COMMENT: Pakistan is finding it hard to play China’s tune

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jul10,2024

IF THERE remained any doubt over Pakistan’s status as client state to China, it was surely eradicated on June 22 – wiehn Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif launched Operation Azm-i-Istehkam (Resolve for Stability).

Ostensibly, this is a counter-terror operation aimed at eradicating the growing menace of extremes and terrorism within Pakistan’s borders.

That its launch followed a state visit by Sharif to Beijing is no coincidence, however.

Sharif lavished heaps of sugary prose on the Chinese premier, calling Xi “a visionary and dynamic leader” – feelings which, the PM said, come “from the core of my heart”.

That may be true.

But his assertion that those feelings were shared by 250 million Pakistanis may be a little more problematic.

Because attacks against Chinese interests on Pakistan are rising.

Three major attacks took place in March alone, within the same week and killing nearly half a dozen Chinese nationals. And Xi is furious.

In the first attack on March 20, militants from the Majeed Brigade of Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) attacked the Gwadar Port Authority complex, in Gwadar port city, causing a significant damage to the building.

The port is a showpiece project of the CPEC, intended to connect China’s western Xinjiang province with the sea via Pakistan.

This would shorten trade routes for China and help avoid the contentious Malacca Strait choke point, a narrow waterway between Malaysia and Sumatra that links the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

But there are two problems: the first is that, eight years after it was declared open for business with the delivery of shiny new Chinese lorries, today Gwadar lies empty.

The second problem is that it sits in the Balochistan province, and is regarded by Baloch nationalists as an emblem of oppression and exploitation.

The second attack followed 5 days later, and targeted the Pakistan Naval Station (PNS) Siddique at Turbat. The naval station’s main priority happens to be providing security to CPEC projects in the region.

It is little wonder, then, that Xi is worried. If Pakistan cannot even protect a heavily-armed base, what hope for a bunch of Chinese engineers?

That question was answered on the following day.

The 26 March attack on the convoy of Chinese engineers by a Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) suicide bomber on the Karakoram Highway in Bisham killed five engineers engaged on a Chinese-funded Dasu hydropower project at Bisham, and marked the point at which Beijing finally lost patience.

It has been more than a decade since the two countries became economically and politically intertwined with the creation of China’s Belt and Road Initiative flagship: the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

The CPEC promised much when it was launched in 2015: turbocharged access to Chinese markets through the Gwandar Port, the building of much-needed infrastructure and investments totalling £50bn.

In reality there 1,204 mile corridor has delivered little. Not only have Pakistan’s development projects stalled ,but CPEC has also exacerbated longstanding tensions in Pakistan’s Balochistan province.

And there are many in Pakistan who have begun to ask if it was all worth it?

He who pays the piper calls the tune, however, and – despite the low returns – it is Beijing which calls the tune for Islamabad today.

While Xi publicly praised the “ironclad” and all weather with Pakistan during Sharif’s State Visit, he pulled no punches in suggesting that Pakistan redoubles its efforts in safeguarding Chinese nationals.

A sign of Xi’s frustration was apparent in his failure to greenlight any new major investment in Pakistan, resorting instead to the vague assurances that China would “encourage’ Chinese companies.

More concrete commitments were entirely linked to Islamabad’s displaying concrete results in creating a “safe, stable, and predictable” security environment.

The pont was driven home on June 21 by Liu Jianchao, Minister of the International Liaison Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC), who declared that Pakistan’s “internal security deficit” was not merely a “major challenge undermining investor confidence,” but also ” the main hazards to CPEC cooperation.”

Sharif got the message.

In an official statement he described Operation Azm-i-Istehkam as a “reinvigorated and re-energised” multi-pronged military campaign, which will “integrate and synergise multiple lines of effort to combat the menaces of extremism and terrorism in a comprehensive and decisive manner” – particularly in with a focus on Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP)

He pledged to support the military’s efforts with new legislation to ensure the prosecution of terrorists. Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khwaja Asif went a step further, emphasising on the need for judicial cooperation and asking courts to “not provide any relief to those arrested as part of this action.”

The police action has prompted bitter reaction from political rivals of all stripes, underpinned by a fundamental lack of transparency, and insouciant trampling of judicial protocols.

Opposition has come position parties including the PTI, Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F), and Awami National Party (ANP), along with the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), who insists that such actions enhance the risk of further deteriorating Pakistan’s volatile security situation, displacing people and creating conditions conducive to the growth of extremism and terrorism.

In a statement issued on 25 June from Adiala Jail, where he is serving a 10-year-sentence for corruption and the leaking of state secrets, former PM Imran Khan labelled Operation Azm-i-Istehkam as a “military invasion against our own people,” arguing that the establishment should remember that “decisions made against the will of the nation” and imposed through “power and force have always produced devastating outcomes.”

He further instructed the PTI-led KP government not to participate in the military campaign. Additionally, PTI’s parliamentary leadership refused to support any military operation without parliamentary approval and demanded that the military leadership must present the plan before the parliament.

Sharif is not alone in attempting to straddle two stools to appease Beijing.

A look at the so-called “axis of the excluded” reveals similar juggling acts.

Iran’s Supreme leader Ali Khamenei is struggling to end debilitating cost of living strikes at major oil refineries which are affecting oil exports to China.

And while the rhetoric between Russia‘s and China remans robustly strong, it is telling that the alliance which once boasting having “no limits” has recently tellingly been been downgraded by Xi. War in Ukraine is now well into its second year. Bear in mind that Putin – fed lies by his own security forces – had reportedly reassured Xi that this “special action” would be over in weeks. Every month that passes drives home the affront to China’s defining diplomatic principle of upholding national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

While each country proclaims its nationalistic intentions, in reality each is heavily dependant on Chinese favour. One could go so far to as to suggest that all have become client states.

The problem with placing all your eggs in the Chinese basket, as governments in Tehran, Moscow and Islamabad are discovering to ther cost, is that there is no Plan B.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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