Chinese presence in Pakistan is a big threat

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China surprised India and the rest of the world by commenting in an unusual manner on the current Kashmir crisis that took serious proportions after July 9 following the killing of well-known terrorist and Hizbul Mujahidin commander Burhan Wani. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said, “China has taken note of relevant reports. We are equally concerned about the casualties in the clash, and hope that the relevant incident will be handled properly.”

The comment, posted on the ministry’s website, reflects the growing presence of Beijing in Pakistan, including the Gilgit-Baltistan region and the rest of Kashmir territory under Islamabad’s control. Beijing went ahead to add, “The Kashmir issue is left over from history. China holds a consistent stance and hopes relevant parties will address the issue peacefully through dialogue.”

Earlier, China avoided making such remarks, keeping in view the sensitivities of India as well as its own interest in the region, though it indulged in pinpricking India by resorting to issuing stapled visas and other such activities. But then, the Chinese presence in Pakistan was not as strong and widespread as it is today. The language used by Beijing has also undergone transformation. Hence the deviation from its routine comment, which used to be on these lines: The Kashmir question is a matter between two sovereign nations and it should be settled by them in that spirit through dialogue and discussion.
Today China is very sensitive about the sentiments of the people of Pakistan. Beijing tried to placate them during the current unrest in Kashmir as also when India’s case for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) came to the fore recently. China virtually blocked India’s case at this stage though being aware of the fact that India qualifies for NSG membership following the India-US nuclear deal, which was clinched because of India’s impeccable record as a nuclear weapon power. New Delhi has never been charged with indulging in any proliferation activity despite not being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

China appears to have a long-term design to use Pakistan’s territory to promote its own economic and geostrategic interests. As part of this design, it has deployed a large number of its military personnel with a huge investment on different “development projects”. It needed these troops to basically implement its 3,000-km-long China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project which links Gwadar port (Balochistan) to China’s Xinjiang province.

The massive project goes along the Makaran coast to reach Gilgit-Baltistan and then to the Karakoram Highway to touch Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang province. The corridor project also passes through Lahore and Islamabad, the two key cities in Pakistan. With a view to taking care of the apprehensions of the people, Pakistan is also believed to have raised three independent infantry brigades and two additional artillery regiments.

The 18-billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project involves the development of railways, highways, oil and gas pipelines, etc. China’s posturing in the recent past has unnerved the US too. US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for East Asia Abraham M Denmark is reported to have said, “We have noticed an increase in capability and force posture by the Chinese military in areas close to the border with India.”

India has to amend its strategy of dealing with China and Pakistan accordingly. It does not have to waste its energy on flimsy issues. Ignoring their tantrums, India has to keep its house in order

Mr Denmark stated this after the Pentagon submitted its annual 2016 report to the US Congress on ‘Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China’. Here one is reminded of how strongly China reacted to the verdict of an international tribunal set up at The Hague on the South China Sea issue. Describing the verdict as unacceptable, Chinese President Xi Jinping stated that China’s “territorial sovereignty and marine rights” in the seas would remain unaffected by the tribunal’s ruling, which pronounced that large areas in the South China Sea would be considered neutral international waters.

China has a major plan for the expansion of its PLA Navy (PLAN) to take care of Chinese investments and critical systems of communication in distant seas, according to the Pentagon report. It may use its naval forces to protect its interests in Pakistan too and to ensure its access to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea through the Gwadar port project.

The US report adds, “China most likely will seek to establish additional naval logistics hubs in countries with which it has a longstanding friendly relationship and similar strategic interests such as Pakistan, and a precedent for hosting foreign militaries.”

China is spending huge funds on its so-called development projects in Pakistan despite the risk from the extremist elements like the Taliban and their sympathisers, who are opposed to increasing Chinese activities in Pakistan. They have much dislike for China also because of controversial measures Beijing has been adopting to deal with the Uighur (Muslim) insurgency in Xinjiang. However, Beijing is the least bothered about the fringe elements as it has the Pakistan Army, the most powerful institution in that country, besides the political class, on its side. The Chinese factor may have been one of the reasons why the pro-Taliban elements in Pakistan’s armed forces have been sidelined or incapacitated to pose any kind of threat to the Chinese interests there.

Pakistan cannot say “No” to any offer from China as Beijing remains its old and most trusted ally. In fact, their relations as close allies have reached a stage where Pakistan has been reduced to virtually a colony of China.

However, both have developed a stake in maintaining close relations. In Pakistan’s scheme of things, strategic ties with China can serve as a powerful weapon to deal with adversaries like India. China, on the other hand, is known for using Pakistan to engage India with a view to denying New Delhi opportunities to grow stronger than China and pose a serious threat to India’s interests in the region and the rest of the world. India has to amend its strategy of dealing with China and Pakistan accordingly. It does not have to waste its energy on flimsy issues. Ignoring both China’s and Pakistan’s tantrums, India has to keep its house in order so that none of these adversaries find an opportunity to slow down India’s economic growth as Pakistan has got in Kashmir, where Islamabad is continuing with its proxy war to harm India through a thousand cuts.

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