1. China is once again in focus in challenging the status-quo in South Asia in collusive strategic facilitation by Pakistan. This time China has shifted the strategic focus from India’s borders with China- Occupied Tibet in Arunachal Pradesh in the North East to Ladakh and to India’s Line of Actual Control with Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). Reports emanating from unimpeachable sources in the United States indicate that China has positioned nearly 12,000 Chinese Army troops in the Gilgit-Baltistan Region of the Northern Areas presently in illegal occupation of Pakistan.
China in one quiet but swift stroke has changed the geopolitical and geostrategic equations in this critical region which borders China, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan. The deployment of Chinese troops in this region even though for the ostensible purposes of infrastructural improvements of the ‘Karakoram Corridor’ heralds a new phase of China flexing its muscles not only against India but more significantly against United States in the wider global context.
Ominously, China’s upgradation of the Karakoram Corridor on Pakistan’s behalf enables China’s strategic outreach to the North Arabian Sea and the Gulf. Building oil and gas pipelines through this Corridor significantly improve China’s military postures in Western Tibet and Xingjiang both against India and countering the NATO’s Eastward creep towards China’s peripheries.
Notwithstanding that the Karakoram Corridor initially passes through disputed territory, China has gone ahead with this major project as the major portion traversing Pakistan gives a strategic advantage to China in not only in outflanking US embedment in Afghanistan but also places a strong ‘strategic pressure point’ in China’s hand against the United States when coupled with Chinese naval presence at Gwadur Port in proximity of the Hormuz Straits. 2. Pakistan’s overall strategy in ceding de facto control of Gilgit and Baltistan to China is to involve China as a stakeholder in the Jammu and Kashmir issue which Pakistan so obsessively pursues.
Pakistan thereby hopes to transform Kashmir as a bilateral India-Pakistan issue to one of a trilateral India-Pakistan-China issue. China additionally acquires crucial stakes in this disputed territory by virtue of its involvement in upgradation of Karakoram Corridor which enables it a strategic outreach by land to the North Arabian Sea and the Gulf. As a quid pro quo to Pakistan, China is also engaged in building feeder roads and bridges having a bearing on Pakistan Army’s operations against India in Ladakh.
China’s focused involvement in construction of a number of dams in this region for Pakistan enables China to reinforce its strategic signature and footprints in this disputed region and sending clear messages to India that China is sitting tightly in the region as a stakeholder courtesy Pakistan and buttressing Pakistan. The United States needs to note that what we are witnessing today is the transformation of “ Pakistan as a frontline state of United States strategy” to a newer incarnation as “ Pakistan as a frontline state of China’s Grand Strategy”.
3. India has no other option but to take a serious note of these developments. But a greater call devolves on the United States to meet the evolving China challenge via Pakistan to US embedment in the Middle East. China in terms of political and strategic signaling to its adversaries does not act impulsively and therefore the Chinese challenge of changing the strategic status-quo in South Asia has to be viewed as a well thought out and calibrated Chinese strategy to counteract what it perceives as growing reinforcing of the US-India Strategic Partnership.
These combined moves by China and Pakistan seemed to have been coincidently timed with the United States wavering commitments in Afghanistan and an India emasculated by strategic indecisiveness and lacking strategic audacity in tackling its military threats from China and Pakistan, both singly and jointly. Some may react to this Paper as sensationalizing a trivial issue involving Chinese assistance to Pakistan in upgradation of infrastructural development in its border regions.
What must not be forgotten is that in such development trivia germinate the foundations of an enlarging China-Pakistan strategic nexus and collusiveness which is bound to generate reverberations amongst neighbors. Some of the more salient facts of the situation arising from China’s increasing strategic obtrusiveness in Gilgit-Baltistan Region which need examination are as follows: * China’s Political Signaling to India on Kashmir * Military Implications for India Generated by China’s Involvement and
Presence in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir * United States: Implications of China’s Military Presence in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. * India and the United States: The Imperatives to Transparently Discuss the Emergent China Threat in Asia China’s Political Signaling to India on Kashmir 4. China political signaling to India on Kashmir by deploying its troops in POK and enlarging its profile in involvement of infrastructure development there is intended to send multiple political messages to India.
