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Friday, April 22, 2011

A Perspective of the American and Chinese Presence in Pakistan

A couple of days back, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States of America, accused the notorious ISI of Pakistan of being complicit with the Haqqani Network of Afghanistan who were after all fighting, killing and maiming American soldiers. The accusation was not surprising at all for anybody who had followed Pakistani policies. In another blog, I will possibly write about the nexus between the ISI and the Haqqani Shura. Various US officials and field-level Army officers have time and again vented their frustration with Pakistan ever since the launch of Global War on Terror (GWoT) in c. 2002. But, what was surprising was the direct accusation coming from the highest ranking American General. There have been ups and downs in the US-Pakistani relationship ever since they firmed up one in the 1950s. But, this downslide has come at a particularly interesting time when the drawdown of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is about to start in a couple of months' time. What went wrong ? Why is China compensating for this down turn by increasing its presence within Pakistan ? The two are interlinked as we shall see.

Since the time of its violent birth in c. 1947, Pakistan has been driven by an obsession of India. This all-consuming obsession has led her to several problems, including the threat to its very existence today. Among other disastrous consequences of this obsession has been its quest to seek an unattainable parity with or even superiority to its much larger Eastern neighbour in military matters. One of the ways it chose to achieve this goal was to identify itself as part of the Western alliances such as SEATO and CENTO in the 50s. In those heady early days, Pakistan was even willing to antagonize important members of the Islamic world such as Egypt and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. By identifying itself so closely with one party to the Cold War, Pakistan put itself in harm’s way in the U2 episode when the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev threatened to obliterate Pakistan. Later, it again helped the US in its geopolitical and geostrategic goal of defeating the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics(USSR) even though it entailed the greatest cost to itself due to the spawning of sectarianism, terrorism, illicit drugs and small arms. After c. 1962, when India and China clashed in the Himalayas, Pakistan sought friendship with the communist People’s Republic of China (PRC) while still being a member of the anti-Communist Western alliances. Again, the only motivating factor was the unbridled obsession with India which drove it to establish friendship with the enemy of its enemy. Pakistan concluded a border agreement in c. 1963 with the PRC, ceded the Shaksgam Valley which belonged to the State of Jammu & Kashmir. The two countries have not looked back since then in their relationship. Similarly, it created various jihadi outfits to inflict a ‘thousand cuts to bleed India to death’. Pakistan thought that by micromanaging these groups, and by splitting them whenever they became too large, it could successfully keep them under tight control. However, today, these very same evil groups have turned back on their creator and are overrunning them. Thus, Pakistan has had to pay a very heavy price in its unprincipled and cavalier policies blinded as it has been by India.

Pakistan’s founder leaders had no idea about governance of the new state they were about to create in the name of religion. They felt that the munificence of the British who helped bisecting India for their geostrategic reasons, would not let them down even though they knew that Great Britain was on the decline. Propelled by the British notion of Pakistan being at the core of geostrategic calculations of the Western world due to its proximity to the new found ‘wells of power’ in West Asia, as a buffer state against expansion of Russian communism and as a refueling station for military transport in their long haul across the Indian subcontinent to East Asia, the Far East and Australia, Pakistan concluded that the Americans needed Pakistan more than they needed the Americans. In its calculation however was the hidden agenda that such a relationship would help them offset the natural superiority enjoyed by India economically, militarily and diplomatically. A country that prided itself as the only Muslim state created exclusively on the basis of religion, was even willing to forego its ambition of assuming the mantle of the Caliphate left vacant by the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire by Mustapha Kemal Ataturk. Pakistan perforce had to side with the Western powers against powerful Muslim countries in such issues as the abrogation of the Anglo-Egyptian treaty on the Suez Canal, in the British-French-Israeli attack on Egypt in 1956, and even in the creation of Israel.

