Alliances with Great Powers

Through CPEC, Pakistan has intertwined Chinese interests with its territorial integrity, writes Khawaja Akbar

Alliances with Great Powers
Over the past few weeks, skirmishes across the China-India border have captured headlines in Pakistan, but few have outlined the significance of these developments for our country. In order to understand the importance of Chinese actions for Pakistan, along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), we need to delve into the past, to a time when we were allied with another rising global power during the Cold War - the United States of America (USA).

In the winter of 1971, Pakistan was facing an existential crisis in its war with India. By early December, it was evident that we were going to lose East Pakistan and having no nuclear weapons at the time, lacked the ability to deter India from attacking West Pakistan. It was during this time that Pakistan’s alliance with the USA bore the ultimate fruit.

Various intelligence reports, including the presence of a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) mole in Indira Gandhi’s Cabinet (probably Morarji Desai), provided American President Richard Nixon with undeniable evidence of Indian plans to invade West Pakistan, after the war in East Pakistan, with the aim of capturing Azad Kashmir and dismembering Pakistan. To prevent such an attack, Nixon took a series of steps, including warning Leonid Brezhnev, general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, that aggression against West Pakistan would lead to a war between the USA and the Soviet Union. A threat made credible by Nixon’s dispatch of the USS Enterprise, a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, to the Bay of Bengal, along with secret dispatch of planes from Jordan, privately requesting the Chinese to mount forces at the Indian border and other assistance. Thus, Pakistan’s alliance with the USA played a significant role in dissuading India from attacking West Pakistan.
By strengthening its positions across the LAC and pushing Indian troops back, China is sending a clear warning to India, not only regarding Aksai Chin but also regarding Azad Kashmir and GB

As USA became the de facto guarantor of West Pakistan’s territorial integrity during these dark times, Pakistan began an ambitious programme to develop nuclear weapons to ensure its own survival, as the USA was not an all-weather ally, far from it. And due to the vision and brilliance of one of Pakistan’s greatest leaders – Zulfikar Ali Bhutto – over the coming years, Pakistan achieved the impossible. This brought an end to Indian dreams of dismembering Pakistan, forcing even the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its then leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to pursue a policy of peace and friendship. In his famous visit to Lahore, the poet politician famously uttered:

“Jang na hone denge; Bharat Pakistan padosi, saath-saath rehna hai; Pyar karein ya ‘war’ karein, donon ko hi sehna hai; Jo hum par guzari, bachchon par na hone denge; Jang na hone denge.”

However, just two decades later, under the control of Narendra Modi, the BJP has turned into a revisionist party, with deranged aspirations, turning India into a Hinduvta State. Under his leadership, not only has India implemented laws targeting the Muslim minority domestically but seems set on a path to unilaterally revise its territorial boundaries. It has changed the status of disputed territories with both Pakistan and China by declaring them union territories, in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions and previously agreed treaties. It has also sped up infrastructure development along its border with China, such as the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulut Baig Oldie Road, which over time would give it the ability to threaten China’s Aksai Chin region, a crucial link between Tibet and Xinjiang. These dangerous developments combined with inflammatory rhetoric about invading Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), Aksai Chin, etc. has prompted the Chinese into protecting its interests both in China and Pakistan, which have led to the clashes along the LAC at the China-India border.

By strengthening its positions across the LAC and pushing Indian troops back, China is sending a clear warning to India, not only regarding Aksai Chin but also regarding Azad Kashmir and GB. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passes through GB, which offers an alternative route to China, bypassing the dangerous Malacca Strait. Any threat against GB is not just against Pakistan’s territory but also against Chinese interests. Therefore, China has now taken concrete steps on the ground, showing a credible commitment, not just in terms of words but actions, towards preventing any aggressor from threatening China and Pakistan’s territory. Any Indian designs, involving Azad Kashmir or GB, conceived under the current Modi regime, now lay stillborn, as a direct result of Chinese actions over the past month. An attack by India in these areas, will elicit a joint response from both China and Pakistan, something the two countries have been training for in recent years. The dreaded two-front war, is now a real possibility for India, something for which it is ill-prepared, which explains Modi’s timid statements in response to the loss of twenty Indian soldiers at Chinese hands.

Thus, through CPEC, Pakistan has intertwined Chinese interests with its territorial integrity. And for the first time, this is visible on the ground. Whatever economic benefits accrue over the coming decades through CPEC, Pakistan has already incentivised China into guaranteeing Pakistan’s borders, as the only way to securing its own interests, just like the Americans were drawn into protecting West Pakistan, in an attempt to prevent Soviet domination in South Asia, antithetical to US interests globally.

Ironically, despite being berated for decades for apparently failing in the area of diplomacy, Pakistan’s most important bets since its independence, allying with the USA, and now with China, have paid off beyond measure. Whether it is destiny or craftsmanship, Pakistan continues to play a pivotal role in the competition between great powers.