The foremost signal to India is that China would now harden its position on Kashmir as a disputed territory which would gladden Pakistan. It needs to be recalled that sometime in the 1990s China had shifted its hard stances of self-determination for Kashmir to one of virtual recognition of Kashmir as a de-facto part of India. China had been signaling change from that earlier stance with its insistence to issue stapled visas to residents of Jammu and Kashmir State and the recent refusal of a visa to the Northern Army Commander on the plea that he commands the ‘disputed region’.
China must consequently be asked by India as to how it is enlarging its stakes in a ‘disputed territory’ by strategic obtrusiveness? The second political message from China is that Jammu and Kashmir henceforth as a disputed territory in Chinese perceptions enables China to now interfere directly in the internal politics of Kashmir Valley in favor of secessionists. Evident of this was China inviting the Kashmiri secessionist leader Mirwaiz Farooq to China for discussions. One could expect greater Chinese interference in this field.
One wonders as to how effectively Indian intelligence agencies are monitoring Chinese intelligence penetration of the Kashmir secessionist movement and linkages with Kashmiri secessionist leaders. Politically, with such stances India should get the political message that China is an implacable adversary of India and no political space exists for any political reconciliation with China. China may also be signaling India to lay off Tibet and not be tempted to dabble on Tibet affairs despite any growing Indian political clout in the global strategic calculus.
Military Implications for India Generated by China’s Involvement and Presence in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir 5. The military implications arising from China’s increasing profile in POK has again to be viewed at multiple levels, namely in the overall context of the China-India military stand-off along India’s long borders with China-Occupied Tibet, next in the context of India’s defence postures in Ladakh and finally in the context of a combined military threat by China and Pakistan.
In the overall context of the China-India military standoff along the India-China Occupied Tibet border, China getting fearful of India’s strengthened defensive postures in the North East in Arunachal Pradesh would by its present maneuvers in POK be able to trifurcate India’s military responses in the event of hostilities. Further, China was most vulnerable militarily in its Western military deployment opposite India’s Ladakh region due to logistic limitations especially in terms of fuel supplies necessary to prosecute sizeable military operations against India.
With the development of infrastructure in the Karakoram Corridor, and especially the oil pipelines, China’s oversized military deployments against India would now be strongly sustainable logistically. 6. In the context of India’s defence postures in Ladakh, the challenge of China’s growing presence in POK and its involvement in roads network emanating from the Karakoram Highway and running towards Skardu and other locations opposite Ladakh and Siachen Sectors opens up the possibilities of China outflanking Indian military deployments in Ladakh.
In any future hostilities China could open a direct route to Leh along the Indus Valley without fighting India’s main defensive deployments opposite the Tibetan border. Such an outflanking move from the rear could unravel India’s entire defence posture in Ladakh. Finally, in the context of a combined China-Pakistan military threat against India, China’s development of strategic infrastructure in the Gilgit-Baltistan region running eastwards towards Indian defenses in the Ladakh Sector would facilitate speedy and enlarged Pakistan Army deployments hithertofore limited by infrastructural inadequacies.
This would enable the Pakistan Army to complement China’s main military offensives against Ladakh to the consequent military advantage of both. It could also facilitate China opening up a direct outflanking front against India by Chinese troops acting in concert with Pakistan Army. United States: Implications of China’s Military Presence in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir 7. Briefly put, the implications of China’s military presence in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir have to be viewed through the prism of the overall United States-Pakistan relationship, the United States-China power games and the impact of both these on United States strategic postures n Afghanistan, Greater South West Asia and the global context. The striking feature of the United States-Pakistan relationship all along has been American generosity towards Pakistan and a forgiving US stance on Pakistan’s strategic delinquencies. Pakistan in return, instead of being grateful for American munificence and strategic favors has all along has been double-timing and duplicitous This distinguishing features still persists and cannot be more better illustrated than Pakistan actively facilitating China’s intrusive presence in POK detrimental to United States strategic interests.
