Friday, November 11, 2011

China seeking military bases in Fata or N-Areas

While Pakistan wants China to build a naval base at its southwestern seaport of Gwadar in Balochistan, Beijing is more interested in setting up military bases either in Fata or the Northern Areas, which are closer to the troubled Chinese province of Xinjiang.

According to well-informed diplomatic circles in Islamabad, the Chinese desire is meant to contain the growing terrorist activities of the Chinese rebels belonging to the al-Qaeda-linked East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). The Chinese Muslim rebels want the creation of an independent Islamic state and are allegedly being trained in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Beijing’s wish for a military presence in Pakistan was discussed at length by the political and military leadership of both the countries in recent months as China has become ever more concerned about the Pakistani tribal areas as a haven for radicals.

Beijing believes that similar to the American military presence in Pakistan, a Chinese presence would enable its military to effectively counter the Muslim separatists who had been operating from the tribal areas of Pakistan for almost a decade and carrying out crossborder terrorist activities in the trouble-stricken Xinjiang Province.

There were three high profile visits from Pakistan to China in recent months: the first by Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar; then by President Asif Zardari followed by DG ISI Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha.

The Pakistani visits were reciprocated by the September 28, 2011 visits to Islamabad by the Chinese Vice Premier Meng Jianzhu and the Chinese Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu. These visits were actually prompted by the two bomb blasts in the Kashgar city of the Xinjiang province on July 30 and 31, 2011, which killed 18 people. The explosions provoked some senior government officials in Xinjiang to publicly claim for the first time in recent years that the attackers had been trained in explosives in the ETIM camps which are being run by the Chinese Muslim separatists in the Waziristan tribal region of Pakistan.

Beijing believes that the Chinese rebels operating from the Pakistani tribal areas are well connected to al-Qaeda, which not only trains them but also provides funding. Therefore, Pakistan and China, which have been cooperating for a long time in the field of counter-terrorism, have intensified their efforts to nip the evil of terrorism in the bud, especially after the Kashgar blasts. In fact, it was in the aftermath of the May 2 US raid [which had killed Osama bin Laden in his Abbottabad hideout] that Islamabad started playing its China card aggressively, perhaps to caution Washington against pushing it too hard. Shortly after the raid, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani traveled to Beijing.

The accompanying Defence Minister, Ahmed Mukhtar, had stated on May 21, 2011 that whatever requests for assistance the Pakistani side made, theChinese government was more than happy to oblige, including agreeing to take over operation of the strategically positioned but underused port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea upon expiry of a contract with a Singaporean government company. He disclosed that Pakistan had asked China to begin building a naval base at Gwadar, where Beijing funded and built the port. “We would be grateful to the Chinese government if a naval base is constructed at the site of Gwadar for Pakistan,” he said in a statement.

Knowledgeable defence ministry sources in Islamabad say by having a Chinese naval base in the Gwadar area, Pakistan intends to counterbalance the Indian naval forces. However, diplomatic circles in Islamabad say Beijing, which has no military bases till now outside its territory and has often been vocal in criticizing the American moves for operating such bases, first wants to establish military bases in Pakistan that could be followed by the setting up of the naval base. Therefore, the Chinese National Defence Minister Liang Guanglie had promptly dismissed on June 6, 2011 suggestions that Beijing was carving out a permanent naval presence in India’s neighbourhood in South Asia. Answering questions at the 10th Asia Security Summit, General Liang disclaimed move to build naval bases at Gwadar in Pakistan and at a Sri Lankan port.

Chinese desire to have military bases in Pakistan is not a new one and had been discussed even in the past. Analysts say although it might not be politically feasible for the Pakistani government to openly allow China to set up military bases on its soil, Islamabad might allow Beijing the use of its military facilities without any public announcement, as a first step. They say China’s deepening strategic penetration of Pakistan and the joint plans to set up not only new oil pipelines and railroads, but also naval and military bases, are enough to set alarm bells ringing in Delhi and Washington. But analysts say the repercussions of the growing Pak-China strategic nexus are particularly stark for India because both Beijing and Islamabad refuse to accept the territorial status quo and lay claim to large tracts of the Indian land, which could come under the Chinese sway once Beijing is allowed to establish military bases in Pakistan. The News International, Oct, 26, 2011

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