Sunday, July 18, 2010

The China Pakistan Nexus

The United States has been sending billions of dollars and tons of foreign aid material into what the Administration has often referred to as one of our strongest allies in the Middle East, Pakistan. It may shock you to find out, at the same time we have been sending all this support into that little country, they have also been receiving substantial military assistance, money and training from the Peoples Republic of China.

On March 3, 1963, these two countries (Pakistan and China) signed their first border settlement pact, which was interpreted as a direct threat to India (another strong ally of the United States). Since then, China has emerged as one of Pakistan's most trusted and enduring military allies. This is partly because Pakistan provides an anti-India ally, a market for China's low quality weapons and access to western technologies that arrive in Pakistan, --and China in turn supplies Pakistan with cheap yet extensive, good quality know-how and technologies as well as political and moral support. The two countries also are both ruled by authoritarian power elites and both have military dominated politics, which makes mutual dealings easier. However, there is more to their "special relationship" especially in the matter of sharing technologies.

The Salient features of the Pakistan-China military nexus:

  • * The Chinese have provided military assistance to Pakistan without conditions and with no imlied or direct threat of embargo.
  • * The terms on which the Chinese provide weapons and equipment allows for self-reliance and independent maintenance, not reliant upon Beijing. This included supply of spare parts, setting up local overhauling facilities, license production and joint ventures.
  • * The quality of weapons supplied by China was not state-of-the-art but 'appropriate' technologies, thus facilitating their absorption and adaption by Pakistan's armed forces and scientists with their limited infrastructure, know-how and expertise.
  • * China's continued arms supply has greatly contributed towards building up of Pakistan's defense posture, especially as it generated interest amongst other supplier countries who were interested in containing China's increasing influence in Pakistan.
  • * The military relationship with China suited Pakistan as the latter could often keep details of their defense cooperation agreements secret and announce them only when convenient.
  • * Compared to the United States from where the supplies were subject to international law/treaties, world and domestic public opinion, and other restrictive factors, China answers only to its own whims, which means that its supplies are not subject to any constraints, except at their desecration.
  • * The absence of a strong domestic industrial, scientific and technological base coupled with the prohibitive costs of modern military technology were added reasons for Pakistan to build a 'Special Relationship' with the PRC.

The repeated arms embargoes by the United States, especially one during the 1965 Indo-Pak war, were particularly responsible for an increasing emphasis within Pakistan for indigenization and self-reliance in defense production. This was also responsible for pushing Pakistan closer towards China in an attempt to diversify its sources of weapons and other equipment. China was interested in staving off western attempts to contain it. China was also against India with which it had just fought a war in October 1962.

The first formal step towards Sino-Pak defense cooperation was taken soon after the 1965 war during which China had not only sided with Pakistan during its aggression against India but had put its own forces on the Indian border on full alert and even threatened India with possible invasion.

China agreed to provide technical and financial assistance for setting up an ordnance factory at Dhaka, aimed at strengthening Pakistan's eastern defense. This new ordnance factory was commissioned after three years of work in November 1970 but in the next one year it was lost to Bangladesh that became an independent country.

China provided assistance to Pakistan in setting up facilities at the Heavy Rebuild Factory (HRF) at Taxila which would not only provide for the overhauling of Chinese Type-59 tanks and also start upgrading these tanks' critical components such as its fire control systems, thermal sight and electronic systems. In the 1980s HRF started license production of the state-of-the-art Chinese Type-69 battle tanks.

Later, a protocol was signed between China and Pakistan to set up facilities for the license production of Chinese Type-69 II BMPs (tracked fighting vehicle). The hulls were, however, imported from China along with amour plates, while other parts were manufactured in Pakistan under the technical advice of Chinese experts. China's Norinco has also helped Pakistan in the manufacture of Chinese T-69 and T-85 II battle tanks and M-113 Armored Personnel Carriers. Similarly, the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex at Kamra was also established with Chinese assistance. The F-6 Rebuild Factory, established as a turnkey project by China, which became operational in November 1980. The F-6 had, after the American F-86 Sabres, come to be the mainstay of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). China later also built overhauling facilities in Pakistan for the F-6 Shenyang fighter and the Tumansky RD-9B-8II turbojet engines with over 7,000 other spare parts.

