Will China Make Friends in Pakistan?

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.

Autonomous Regions

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.))
I’m sure there are plenty other reasons why this is a bad idea (this, for example), which doesn’t necessarily mean the effort will fail. But I’d hope China would learn from America’s mistakes, rather than repeat them.

Related Reading

This piece on Wired is pretty solid.

0 thoughts on “Will China Make Friends in Pakistan?”

  1. I’m sorry,but there just doesn’t seem to be any solid basis to believe that China either has or wants military bases in Pakistan. At best, the A-Times piece cites only “well-placed diplomatic circles in Islamabad” as actually saying that Beijing has any wish for such bases. The figure cited by the Indian military source – “Around 4,000 Chinese including troops of the People’s Liberation Army”, hardly implies actual military bases in Pakistan since the number of soldiers appears to be one much lower than 4,000 even if their figures are correct (as the piece points out, the PRC denies them).

    As for the “downsides that came to [your] [m]ind”:

    – China already controls Muslim regions. It is the effect of being seen to take a greater role in Pakistani politics that might be troublesome. However, they might be welcomed as a counter-balance to the Americans.

    – Try as I might, I have never found any mention of an attack by Islamic radicals claiming to be motivated by anti-globalisation. Sure, people like Osama Bin Laden envisaged a tech-free caliphate uniting the Muslim regions, but this is not the same as wanting to destroy manufacturing countries.

    – The ISI is probably also linked to ETIM then. So why would they want to allow more foreign bases?

    – Sure it will piss off the Indians. That’s why it may not actually happen.

    – Likewise, the PLA definitely doesn’t want to get involved in more counter-insurgency conflicts, and that’s another reason to think that this won’t happen.


  2. @FOARP

    I understand the sources may not be the most reliable, but there could be legitimate arguments made in Beijing for such bases. China’s already agreed to run a port and is mulling setting up a navy base there.

    Downsides to my downsides:

    –China as a counterbalance to the US. That seems plausible, but I’m not sure how extremists or even just the average Pakistani would react to it. Hopefully, they wouldn’t view China as the next great satan.

    –I meant anti-globalization in the way that Muslim extremism tends to be a reaction to the collapse of traditional values hastened by western-driven globalization. They don’t use the terminology as such, but it’s clear the only globalization they’d like to see is that of a universal caliphate.

    –I’m not sure if ETIM actually exists as a cohesive entity the way China (and the US government) claims. But there is the possibility that the ISI has already trained Uyghur terrorists. Of course, they might not like Chinese bases in Pakistan, but the ISI, just like the CIA, is not a policy making body. Zardari and parliament might take their wishes into account, but the ISI would not be making this decision.

    –I think China’s done things to piss off India before, but you’re right: depending on how the governments react to this, China might change its mind before anything’s official.

    –As with the ISI, what the PLA wants will be trumped by what the politicians want. Gen. Shinseki wanted several hundred thousand troops in Iraq. Rumsfeld trumped him. Gen. Jay Garner wanted martial law in Baghdad to prevent looting, opposed disbanding the Iraqi Army and planned to incorporate Baathists into the new Iraqi government. Paul Bremer trumped him.

    @King Tubby. I’m not sure what your link is.


  3. Doesn’t this violate some of China’s most sacred foreign policy commandments?

    (1) Non-interference in a country’s internal affairs
    (2) Respecting state sovereignty
    (3) Rejecting what it sees as the actions of an imperialist power (primarily used against the United States in reference to its overseas bases)

    If this story turns out to be true, MOFA’s going to have a lot of fun during the next few years trying to explain how Chinese troops on foreign soil is different from foreign troops on foreign soil.


  4. Some general points.

    Bin Laden et al didn’t/do not object to globalisation understood as the exchange of products and services. Witness their fetishisation of the Toyota Hi Lux and use of social media to promote their gruesome activities.

    It was the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East. But most of all they reject Western social values, particularly those pertaining to gender issues.

    The ISI has always displayed a high degree of independence and the both takes above on Zardari are incorrect. Read Steve Colls Ghost Wars if I recall the title correctly.

