Earlier this week, the Asia Times Online reported that China is planning on setting up military bases in northern Pakistan. Yes, the country in that sentence was China not the US.
While I grasp the real politik of the situation, I have to say this might not be a good idea. The motivations are obvious: bolster Pakistan to counterbalance a rising India (who China still has border disputes with) and rein in extremism that might spill over the border (or already has).
But I really don’t think China has any idea whatsoever what kind of shitstorm it’s getting itself into.
First, let’s just look at the names of the provinces China wants to set up
there their base(s) in: the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) or the Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA). That’s a mouthful, ain’t it? (Although certainly not as much as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.)
FATA and FANA are as federally administered as Xinjiang is autonomous. Since the partition, they’ve existed essentially beyond Islamabad’s jurisdiction, governed by tribal leaders, much as had been done during the Raj, when the British gave up on the region after failing to take complete control. Basically China will be moving next door to the Graveyard of Empires, into a place that seems equally inhospitable.
As such, it appears that Pakistani President Zardari may be hoping China will help bring these restive regions into the fold (while also giving the middle finger to India).
Recipe for Disaster
Here are just the first things possible downsides that came to my find:
- NIMBY Radical Islam Style. We know that Osama bin Laden’s original animus against the US was driven partially by the existence of American bases on Saudi soil. Pakistan might not be home to Mecca and Medina, but it is nonetheless home to 160+ million Muslims and the law of percentages says there should be enough extremists among them to be perturbed at Chinese military bases in their backyard.
- Radical Islamic terrorists hate the US, if not just for supporting Israel, but because it represents the major force behind globalization, a phenomenon they ferociously oppose. China’s projection of its power (which, it actually could do more often. See, DPRK, Burma, etc) could make it lose the veneer of being eastern and different. Throw in the frequently reported news that China oppresses its Muslim minorities ((There are 30 million of them constituting ten separate groups, my favorite of which being the 保安族 because, yes, their name does translate to the Security Guard People, which would be a great name for a Village People cover band.)), and you have a nasty recipe for radical Islam’s newest bete noire.
- Pakistan is duplicitous. The Inter-Services Intelligence (Pakistan’s CIA) probably knew about Osama bin Laden’s residence for years. There are links between the ISI and the Taliban. ((This shouldn’t be surprising. Since the 80s, the ISI has been involved in promoting Muslim extremism in Afghanistan as a way to overcome the lack of inter-tribal cohesion among the Afghan peoples in the fight against the USSR.)) And the ISI has been training and arming (some of the guns probably initially came from the US) terrorists to carry out attacks in India and Kashmir. The ISI has been increasingly independent since Zardari, who has no military cred, took over after Gen. Musharraff stepped down.
- This will piss off India. Okay, so we know India and China don’t exactly get along. But it’d probably be best for the world if they at least tried. Some Indian reports say there are already Chinese troops in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. I’m sure setting up bases isn’t going to win the hearts and minds of the Indian people.
- Unpopular wars can take down governments. This isn’t a full-blown war, and may never be, but there is a possibility of escalation. If it does, and things fall apart, the CCP could be in trouble. There are countless examples of this happening in democracies. Here’s one from an authoritarian government. ((Now that I think about it, this might actually be a good thing; if the next government we get is better than what we have now.))