No less opportunistic has been Pakistan’s friendship with China. The Pakistanis began to show interest in China after the Tibet uprising and the eventual asylum of the Dalai Lama in India in c. 1959. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, a then rising star in Pakistani political firmament, advised President Ayub Khan to develop a closer relationship with China. His anti-Americanism and his belief in socialism shaped in his mind the contours of a relationship with China even as Pakistan was furiously going ahead with its Western alliance. The 1962 Indo-China War was a watershed for Pakistan too. An already smouldering Pakistan-US military relationship, mainly on account of squabbles over equipping the newly created divisions of the Pakistani Army, was exacerbated by the American arms assistance to India, prompting angry Pakistani leaders to look up to China. They quickly concluded the border agreement which had not made any progress for several years, even conceding about 5000 Sq. Kms of the Shaksgam Valley contravening international norms. More dangerous transgressions were to follow. Ayub Khan and the young Foreign Minister Z.A. Bhutto began a series of manoueveres with the Chinese to get nuclear know-how as soon as China exploded a device in October, 1964. In his manuscript "If I am Assassinated" written from his death cell, Z.A.Bhutto has clearly said that the negotiations with the Chinese started in c. 1965 and Foreign Secretary Late Agha Shahi has since confirmed that. Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission’s (PAEC) chief Dr. Munir Akram recalls FM Ayub Khan saying in late 1965 that ‘ . . . if needed, Pakistan could get it from China’, referring to the nuclear weapons. This arrangement eventually culminated in China transferring actual nuclear weapons, missiles, enriched Uranium, and other components for enrichment in exchange for the more advanced URENCO process of enrichment that A.Q. Khan spirited away from the Dutch facility and in helping the clandestine purchase of components and machinery for setting up the enrichment facility in PRC. Much earlier, Pakistan had also helped China break out of its isolation by normalizing its relationship with the USA, even as Pakistan itself was being violently divided due to genocide in East Pakistan. The economic powerhouse of China, which today it is, thus owes a lot of gratitude to Pakistan. The China-Pakistan relationship has scaled heights ‘taller than the tallest mountains’ and depths ‘deeper than the deepest oceans’ as the two sides never fail to mention frequently.

Thus, Pakistan's foreign policies have never been founded on any sound principles of 'national interest' other than those of sheer expediency and opportunism in order to destroy India. Pakistan has had to pay an unacceptable price for its tactically brilliant but strategically stupid and unattainable policies, but neither the Pakistani society nor its leaders have felt any remorse for their actions which have pushed their nation today into a deep abyss. Today, Pakistan is buffeted by a serious threat from the Al Qaeda and Allied Movements (AQAM) for its very survival as a nation-state, sectarian violence, intolerance not just for non-Muslims but even among the various Muslim sects, a dismal economy which is surviving on the doles of the IMF and about four friendly nations (the US, Saudi Arabia, Japan and the UK), an increasingly shrinking space where the writ of the State runs, entrenched sub-nationalism, and a label of being the migraine and a central hub of worldwide terrorism. All these can be directly attributed to the fateful decision to cede sovereignty to the US, China and Saudi Arabia. Such a cession was necessitated, in turn, by the ambition to attain its goals vis-à-vis India, goals etched in concrete by the early leaders and assiduously followed by the successors.

The tragic events of 9/11 thrust Pakistan into limelight once again for all the wrong reasons. As is its wont, Pakistan saw an opportunity even amidst the gloom of being reduced to a rubble and being taken back to stone-age. It offered its unstinted services to the USA and hoped to resurrect its relationship with that country which was at its nadir then. More importantly, it also wished to stem the growing India-US engagement which was being interpreted as a threat for itself. Thus, it hoped to correct the perceived tilt in US policies favouring India. It also saw a window of opportunity to acquire American arms and ammunition apart from getting large funds just as in the decade of the 50s and 80s. It was also Pakistan’s calculation that with the US once again dependent on it due to its geographical advantages, it will get a free hand in pressurizing India on Kashmir and other issues through not only diplomacy but terrorism as well, just as it happened in the 80s when terrorism in the Indian Punjab was instigated. This is where it differed from a host of other countries which also demanded and got various favours from the US for their support for the US prosecution of war on Al Qaeda.

