The PLA aims to effectively counter the Muslim separatists based in FATA who undertake cross-border terrorist operations in Xinjiang. The Chinese Muslim rebels want the creation of an independent Islamic state and are allegedly being trained in Pakistans tribal areas.
What is the Chinese strategic rationale to establish military bases in POK? The Chinese strategy is to get access to the Arabian Sea and to curb Islamic fundamentalism that threatens the stability and security of Xinjiang. The PLA aims to effectively counter the Muslim separatists based in FATA who undertake cross-border terrorist operations in Xinjiang. The Chinese Muslim rebels want the creation of an independent Islamic state and are allegedly being trained in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Is it possible that apart from survey teams, engineering experts and the like, the Chinese have police and intelligence personnel to keep watch on developments in militant Islam? In addition, the presence of such personnel will help the ISI keep track of home grown militant entities. The second aspect is that Selig Harrison claims that some 7,000-11,000 PLA personnel are present in NA.
It is reported that a battalion of PLA soldiers was deployed at the Khunjerab Pass straddling the border between Tibet and Balawaristan as part of construction of a railroad to Gwadar, Ormara & Pasni on the Pakistani Arabian Sea coast. Since the PLA has been involved in construction of roads and rail works in such areas, it is safe to assume that the PLA is present in large numbers under the garb of construction activities. One assumption based on the satellite pictures of several tunnels, at various places, along with convoys of trucks and activities at road construction in Gilgit-Baltistan. It could well be that these tunnels are meant for the Khunjareb railway. But media reports suggest that this project is not likely to take off any soon.
The other option is that the PLA personnel are preparing to occupy the 22 tunnels that are being constructed in the NA, where apparently even local Pakistanis are barred. This suggests that China is constructing missile silos for the Pakistan Army with nuclear warheads, of Chinese origins.
In military terms, the move into the NA of Pakistan could have another strategic implication impacting the Indian military. This is the reported cartographic aggression, in real being practiced by the Chinese near the Psangong Lake in Ladakh in the Aksai Chin sector. According to Srikanth Kondapalli of Jawaharlal Nehru University, most of the Chinese aggressions have taken place at the TRIG HEIGHTS. These heights are south of the Chipchap River, comprising Points 5495 and 5459. Southeast of Trig Heights is the Depsang Ridge, which the Chinese are trying to take under their domination.2 This is in line with the series of acts of incursions by the PLA in the Western and Eastern Sector starting in 2009.
Implications for India
When India undertook Operation Meghdoot in 1984 to pre-empt the Pakistani’s from occupying the heights on the Siachen glacier one major concern was that of China connecting to the NA through the territory leased by Islamabad to Beijing in 1963. This lies at the heart of any military move by Beijing to connect the NA to the Persian Gulf for economic and strategic reasons.
But the diplomatic military implications of the recent moves are to be factored in while generating policy responses. Two things are clear. The rebellion within the NA against Islamabad is something that India has to watch out for in terms of support and assistance. But the presence of PLA troops means that physical presence is going to be far more difficult.
Given the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, of trying to reach the Indian Ocean by the forcible occupation of Kabul, the question arises; does Beijing need the access to the Gulf more than Pakistan?
The Chinese presence in the NA has the following implications for India.
- India has maintained that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. By getting the Chinese to invest in those occupied areas, like the NA, Islamabad has gone a step ahead and could probably count on political support on its stand on Kashmir. All the recent Chinese moves clearly have to do with India’s position on Jammu and Kashmir, and with its policy towards Pakistan. This will call for sustained diplomatic effort over a period of time to reduce the gains of this posture to Pakistan.
- China gains enormously, both in terms of economics, as its companies make money in the NA and AJK. They also gain political support from a compliant Pakistan on several global matters.
- India has the problem of monitoring Chinese presence in POK. It does not have enough assets in the region and will have to depend on Western Intelligence sources. Its Technical assets could definitely be useful and have probably been activated.
- Another way is to view the challenge as emanating from Xinjiang. Could India build its assets there to see what cross-border traffic is taking place, both legal and illegal across the Kashgar region.
- In military terms the Chinese moves to occupy territory or heights is part of the calculated strategy to caliberate the level of any Indian response and to actually occupy the land.
- Given the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, of trying to reach the Indian Ocean by the forcible occupation of Kabul, the question arises; does Beijing need the access to the Gulf more than Pakistan? Or is one going to benefit from the other. The latter is more likely.
- One should also look at literature on Chinese PLA military tactics in mountainous regions [read NA], on boxing India from Aksai Chin and NA.
Given these facts, some serious soul searching has to be done within the portals of power in New Delhi.
- Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “Still a Pipedream: A Pakistan-to-China rail corridor is not a substitute for maritime transport ,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 13 (22 December 2010).
- Cited in V.K. Shashikumar, No War, No Peace, Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 47, Dated November 27, 2010, http://www.tehelka.com/story_main47.asp?filename=Ne271110Coverstory.asp