By Sabena Siddiqi.
The Pakistan-China relationship has attained new heights following the Belt & Road Initiative, this week military ties were further enhanced after the Pakistan army chief’s visit to Beijing. Strategic partnership between the two countries has been up-scaled to provide a safe environment for the progress of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in particular.
High level exchanges took place between the Pakistani military hierarchy and Executive Vice PM, Zhang Gaoli, General Li Zuocheng, Commander PLA and other high officials. Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli and Pakistan Army chief, Gen. Bajwa pledged to enhance defence and security ties and take the CPEC further ahead by overcoming any impediment in its course. The Chinese leadership appreciated Pakistan Army’s positive role in making CPEC a success and praised it for eliminating various terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and ETIM. It was observed that satisfactory steps had been taken by Pakistan to safeguard the China Pakistan Economic Corridor and establish peace and stability in the entire region.
The geopolitical and economic scenario was discussed from the security point of view with special emphasis on the new threat of ISIS elements emerging in Afghanistan and the possible negative backlash on the CPEC project in case of any terror attack by mercenaries. The Vice Premier advised that close high level contact along with intensive coordination is essential. General Bajwa guaranteed the Pakistan Army’s positive contribution towards the region’s stability and security, he also thanked China for sending a PLA Army contingent for participation in the Pakistan Day Parade. He observed that relations with China were the corner-stone of Pakistan’s foreign policy and the army was committed to safeguard the CPEC and support the bilateral friendship.
In a separate meeting, Foreign Minister Wang Yi appreciated Pakistan’s efforts for the realization of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, notwithstanding geopolitical challenges Pakistan had contributed towards regional peace and stability, this was particularly evident in its efforts to maintain a healthy relationship with India and Afghanistan. The visiting Army chief acknowledged China’s diplomatic support on core issues, reaffirming that Pakistan values its friendship with China.
Weapon exchanges and enhanced military cooperation was on the agenda in another discussion between Gen. Bajwa and Chief of the Joint Staff Department, Fang Funghui, regarding mass production of jointly- developed multi role combat aircraft FC-1 Xiaolong, also known as the JF-17 Thunder in Pakistan came under discussion and ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, anti-aircraft missiles, anti-ship missiles and battle tanks was on the agenda. Song Zhongping, a military expert who served in the Second Artillery Corps, now called the PLA Rocket Force, told Global Times that these defence talks consolidate and deepen cooperation on new military techniques as well as in anti-terrorism and weapons sector, deepened military exchanges between both countries may be expected in the future. Military support is especially required in areas where China has invested heavily as Pakistan often faces terrorist threats from various mercenaries such as TTP and a new ISIS/Khurasan chapter. Both countries have also resolved to strike against militant elements such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement active in China’s Xinjiang which is point of origin of the CPEC.
Navy has formed a new “Task Force-88” equipped with gunboats, frigates, fast attack craft, aircraft, drones and various means of electronic surveillance to secure Gwadar.
On the ground, a special security force of 15,000 troops has been deployed by Pakistan army to protect the CPEC, while a special naval contingent safeguards the strategic Gwadar port. Additionally, security arrangements are in place for the safety of the 19,000 Chinese working on different projects in Pakistan. For seaward security, Pakistan Navy has formed a new “Task Force-88” equipped with gunboats, frigates, fast attack craft, aircraft, drones and various means of electronic surveillance to secure Gwadar, alongside this commercial and development activities are also patrolled systematically. Thus the entire coastal belt leading to Gwadar is adequately covered.
Reportedly, China also has plans to increase its marine forces from 20,000 to 1,00,000 personnel, some of which may be deployed at the Pakistani port of Gwadar, the starting point of CPEC or at Djibouti in the Horn of Africa according to the South China Morning Post.
Realistically, this synchronized China-Pakistan military effort had become necessary for exterminating the terrorist threat from mercenaries to CPEC, as all eyes are on this mega-project and any subversion attempts need to be dealt with pro-actively.
The joint project has resulted in a new synergy between the two nations as both look ahead towards their mutual interests in the prevailing tense geopolitical environment. Recent re-alignments have placed regional powers in two opposite camps, the prevalent rivalry and lack of understanding from the other side called for a consolidation of defence efforts on the part of China and Pakistan. This show of strength may disturb opponents that have not become part of the Belt & Road Initiative but it underlines the resolve of both China and Pakistan to take the project to completion.
Writer hails from Karachi and is a Lawyer, Journalist writing on Geopolitics, Law-related topics and Pakistan-centric issues.