Pakistan therefore gave the US permission to use its airbases at Jacobabad, Dalbandin, Shamsi, Pasni, naval base at Ormara and several unmarked airstrips in Balochistan to operate drones. It allowed it unhindered airspace during the initial stages of the war on terror. It allowed logistics to support troops in Afghanistan through the Karachi Port and the Indus Highway to Khyber pass in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Agencies) and Chaman pass in Balochistan It allowed the CIA to operate freely within the country, setup electronic listening posts, capture Al Qaeda suspects including Pakistanis and deport them secretively elsewhere. These Pakistani policies were to result in a severe blowback later, but, for the moment Pakistan was benefitting from its surrender of sovereignty. Apart from the write-off of some debts and the postponement in repayments of most others by over two decades, Pakistan was getting sophisticated arms ostensibly to fight terrorists in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, like F-16s, AMRAAM, naval ships, Harpoon missiles etc !!

Pakistan also extracted other tangible benefits as well from such unstinted support. One such famous benefit was the Kunduz airlift which was authorized at the Presidential level within the US to allow Gen. Musharraf to save his face and possibly his skin by airlifting over a thousand Pakistanis including ISI officers, regular Pakistani soldiers of the Frontier Corps and possibly some members of Pakistani terrorist outfits, from Kunduz in north-east Afghanistan in mid November, 2001. For the location of Kunduz, see map below.
Map Courtesy: The United Nations

To send hundreds of Pakistani Army regulars and ISI officers as far away as Kunduz to fight the Northern Alliance of Ahmed Shah Masoud, demonstrates how much Pakistan values the 'Strategic Depth' of Afghanistan. When they were finally airlifted to the safety of Pakistan, they were simply let go. Several of those charged with many assassination attempts on Gen. Musharraf later in c. 2003 were former soldiers who were airlifted out of Kunduz. Many of them later also joined Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) set up by Maulana Masood Azhar (with the help of the ISI) who was released from an Indian prison in December, 1999 in exchange for the release of the hijacked IC-814 flight. It is these Punjabi Taliban (mostly from Punjab and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir,POK) who are wreaking extensive havoc within Pakistan today. Thus, the Kunduz airlift not only helped Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders to escape, but also deeply affected personally the man who requested that, Gen. Musharraf and far more importantly has brought Pakistan to its knees today by rehabilitating hundreds of battle-hardened and vengeful jihadists. Pakistan’s tactical decisions, while looking impressive at that moment, have thus brought that nation only strategic misery.

As the Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban groups escaped into Pakistan’s unruly FATA with the support of Pashtun tribal leaders on either side of the Durand Line and also the Pakistani Army at the border checkposts, they later re-grouped to take on the NATO and Afghan forces. One strategy employed by the Al Qaeda and Taliban was to bring under a common umbrella the various other jihadi outfits and warlords operating within Pakistan and in FATA. Thus, the Islamic International Front (IIF) of Osama bin Laden truly morphed into what is today known as AQAM with the merging of the various Pakistani terrorist tanzeems. Thus, Tehrik-e-Taliban, Pakistan (TTP) was formed (officially in c. 2007) to coordinate efforts within Pakistan given the fact that the Taliban needed to marshal the meagre and battered resources well against the mighty forces of the US, NATO and Pakistan arrayed against them. This was a tough task because of the oftentimes conflicting clannish loyalties, inter-tribal rivalries and independent warlords. The effort of unification took a long time and has not been a complete success either but it survived and has been fairly successful over the years. Though the AQAM leadership knew that Pakistan would not get too close to the Americans for AQAM’s comfort, they still needed to ensure that, by creating the TTP which maintained enough pressure on the Government and the Army of Pakistan. With Islamist-military leaders like Gen. Aslam Beg, Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul and Col. Imam guiding them, the AQAM knew only too well what perfidy Pakistan was capable of. Therefore, they needed to establish the Caliphate in FATA and TTP was the force to capture space, establish the rule there and maintain it. This is the first of the twin objectives of TTP.

Already the Pakistani terrorist tanzeem, Harkat-ul-Ansar (later renamed as Harkat-ul-Jihadi-al-Islami or HuJI and the original bearer of the tag, Punjabi Taliban) occupied an important place in the governing structure of Afghanistan during the heady days of the Taliban there. Later, Jaish-e-Mohammed also threw its weight behind Al Qaeda and Taliban. Others like the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), the Ahl-e-Hadith Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the Wahhabi Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) of Maulana Sufi Mohammed of Malakand, Brigade 313 of Ilyas Kashmiri, the Karachi-based Jandullah of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the Berelvi terrorist organization Sunni Tehrik and the mother of all Pakistani terrorist organizations Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) coalesced with them making the AQAM a formidable group at least within Af-Pak. Collectively these Pakistani terrorist organizations are referred to as the Punjabi Taliban.