Strong voices in the American strategic community have begun emerging calling for the United States to recast its policies towards Pakistan. This is likely to gain momentum. Repeatedly emphasized in this Author’s Papers have been the strategic realities that if chips are down and Pakistan is forced to make a strategic choice between the United States and China, then Pakistan would unhesitatingly opt for China. By making available the Karakoram Corridor to China, Pakistan in effect has enabled China to offset America’s maritime superiority choking China at the strategic chokepoints that dot China’s energy lifelines from the Gulf to China. . Pakistan in effect has therefore sided with the United States enemy and helped China in defeating American strategies to contain China’s rising military profile. Taking off from the above is that in the ongoing United States-China power games Pakistan’s active assistance in enhancing the capacity of the Karakoram Corridor allows China to establish a meaningful and substantive strategic foothold in close proximity of the strategic Straits of Hormuz vital for American embedment in the Gulf Region andglobal energy supplies.
Pakistan has therefore enabled force-multipliers to China against the United States when the Karakoram Corridor is coupled with Gwadur Port and Pakistan Navy bases on the Makran Coast. China with the ongoing joint moves with Pakistan is now in a position to outflank United States military presence in Afghanistan. Further, with such enhanced postures, China can be inclined to be less helpful in solution of the Afghanistan conflict. China’s military presence in areas adjoining Afghanistan is likely to be used as a strong leverage by China against the United States.
9. China’s overall strategy has been to force the United States to exit the Asia Pacific. Pakistan’s current strategy is to prompt and induce the United States exit from Afghanistan. While China may not succeed in forcing USA out of the Asia Pacific, Pakistan seems to be making headway in prompting USA to withdraw from Afghanistan. Such a strategic vacuum so caused leaves China in a dominating position in Greater South West Asia with its Pakistan satellite doing the spadework. Resultantly, the United States leverages in South Asia to restrain Pakistan’s military adventurism and its WMD proliferation get that much more curtailed.
In actual fact, the most striking imperative for Pakistan for its strengthening strategic collusiveness with China is spurred by the pronounced national anti-Americanism predominating Pakistan and Pakistan’s strategy to shake-off United States strategic hold over Pakistan. In a case of reversed strategic irony, “Pakistan as a frontline state in United States strategy so far, would now emerge as China’s frontline state in Chinese Grand Strategy against the United States”. India and the United States: The Imperatives to Transparently Discuss the Emerging China Threat in Asia 10.
It would be an understatement to maintain that both the United States and India have strategic concerns on the emerging China threat in Asia. However both the United States and India have been strategically coy and shying away from any mutual discussions on how to deal with the China threat. The United States has been continuously engaged in adhering to a “Hedging Strategy on China”. India on the other hand has pulled wool over its eyes and shirks from identifying publicly that China is the prime and potent threat to India for reasons which need no elaboration to an informed audience.
Strategic imperatives would dictate that both the United States and India break out of their existing strategic shells and transparently discuss the emerging China Threat in Asia and how both these prominent democracies can effectively contain the China Threat. The very transparent discussion of the China Threat between the United States and India could send appropriate political and strategic signals to China. The onus is more on India to initiate such a dialogue with the United States. India must spell out to the United States as to what it expects from the United States in the event of Chinese Aggression against India.
The American responses ensuing could then either way assist India’s national security establishment to craft integrated responses, independent self reliance or alternative power backing from other quarters. Concluding Observations 11. China and Pakistan have unceasingly been involved in joint crafting of initiatives and developments which strategically embarrass India. Pakistan’s de facto ceding of the Gilgit-Baltistan Region to China on whatever pretext, is a devious ploy to politically embed China as a stakeholder in the Kashmir dispute.
In terms of India’s national security context, the developments under way foretell the significant enhancement of China’s and Pakistan’s military operational capabilities against India. The strengthening of the force-multiplication potential of the Karakoram Corridor by Pakistan is directly aimed at off-setting United States embedment in the Middle East and reduction of American leverages over Pakistan. Pakistan is no longer a frontline state of US strategy. Pakistan is fast transforming into a frontline state of China’s Grand Strategy.