Serpentine manoeuvres

Issue No. 7 | April 01-15, 2013By Lt General (Retd) P.C. Katoch

By getting China into Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan hopes to divert attention of the Shia rebellion in the area, where the hapless Shias are being systematically killed through institutionalised attacks

It is many years since the dragon first appeared in Burma (now Myanmar) – mainly investment, trade and development – reminds you of the East India Company? The aims were clear. The fire burning in the belly of the dragon caused it to aim for the waters of the Bay of Bengal.

The head of the dragon first entered quietly the Irrawaddy River from the North. Myanmar was happy that China would dredge the Irrawaddy basin and make it navigable to large vessels. Today there are over three million Chinese in Myanmar. Plans are afoot for a major rail line connecting Kunming in China with a new deep sea port at Kyaukpyu, developed by China in Myanmar, latter is mushrooming into a special economic zone. Of course, all this came with strategic forethought, with China supplying massive military equipment to Myanmar over the years that included fighter jets, naval ships/vessels and armoured vehicles.

Military cooperation included joint exercises and Myanmar military personnel trained by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The ultimate aim is to exert strategic influence in the Bay of Bengal and consequently the Indian Ocean. Ironically, on the Coco Island that India gifted to Myanmar, China built an airstrip, naval facilities with an 85-metre-long jetty plus electronic eavesdropping and surveillance facilities to monitor Indian missile launches off the Odisha coast, added advantage being to monitor all shipping in the Bay of Bengal. China is also laying gas and oil pipelines through Myanmar to avoid the Straits of Malacca and has funded the road linking Yangon and Sittwe. China seeks permanent access to Myanmar ports for her Navy, particularly Kyaukpyu and Sittwe, latter being closed to Kolkata harbour.

The dragon is fully entrenched to drink the waters of the Bay of Bengal but having achieved this has turned its attention to the Arabian Sea.

In February 2013, Pakistan handed over the strategic deepwater Gwadar seaport to China. China had been a major funding contributor for this port. The ‘higher than the mountain, deeper than the sea’ China-Pakistan partnership has achieved another hallmark, having been initiated when Pakistan ceded some 6,000 square kilometers of Indian territory of Shaksgam Valley to China in 1963. A jubilant China, showered Pakistan with weapon platforms, military equipment, nuclear technology and a firm backing for Pakistan to carry on exporting terror as long as Xinjiang remained safe. Thereafter came China’s strategic footprints in PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan cashing upon an imploding Pakistan crippled with sectarian strife, the military riding the tiger of terror and the sham democracy wagging its tail to command of the military-ISI and the military-mullah combine.

By getting China into Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan hopes to divert attention of the Shia rebellion in the area, where the hapless Shias are being systematically killed through institutionalised attacks. Similarly, by handing over Gwadar to China, Pakistan hopes to deflect from the Baluchistan independence movement, second phase of the Baluch Independence war having commenced in 2005. Agha Amin, a defence analyst and former Pakistan Army officer, forecasts post-2014 happenings by saying, “An extremist dominated Afghanistan; a Baluchistan fully fragmented and crushed…a greater Chinese vassal with far greater Chinese interests in Pakistan….There is no doubt that Pakistan will be a semi autonomous Chinese province by 2030 or so…. Pakistani Baluchistan by 2030 would be a completely Chinese run show.”

What is little known is that administration of Gwadar Port was handed over to a firm of Singapore in 2007 but was cancelled now and handed over to a state-owned Chinese company due to simmering rebellion in Baluchistan. For the present, both China and Pakistan are talking that Gwadar port will strictly remain a commercial port but who are we fooling? PLAN will soon come calling for refuelling halt and rest and then PLAN likes to have its own air defence in place to cater for any eventualities. The dragon will now have its head in both the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. You can expect temperature levels of the Indian Ocean rising.

The views expressed herein are the personal views of the author.