The latter have carried their 'Hanud' component to the 'Yahud-Nasara' conspiracy theory of Al Qaeda. The collective wisdom now seems to be that Pakistan must also be turned into Taliban-style rule so that in future the Taliban regime of Afghanistan would be secure and a worldwide assault on the kafir can be sustained. The Afghan Taliban, while still needing the support of the Pakistani Army and the Government of Pakistan, has therefore outsourced that effort to TTP. They give the appearance of keeping the TTP at an arm's distance. The Pakistani Taliban thus seek to overthrow the Pakistani government. This is the second of the twin objectives of TTP. The Pakistani Army and the Government of Pakistan have no option but to continue with their support for the Afghan Taliban as they blindly continue to chase the mirage of 'strategic depth'. Like a monkey whose hand is trapped in the honey jar, the Pakistani Army and the Government of Pakistan are thus caught in a cleft, from which they can come out only if they let go of their Indian obsession, an impossibility. Thus the Afghan Taliban is the cleverest of them all as it gets support from Pakistan while at the same time bringing it under its sphere of influence (a reverse strategic depth). While the Pakistani Army and the Government of Pakistan believe that by supporting the Haqqani Shura and the Hizb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, another old friend of the ISI, they are preparing themselves for the day after the American departure, the AQAM also believes that it has also prepared well for the same day. Pakistan therefore could be in for a rude shock when the reinstated Taliban might fall foul of their creators and mentors, the Pakistani Army and the Government of Pakistan, because it has grown an independent mind and strategy. The assassination of Khalid Khwaja and the mujahideen and Taliban creator Col. Imam are pointers in that direction.

Today, Chinese troops are swarming all over Gilgit-Baltistan (part of the State of J&K). In circa 2009, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) entered the then ‘Northern Areas’ of POK under the guise of repairing the Karakoram Highway. See below the map of Jammu & Kashmir.
Map Courtesy: The United Nations

Later, PLA soldiers, estimated at about 11000, occupied portions of Balwaristan though the Pakistanis have denied that and said that they were merely helping the 27,000 families of Baltits who are caught on the northern side of the Attabad lake formed due to landslide in March, 2010. The Indian Army confirmed that a battalion of PLA soldiers was deployed at the Khunjerab Pass that straddles the border between Tibet and Balawaristan as part of construction of a railroad to Gwadar, Ormara & Pasni on the Pakistani Arabian Sea coast. As such construction are usually done by the PLA especially in the strategically important Karakoram areas, one can be reasonably be certain that the PLA is present in these areas in large numbers under the garb of construction activities. Satellite pictures later showed several tunnels, estimated to be 22 in number, at various places, along with convoys of trucks (likely to be PLA) and activities at road construction in these glaciated places of Balawaristan.

Amidst all this, suddenly the Chinese denied visa to the Indian Army General commanding the Northern Command under a new pretext that he was commanding troops in a ‘disputed territory’. This new formulation clearly showed that China was probably building up a case for the future. In the meanwhile, Pakistan hurriedly changed the tag, ‘Northern Areas’ to ‘Giligit Baltistan’ in c. 2010 possibly in an attempt to make it appear as a province within Pakistan and not as part of J&K. Though Pakistan occupied illegally the Gilgit-Baltistan area of the State of Jammu & Kashmir with British help, it has thus far been treating this province independent of J&K falsely claiming that the Amir and people of this region willingly acceded to Pakistan in c. 1947. The speed with which Pakistan renamed the ‘Northern Areas’ and setup an administrative structure there can be seen in a new light now in view of the presence of the PLA in these areas. This is ostensibly to thwart any Indian objections. The Officer Commanding the Northern Area of the Indian Army, Lt. Gen. K.T.Parnaik has recently said that Chinese troops were now seen stationed along the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan. A few days later, American Intelligence agencies independently confirmed, through technical intelligence, the presence of PLA along the LoC in POK. We also know that the Chinese Air Force (PLAAF) has complete access to the most important Jacobabad airbase of the Pakistani Air Force (PAF).