Later, China also expanded this factory to undertake the overhauling of FT-5, FT-6 and FT-7s. Then with the phasing out of the F-6s, the facility has diversified towards maintenance and overhaul of the F-7Ps. The Light Aircraft Manufacturing Factory (LAMF), another turnkey project completed by China in June 1981, was meant for producing complete airframes and eventual production of light aircraft. By September 1983, this facility started license-production of SAAB Scania MF-1-17 (locally known as Mushshak).

Current military cooperation between the two countries operates under the provisions of the June 1990, Sino-Pak Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for an initial ten-year cooperation in procurement, R & D, technology transfer and co-production. This understanding has got a fresh lease of life ever since the Pressler amendment came into force six years ago.

Pakistan's missile development program was started in the 1980s with the active assistance from the Chinese. Sino-Pak missile collaboration goes back to 1986 when Pakistan started assembling the RBS-70 Mk 1 and Mk 2 air defense missiles systems. Collaboration in the area of longer range missiles with the Chinese began once Pakistan became involved in financing their M-9 and M-11 missiles programs. General Mirza Aslam Beg is on record for having told the press after a visit to Beijing that China's Red Arrows were better than US TOW-11 saying that it had the "advantage of going for reverse technology and retaining it, improving on it, till you achieve what you want to achieve".

Chinese help is suspected to be responsible for Pakistan's successful testing of its Hatf II missile. With a 300 km range, this missile is believed to be result of the French Eridan sounding rocket technology mixed with the Chinese expertise. This area of their collaboration has lately become very controversial following reports by the US intelligence agencies that China has transferred about 30 or more of its intermediate range M-11 missiles to Pakistan which, of course, both China and Pakistan have repeatedly denied.

In terms of arms transfers, it is not the United States, which is so often in the news, but China that has been the most significant supplier of Pakistan since the early 1960s. China, for instance had accounted for over 1/3rd of Pakistan's arms imports during 1966-1980, which was far ahead of its other major suppliers. Even following the end of the Cold War era when arms transfers has seen a declining trend, the Pressler amendment of 1992 ensured China's pre-eminence in Pakistan's arms imports. As a result, China by now has supplied Pakistan with over 1,600 main battle tanks, 400 combat aircraft and about 40 naval vessels. China, in fact, has developed such a stake in supplying arms to Pakistan that it has often flouted its commitment to both the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty (NPT) as also the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Given these realities there is no reason to presume that the China-Pakistan military nexus will not deepen over time.

China has also publicly expressed concern over the increased level of kidnappings and killings of Chinese citizens by Pakistani militants. China's ambassador in Islamabad urged Pakistan to "take effective measures to protect all the Chinese in Pakistan" after militants shot and killed three Chinese nationals in July 2007. Militants continue to target Chinese workers in Balochistan Province. However, Beijing is wary of getting heavily involved in counter terrorism efforts. "China is well aware of the threat it faces if it becomes too involved in counter terrorism efforts within Pakistan," says Garver, "and that means taking a more cautious and calculated approach--at least publicly--in strengthening Pakistan's secular institutions against the Islamist challenge. This may partly explain why China has been quite comfortable in encouraging the United States to engage more with Pakistan: to take the heat off of China."

This video was produced for Chinese television and shows a joint Chinese-Pakistan military exercise:



Note: I had posted a video clip of a Taliban Attack on US forces in Afghanistan. It was filmed by the Taliban themselves and the attack did not turn out as they planned. Unfortunately, this clip insists on loading and playing automatically and was driving me nuts, so I am sure it was irritating my visitors as well. I took in down, but if anyone would like to see it I will be glad to post it as a separate page - just let me know..

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