FeaturedNationalVolume 14 Issue # 10

Indo-US threats

The United States has come out in the open to oppose the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). In a bid to malign the project and advance its interests in the region, a US media report claims a special economic zone under the project will be created in Pakistan to produce a new generation of fighter jets, weaponry and other hardware and China could use Gwadar port to expand its military outreach.

The report expresses US concerns about “Pakistan losing sovereignty to its deep-pocketed Asian ally,” which can use Gwadar as a strategic card against India and the United States if tensions worsen to the point of naval blockades as the two powers increasingly confront each other at sea. The US is also “worried” about Pakistan’s Chinese debt problem and Chinese state-owned companies constructing seaports at strategic spots around the Indian Ocean, including places in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Malaysia, which it considers a threat to its interests and India’s, its regional ally.

According to a New York Times report, Pakistan already had a replacement sponsor lined up when President Trump started the New Year by suspending billions of dollars of security aid to Pakistan. “One theory was that it would scare the Pakistani military into cooperating better with its American allies. Just two weeks later, the Pakistani Air Force and Chinese officials were putting the final touches on a secret proposal to expand Pakistan’s building of Chinese military jets, weaponry and other hardware. The confidential plan, reviewed by The New York Times, would also deepen the cooperation between China and Pakistan in space, a frontier the Pentagon recently said Beijing was trying to militarize after decades of playing catch-up,” it claimed.

“All those military projects were designated as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a $1 trillion chain of infrastructure development programs stretching across some 70 countries, built and financed by Beijing. Chinese officials have repeatedly said the Belt and Road is purely an economic project with peaceful intent. But with its plan for Pakistan, China is for the first time explicitly tying a Belt and Road proposal to its military ambitions — and confirming the concerns of a host of nations who suspect the infrastructure initiative is really about helping China project armed might. As China’s strategically located and nuclear-armed neighbor, Pakistan has been the leading example of how the Chinese projects are being used to give Beijing both favor and leverage among its clients. Since the beginning of the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, Pakistan has been the program’s flagship site, with some $62 billion in projects planned in the so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. In the process, China has lent more and more money to Pakistan at a time of economic desperation there, binding the two countries ever closer,” it noted.

“For the most part, Pakistan has eagerly turned more toward China as the chill with the United States has deepened. Some Pakistani officials are growing concerned about losing sovereignty to their deep-pocketed Asian ally, but the host of ways the two countries are now bound together may leave Pakistan with little choice but to go along. Even before the revelation of the new Chinese-Pakistani military cooperation, some of China’s biggest projects in Pakistan had clear strategic implications. A Chinese-built seaport and special economic zone in the Pakistani town of Gwadar is rooted in trade, giving China a quicker route to get goods to the Arabian Sea. But it also gives Beijing a strategic card to play against India and the United States if tensions worsen to the point of naval blockades as the two powers increasingly confront each other at sea. A less scrutinized component of Belt and Road is the central role Pakistan plays in China’s Beidou satellite navigation system. Pakistan is the only other country that has been granted access to the system’s military service, allowing more precise guidance for missiles, ships and aircraft. The cooperation is meant to be a blueprint for Beidou’s expansion to other Belt and Road nations, however, ostensibly ending its clients’ reliance on the American military-run GPS network that Chinese officials fear is monitored and manipulated by the United States. In Pakistan, China has found an amenable ally with much to recommend it: shared borders and a long history of cooperation; a hedge in South Asia against India; a large market for arms sales and trade with potential for growth; a wealth of natural resources,” the report claimed.

Quoting military analysts, it predicted that China could use Gwadar to expand the naval footprint of its attack submarines, after agreeing in 2015 to sell eight submarines to Pakistan in a deal worth up to $6 billion. China could use the equipment it sells to the South Asian country to refuel its own submarines, extending its navy’s global reach. For China, Pakistan could become a showcase for other countries seeking to shift their militaries away from American equipment and toward Chinese arms, Western diplomats said. “And because China is not averse to selling such advanced weaponry as ballistic missiles — which the United States will not sell to allies like Saudi Arabia — the deal with Pakistan could be a steppingstone to a bigger market for Chinese weapons in the Muslim world.”

If analyzed carefully, the report expresses the feeling of an enemy and a former friend of Pakistan. The report contains the concerns of the US and India about rising cooperation between Pakistan and China. Pakistan has become a battleground between the US and China in a trade war between the two superpowers. The US has curtailed Pakistan’s security-related aid after opposing an idea of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout for it. It indicates the US frustration after Pakistan came out of its influence and entered into strategic partnership with China. Against its earlier stance that the US wanted similar cooperation with Pakistan, it appears to be annoyed at both Pakistan and China after the launch of CPEC.

According to media reports, the Indian spy agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), has established a desk with a special allocation at its headquarters in New Delhi to scuttle CPEC. The RAW chief is personally supervising the desk as he reports to Prime Minister Narendra Modi directly and seeks instructions from him. The US media report appears to be fed by it. The US and India have sealed deals of billions of dollars in nuclear trade and defence ties. The two have also reached a nuclear trade, besides signing a number of agreements for cooperation in defence, security, space and high technologies recently. But they cannot see Pakistan’s close ties with China, though China has rubbished the report that it is using the CPEC for military purposes. After protest, Pakistan has accepted the new partnership between the US and India. It defies reason, then, why the latter two should be so assiduously endeavouring to scuttle Sino-Pakistan cooperation.