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Pakistan Army Chief’s Dash to China May 2016 Analysed

Paper No. 6117                                   Dated 23-May-2016

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Pakistan Army Chief General Raheel Sharif’s hurried dash to Beijing on May 15 2016 for a two day visit is a pointer to Pakistan’s growing strategic insecurities and re-seeking Chinese security assurances for Pakistan and Pakistan Army

Scouring the Pakistani media one failed to find any advance references to the visit of Pak Army Chief’s visit to China. The first sentences of the visit were visible on Tweets and Facebook by ISPR Chief, Lt. Gen. Asim Bajwa on May 16 2016 evening which was the day after Pak Chief’s arrival in Beijing and after he had met top Chinese political leaders and Chinese military hierarchy. No information available that he met the Chinese President.

The follow-up Tweets by ISPR Chief on conclusion of Pak Army Chief’s visit reflected that the Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission stressed that “the security of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor was the unshirkable responsibility of the two militaries”. Notice the stress by China on the “two militaries” and not that of China and Pakistan.

Summing-up his ‘Impressions” on the China visit, the ISPR Chief tweeted that the visit was “Very intense, highly formal visit, strategic relationship manifested in talks and interactions.” The stress on “intense” should be read as signifying the serious discussions on Pak Army –centric strategic concerns.

It should be evident that China’s strategic investments in Pakistan including the latest flagship project, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, do merit re-assuring each other’s firm intentions to stand by each other. The China-Pakistan Army Axis is a vivid example of how China and Pakistan use and exploit each other’s strategic uncertainties.

Pakistan Army uses China to act as a strategic counterweight to militarily balance India. China obliges the Pakistan Army in what can be termed as a ‘no-cost, no-loss’ strategy by exploiting to the hilt Pakistan Army’s India-centric paranoid fixations. China is also used by the Pakistan Army as a beating stick against United States’ changed priorities in the Indian Subcontinent.

In May 2016, the contextual security environment for both Pakistan Army and China seems to have become worrisome meriting seeking each other’s assurances of standing by with each other. No wonder that the Pakistan Army propaganda machine, the ISPR, has gone to town highlighting and tweeting that the major outcome of the recently concluded Pakistan Army Chief’s visit to Beijing was that Chinese leaders reiterated that “Challenges to Pakistan are Challenges to China” and further that all Chinese political and military leaders had reiterated that China will support “Pakistan’s sovereignty, integrity, national security and development,”

The question that arises is as to where was the need for Pakistan Army Chief to secure re-certification of China’s intentions and assurances to protect Pakistan’s sovereignty and national security? Obviously, many strategic concerns have started becoming worrisome for the Pakistan Army Chief who revels being currently lionised on the Pakistani ‘streets’.

The major Chinese concern visibly surfacing during the Pakistan Army Chief’s Beijing visit was the speedy, secure and successful completion of the CPEC. This was amply visible with the pains that the Pakistan Army Chief took to assure at every conceivable meeting with Chinese political and military leaders that the Pakistan Army was totally committed to the completion of the CPEC. Pakistan Army’s ISPR Chief went on record publicly that any threats to security of CPEC would implicitly witness the Pakistan Army standing like a wall to protect China’s interests by springing into action at the very first instance.

The current challenges perceived by Pakistan, and the Pakistan Army more pointedly, and which formed seemingly the major points of discussions in Beijing need to be viewed from the politico-strategic prism and the more specific military prism. Politically, the Pakistan Army seems to have been disconcerted by United States tilt towards India, reinforcing of US-India military relations and India making headway in its relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran. It cannot be forgotten that the United States and Saudi Arabia were the pillars of strategic and military support of the Pakistan Army till recently. Both the United States and Saudi Arabia are today not much strategically enamoured with Pakistan.

The Pakistan Army is also seriously disconcerted as to what it perceives as its traditional balance of power with India being eroded by India’s military technological leaps in the sphere of nuclear capable K-4 submarines weapon systems and the successful test of the Indian Advanced Air Defence Interceptor Missile. Incidentally, both these Indian military developments are cause of strategic concern to China also, in terms of advances in India’s second strike nuclear capabilities.

 India’s acquisition plans of more than $ 250 billion of advanced military hardware over the next decade also figures as tilting the balance of power in the region.

In the overall analysis, what needs to be answered is that how far China would push the strategic and military envelope in support of Pakistan Army which entails the heavy cost of antagonising India which in the coming decade China could ill-afford.

The next question that hovers ominously for China is as to what are China’s options should China’s much-vaunted CPEC fail to take off due to insurgency in Balochistan, Pakistan’s political divisiveness on CPEC itself and that the Pakistan Interior Ministry and the Pakistan Army were at loggerheads as to who should provide security for the CPEC.

 It is noteworthy that the Pakistan Army is reported to have earmarked strength of 5,000 Special Forces Commandos as the predominant component of the Special CPEC Security Division being newly created. That itself highlights the threats to CPEC within Pakistan, notwithstanding Pakistan Army commitments.

What needs to be highlighted on Pakistan Army’s fixative obsession on the Chinese sponsored CPEC is that it is not only to ensure China’s continued commitment to Pakistan Army via-a-vis the China Pakistan Axis but also more determined by Pakistan Army’s corporate interests which are reported to have garnered lucrative CPEC-related projects.

The CPEC is not only viewed as a strategic concern by India alone but also by the United States and other countries in the Middle East. To that extent one can expect regional and global countermoves to offset the CPEC.

In the overall analysis it would be unthinkable for anyone to expect that China and Pakistan would carry-out any course-corrections from the path that both have adopted to forge the strategically unholy China-Pakistan Axis of which the CPEC is now the major showpiece.

The fact that the ISPR announced the Pakistan Army Chief’s visit to Beijing on the next day of his arrival indicates that this visit to Beijing was not a routine protocol visit but necessitated by the contextual political and strategic developments in the region which may ultimately nullify the perceived gains of the China-Pakistan Axis.

 In conclusion it can be asserted that he Pakistan Army Chief may have returned from Beijing on 17 May 2016 highly satisfied that China has given assurances to safeguard Pakistan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty but Pakistan Army Chiefs must recall history as to what China omitted to do in 1971 as Pakistan was being dismembered as a direct result of Pakistan Army’s genocide of their Bengali Muslim brethren in erstwhile East Pakistan. Also the formidable Pakistan Army Chief should be prepared for what the Pakistan Army would opt to do in case China indulges in a genocide against Muslim co-religionists in Xingjiang?

 

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