China wants military outposts in Pak to protect its investments

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ISLAMA BAD: After making significant investments in the conflict-prone Pakistan-Afghanistan region as part of its highly ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, China plans to protect its interests in the two countries by deploying its own armed forces in specially created ones, according to senior diplomatic sources outpost stationed .

China has sought to expand its influence into Central Asia via the Pakistan-Afghanistan route and has made strategic investments in the two countries.

Pakistan, where by some estimates Chinese investment has soared to over $60 billion, is largely dependent on China not only financially but also militarily and diplomatically.

With the huge power imbalance in its favor, China has begun to pressure Pakistan to allow it to build outposts where it would station its armed personnel.

However, Afghanistan, where the Taliban now rule, has yet to meet the expectations of both China and Pakistan on many issues.

Senior diplomatic and security sources in Islamabad, who requested anonymity for this report, believe China’s war-scale People’s Liberation Army is working to establish military outposts in Afghanistan and Pakistan to allegedly facilitate smoother operations and expand its “Belt and Road” initiative to reach (BRI).

Chinese Ambassador Nong Rong has held meetings with Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa on the matter, according to a diplomatic source.

Ambassador Rong has not been to Pakistan since the end of March 2022 this year, having only recently arrived in the country.

However, the meeting at which he called for the creation of outposts for the Chinese armed forces was perhaps Ambassador Rong’s first formal meeting with the new government and state officials.

The Chinese ambassador has consistently insisted on the safety of Chinese projects and the safety of its citizens, the source said.

China has already requested security outposts in Gwadar and also the use of Gwadar International Airport for its fighter jets.

The facility, which can be used for military purposes, will soon be operational as indicated by its fencing, another top source revealed.

The issue has its own thorny dimensions, however, as the Pakistani people may not be comfortable with a strong Chinese military presence in the country.

There were fears that the country was already in a debt-trap-like situation and that Chinese tactics might leave it no better than a colony.

Regarding Afghanistan, both China and Pakistan have their own concerns. After the Taliban takeover, both Pakistan and China expected unconditional cooperation from the landlocked country. However, this has not fully materialized.

One of the main demands of the Pakistanis was that they wanted to keep the Indians out of Afghanistan. But the Kandahar-based Taliban don’t have too much of a fondness for Pakistan that would allow them to call the shots.

The Taliban were very interested in an independent foreign policy, including relations with India. Even Mullah Yaqub, the Taliban’s defense minister, has suggested military training in India.

However, this was not the only area in which Pakistan expected the new Afghan government to accommodate its wishes.

The Taliban, and especially groups close to the Haqqanis, were expected to facilitate the destruction of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and hand over wanted militants to the Pakistan Army.

The Haqqanis soon made it clear that they would not comply. The reason for this was that the Kandaharis and some of the TTP leaders had the same ancestral background. With no other choice, the Pakistan Army had to engage in complex ceasefire talks with the TTP.

The new Afghan government should also recognize the Durand Line as an international border. Pakistan had erected a wire fence at considerable expense in recent years, but within weeks the Taliban and TTP cut the wire and laid claim to Pakistan’s FATA region.

According to a source, Pakistani army chief General Bajwa had already expressed fears of a Taliban takeover, but his intelligence chief Faiz Hamid and powerful corps commanders opposed him.

China is also viewing the developments in Afghanistan with some concern. The Chinese have their own concerns. The Taliban and Haqqanis show no interest in handing over Uyghur insurgents to the Chinese authorities.

China also doesn’t think they are serious about developing its BRI network in Afghanistan. China wants access to Central Asia and Europe through the CPEC and Afghanistan, the diplomatic source said.

There are concerns in Beijing that Uyghur extremists may have started working with Balochi groups and the TTP to undermine the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

There have been a number of attacks in Pakistan that have targeted Chinese citizens, including the Quetta bomb blast in April 2021, which the Chinese ambassador narrowly avoided.

A year later, a suicide bomber from Balochi killed three Chinese citizens near Karachi’s Confucius Institute. These very incidents led to renewed Chinese pressure to send its own security forces to Pakistan – a demand Pakistan has repeatedly rejected.

According to the sources, China wants to expand its strategic role in Pakistan by using its own security personnel to protect its projects and citizens there.

The source also said that China is keen to invest in Afghanistan and expand its BRI project, so Beijing needs to secure Pakistan and Afghanistan with its military outposts.

China has reminded Pakistan of its history of giving outposts to America and other countries during the Cold War. At present, China has invested heavily in Pakistan, and the demand for an outpost and security arrangement is becoming more serious with the passage of time.

Pakistan has to pay 300 billion Pakistani rupees to Chinese companies, and those companies have already threatened to shut down Pakistan’s power plants if unpaid fees are not paid, sources with knowledge say.

Bostan Industrial Zone, Gwadar Port, Special Zone-I and Zone-II; some patrolling units on CPEC’s western orientation, covering Awaran, Khuzdar, Hoshab and Turbat areas; Mohmand Marble City (SEZ) near Mohmand Agency and Sost Dry-Port & Moqpondass Special Economic Zone in Gilgit-Baltistan are the main Chinese projects underway in Pakistan.

On the one hand, Pakistan is caught in China’s debt trap diplomacy, while on the other hand, the Chinese government is constantly reminding them not to trust Pakistan’s security apparatus.

Pakistan does not want to upset China, from which it repeatedly accepts financial aid. Accepting the demand, however, would not only further tarnish their global image but could also lead to domestic political complications, conclude sources, who requested anonymity for this report given their proximity to decision-makers in the country.

The recent exercise of Chinese pressure has put Pakistan in a difficult position because whether or not it complies with the demands, it would face consequences.

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