By Bhaskar Roy
The recently concluded annual Joint Defence and Security Consultations (JDSC) in Beijing (Feb. 27) between Pakistan and China reemphasised the enduring strength of the military and strategic alliance the countries enjoy, and that this alliance is set to expand even further.
Pakistan co-chair and Chief of General Staff Gen. Khalid Shameem Wynne declared at the end of the meeting that exchanges between the two countries in 2011, celebrating the 60th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations, will include two Chinese naval port calls to Karachi in August and October, two joint military exercises, and a multi-national naval exercise in March. Gen. Wynne also said, that encouraged by the success of the JF (Joint Fighter)-17 multirole aircraft project, the two countries were moving forward in joint development of sophisticated weapons systems including tanks.
Usually, the Chinese official media leave it to the Pakistani media to give out the details. This time, however, the China Daily revealed these details, apparently sending a message that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was enlarging the Pakistan policy in consonance with the political hierarchy.
2010 was a watershed year for the PLA to drive China’s strategic foreign policy. The mood was assertive, aggressive and even threatening at times. In this context it may be kept in strategic calculations that the PLA, for the first time, gave Pakistan a separate package of financial assistance during the great floods. This is not usual as it suggests that the PLA is executing a parallel but independent policy towards Pakistan from the Chinese government policy. During the Pakistani floods Chinese air force helicopters were also pressed into action, and Chinese military personnel were involved. These are significant strategic developments even for the Pakistani public to take note of.
Following the “9/11” terrorist attack on the US, and the US launching retaliatory strikes on the Al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan, Washington forced Pakistani President Gen. Parvez Musharraf to agree giving air space to US forces inside Pakistan for operations in Afghanistan. US President George W. Bush’s ultimatum “with us or against us” was something Musharraf could not gulp. Even then, he paid a secret visit to China for just under two hours to consult the Chinese leadership. It is believed that Musharraf took a secret flight to China at around mid-night. Given the four hours time difference between Pakistan (in the west) and China (in the east), and a flight time of under seven hours, Musharraf could be back in his office next day before ten in the morning. What the Chinese told him exactly is not known, but subsequent events suggested that they may have advised Musharraf to concede to the American demand. The Chinese were clearly in no position to do anything else.
This type of cooperation, not always successful, goes back to times not generally known to the public. Commentator Salahuddin Haider wrote in the Pakistan Observer (March 01, 2011) that Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai had sent a secret cable to Gen. Ayub Khan to take over Kashmir in 1962 when the Chinese forces attacked India in the Eastern and Western sectors. Haider also said that during the 1965 Indo-Pak war, the Chinese had offered Pakistan “unstinted support in every front”, but Ayub went for a ceasefire. The declassified Kissinger papers, however, reveal that US National Security Advisor Dr. Henry Kissinger had pleaded with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai to move against India during the 1971 Indo-Pak war, but the Chinese leaders declined to do so citing several reasons.
The famous Musharraf-Lt. Gen. Mehmood conversation during the Kargil attack by Pakistani forces (Northern Light Infantry) in 1999 says a lot for Chinese strategy. Gen. Musharraf was speaking to Gen. Mehmood in Pakistan from Beijing discussing the progress of the Kargil attack. If Indian agencies could intercept this conversation, it is obvious that the Chinese knew about it. There is no denying the fact that Musharraf was in Beijing to discuss with the Chinese military and political leaders about the attack. The enthusiasm in Musharaff’s voice is witness to the fact that the Chinese supported the Kargil misadventure.
It is also reported that during the Indian army’s operation “Parikrama” following the Pakistani terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, the Chinese took out arms and ammunition from the PLA’s inventory and sent them to the Pak army on emergency.
Recent arrest of India’s North-East terrorists and separatists by Indian agencies, and public revelations of interrogation reports of former Bangladesh ruling party BNP and JEI leaders and senior intelligence officers of 2004, have also revealed startling facts. Pakistan’s ISI, Bangladeshi politicians-cum-intelligence personnel, and China’s agencies had conspired to inundate India’s North East insurgents especially the ULFA, and Naga insurgents and the Manipuri and Bodo insurgents with arms, ammunition and communication equipment to start a civil war to detach the north-east from the rest of India. Pakistani based and Indian born international criminal Dawood Ibrahim was also coopted by the ISI and the Bangladeshi BNP leaders in the conspiracy. It was also known from which Chinese sea ports these arms were shipped.
Latest Chinese military diplomacy in Sri Lanka is something to be considered seriously. They are trying to persuade or pressurise the Sri Lankan government led by President Rajapaksa to establish closer military relations with Pakistan. President Rajapaksa is engaged in an intricate game playing China, Pakistan and India, and keeping India under some pressure. This does not bode well for the Indian Ocean region and Sri Lanka.
The upcoming Sino-Pak military and naval exercises have two aims. One is to encourage and assure Pakistan that China is behind it. The second aim is to familiarise the Chinese navy with the Gulf of Hormuz and western Indian Ocean for future naval strategy, in coordination with Pakistan.
At the core of the developments discussed above is the time tested China’s strategy developed over centuries. Empower and encourage satellites to fight their enemy, but China itself would like to remain in the background as far as possible. This is so true of how China has dealt with questions relating to Pakistani based terrorist organizations and their leaders in the United Nations Security Council.
People and policymakers in these countries need to look deeply into China’s strategy of “denial and deception” – keep enough room to deny their own involvement, and deceive these countries that China is their friend. Pakistan’s leadership must also realise that China’s friend is only China, and if the need arises they would keep their hands off in the future as they have done in the past.
It is well understood that the China-Pakistan cooperation aims to debilitate India through international diplomacy, asymmetric warfare, or what two Chinese colonels wrote, through “unrestricted warfare”. This will only abate when the Pakistani army realises that Pakistan’s stability and prosperity lies in friendship and cooperation with India, and they are also assured of very comfortable living without making India the prime enemy. At the moment this is wishful thinking.
There are, however, two other China-Pak evolving developments that could shake the international community and the region. One, experts have concluded Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are around one hundred and growing. China continues to enhance Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability and delivery systems, even now. The growing size of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is by no means a mere deterrent against India. This is assuming the shape of an Islamic nuclear arsenal with undetermined consequences. Would Pakistan’s nuclear weapons be made available to some countries, some groups which would serve some nefarious interests of Pakistan and China? It may also be kept in view China pursued the policy to provide nuclear arms to some Muslim countries which would counter the west, especially the USA. This policy was also put into action.
The other development is Chinese military’s infrastructure construction activities in Pakistan held Gilgit-Baltistan area using 11,000 Chinese military personnel. There is a huge difference between civil construction workers and military. The latter is done with strategy in mind. China, with Pakistan’s cooperation has been keen on creating another silk route through Afghanistan to Central Asia. Plotting this on the map of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia with China the promoter and pivot one, can envisage a bamboo wall controlling any access from the north (Central Asia and Russia) to the south (Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Indian Ocean). This strategy takes into calculation that ultimately in the Afghanistan resolution Pakistan and the Taliban will be major players, and Beijing has close relations with both.
This is a very delicate, but effective operation which is more likely to succeed than not. This reaffirms China’s policy of neo-colonialism, which is already visible in South East Asia and North East Asia. This will create new challenges for big powers like Russia and the United States in this region.
The two developments mentioned above are opening up a new vista of instability that portend something not visualised since the end of the cold war. At least, during the cold war, there were some boundaries and smaller and non-state actors were kept on a leash. In the upcoming situation those controls are unlikely to remain.