling these threats come at a cost.
Pakistan and China are collaborating on grey zone warfare against India. As the army chief stated recently, ‘Events in 2020 have been testimony to the diversity of security threats in all domains, and this has shifted the spotlight towards non-contact and grey-zone warfare.’ India’s growing proximity to the US has irked both countries, compelling them to adopt common strategies to break the partnership.
Pak-China proximity has been unchanged for decades. In 2008 Musharraf termed China as an ‘all-weather ally.’ Nawaz in 2013 termed Pak-China ties as ‘sweeter than honey.’ The CPEC was signed post the visit of Xi Jinping to Pakistan in 2015. During this visit Xi stated, ‘China and Pakistan hold the same position on regional and global issues.’ Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister stated last year that China and Pakistan had forged ‘an ironclad friendship and established an all-weather strategic partnership of cooperation.’
Evidently, China-Pak relations have remained steadfast for decades based on a common anti-India factor. Diplomacy, economic integration and Indo-Chinese summits were assumed to have kept the Chinese at bay. However, they did nothing to reduce Pak-China proximity and arming of Pakistan by China. Galwan proved that the Chinese are nobody’s friends and can never be trusted.