The presence of China in POK is another one of those 'tactically brilliant but strategically stupid' moves. The Pakistanis may be doing this for several reasons. One, they may want to put pressure on the Americans by bringing in the Chinese so that the increasing strains between the US and Pakistan may be somewhat contained. Two, the Pakistani Army may conclude that with the significant drawdown of allied forces in Afghanistan, more Pakistani troops may need to be deployed in Af-Pak border in time to come, thus weakening the eastern border with India. They also know that it was the physical presence of the US armed forces in the region that stopped India from going to war after the 13/12 Parliament attack or even employing the Cold Start Doctrine after the 26/11 Mumbai urban warfare. With the US troops gone, India may not have any constraints in punishing Pakistan. The Pakistanis may hope the PLA's presence could act as a deterrent to India. Three, after the withdrawal of the US forces, US will not need Pakistan. From past experience, Pakistan knows that the US would not care for Pakistan after that and in the present circumstances (unlike in the Cold war era of 1989 or in 1965 or in 1972) of its close relationship with India, Pakistan would feel completely naked once that happens, in spite of nukes and missiles. The PLA boots on the ground at the border is therefore a hedge against any possible combined operation by the Yahud, Hunud and the Nasara. Four, Pakistan has concluded perhaps that the days of taking utilitarian advantage of the US are coming to an end and it would be better to jump completely on the Chinese bandwagon now.

Thus, we can clearly see the compounding of mistakes by Pakistan since c. 1947 that has brought the region and the world to the dangerous situation that it today is. Pakistan continues to pursue the same policies that were essentially to take advantage of the Cold War era equations and tactics, with certain refinements here and there. It has had mostly unstinting support from its several friends, but in the process lost a large part of its sovereignty. This has brought Pakistan to the stage today where it has to seek the help of the Chinese Army to protect its borders while it is being ravaged mercilessly from within by the very evil forces it created.


  1. Excellent summary of the TSP mind set. Thanks for linking the importance of Kunduz airlift to the current problems of TSP with its million movements one more holier than the other.


  2. Brilliant analysis.

  3. An eye opener for even long time followers of Pakistani history. Thanks for writing.

  4. Thanks for the article Sridhar ji. Great insight into the matter and explained with great detail too.

  5. Sridhar,
    I keep on wondering what good is the martial fauj of half a million TFTA mards if they have to rely on worm eating chinese? It must be a insult to the the Purelanders, purest of the pure breed.

    As we have been discussing this for sometime, the only question I have is, What are the chinese intentions here apart from keeping pressure on India?

  6. Chandrabhan, PRC certainly wants to bring economic boom to the land-locked Kashgar and Lhasa. Such a boom, in their calculation, will blunt ethnic unrest. The new Silk Route they are planing therefore goes through Gwadar. Besides, the Chinese grab land wherever they can slowly and steadily. It may be that the Chinese believe that the 'disputed' territories of J&K on the Pakistani side can be coveted over time de facto, if they register their presence over a period of time. The Chinese might have also learnt a lesson or two from the Americans in not leaving a vacuum in Pakistan, especially after the American presence dwindles in the next few years. The Chinese are also convinced that India and the US may jointly be targetting PRC in the future. So, they need to be able to mount a pincer movement against India through the East and the North. The possibilities are myriad.

  7. Sridhar-ji,
    Very detailed analysis. I specially like the elaboration of the Punjabi Taliban bit. To the casual reader, this term that appears so often in the media is still a mystery.

    This also shows that the western 'experts' have only just now discovered the Lashkar-e-Taiba, but are yet to discover the rest of the snakes in that swamp.

    China's actions are directed at enhancing its own growth and development. But one can sense an absence of balance in the decision taken by its strategic masters. They are overly aggressive in their approach, and have a tendency to trample on other nation's strategic spaces.

    Even if India only considers China as a potential economic competitor and has so far resisted a formal ganging up against China, Chinese actions aimed at initially controlling India using Pakistan and now its intervention in POK will result in India having no other avenues open to it than to collaborate more closely with the US to try and restrain China.

    I can already see some murmurs in New Delhi's policy makers in this regard, who are increasingly seeing China as the more pressing issue that has to be dealt with.

    Excellent analysis as always.