    The ISI is duplicitious. Bit like saying the sun rises in the East ……

    I said “proposed PRC military base in Pak/Pashto areas”. If in fact China does establish some sort of mililary presence, it is clearly making a completely idiotic foreign policy decision, given the fate of other empires eg Britain, Soviet Union and the US. (The only verifiable PRC presence in that part of the world at this point in time is Chinese hookers in Kabul.)

    The Falklands analogy/overthrow of the Argentinian military junta has a nice ring to it, but it is completely inappropriate.

    Pakistan is a garbage failed state – the only cohesive entity is the military and that probably has its own fracture lines – and such an environment may entice China to play silly buggers there with the aim poking India, but would you expect any different behaviour from an[y] imperial power?

    To be sure Bejing is concerned about possible cross border fertilisation of unrest in Zinjiang, Sunni brotherhood stuff, but Turkey could be equally culpable as elements found in Afganistan and Pakistan (the border here being a purely artificial line in the hills).

    My take, noted on Adams site, is that Beijing is showing some sort of foresight about this very bad neighbourhood, and is equally concerned about the massive recent expansion of the narcotics trade in Afganistan overseered by both the Taliban and Pakistan’s transport mafia. Europe, Russia and Iran are already saturated markets, so it makes good business sense to look at the “dream market” in the East, where you have greed, corruption and a part of the population living without solid moral/civil society moorings.

    That you are poisoning the populace of a state oppressing your Sunni brothers is a happy happenstance.


  5. “I understand the sources may not be the most reliable”

    They’re practically non-existent. As others have pointed out, this would be an incredibly stupid move, and that alone makes it somewhat unlikely. The stories most likely come from the Pakistanis trying to get more out of the US by threatening to get closer with the Chinese – a game they’ve been playing quite a bit recently. Even the naval base was essentially a Pakistani proposal, not a PRC one.

    Like I said, there’s no solid evidence to support the idea that China is pushing for bases in Pakistan.

    “there could be legitimate arguments made in Beijing for such bases”

    Kind of hard to think of one. Sure, some of the ETIM backers may be located there, but the advantages gained would be outweighed by the disadvantages.


  6. “…to set up there base(s) in: the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)”
    Should be “their” not “there”. Also I suggest put “Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)” here to avoid confusion.

    You made some good points.


  7. @DSLAM, Thanks for the correction; I have become too reliant on spell check.

    @King Tubby, the drug connection is interesting to say the least. China claims to have few drug users altogether and then suddenly nabs dozens of drug dealers at once. 12,000 has to be some kind of record. (You know China and her love of superlatives.) Do you know much about Afghan opium/heroin ending up in China? The drug trade through Yunnan is pretty well documented, but I’ve not heard much about the western border.


  8. @Michele. If you bothered to read my comment on Adams site, you will note that there is a paucity of reportage on smack ending up in China from Afganistan, but I did provide one link. Tried to find the extended transcript of the Napoleoni interview, but failed.

    However, if you have lived in China, you would be aware that the most reliable hash providers are Ughurs (sic). Being a marginalised minority totally despised by the Han, they look to their own and have developed extensive networks of support and exchange which criss-cross the country.

    A perfect arrangement for a ridgy didge new product of higher quality pink white plus profit mark up which is fully processed in Afganistan, in contrast to the Burmese stuff entering China which is of the inferior brown tar variety.

    As a footnote, Russia and the US are already cooperating with joint task forces in Afganistan in the destruction of labs. There was a very major joint incineration a few months ago, which incidentally really pissed off Karzais’ associates.


  9. Finally before breakfast. I am talking about market potential not marketting realities right now.

    Large nation states undergoing severe social dislocations/loss of social moorings are perfect sales opportunities.

    Look at Russia with its massive addict population, and recall Medvedev’s recent public statement of concern about widespread addiction and its social/productivity costs.

    Being a bit futurist here I know, but hey, what are forums for.


  10. “the most reliable hash providers are Ughurs (sic).”

    Depends what you mean by ‘reliable’, The main (or at least, the most blatant)drug dealers in Nanjing (so I’m told) were all Africans – but (by repute) ‘reliable’ wasn’t exactly a term you could attach to them.


  11. @FOARP @King Tubby

    I’ve never heard of Uyghur hash dealers in Beijing. But perhaps foreigners just buy from foreigner dealers (who, as in Nanjing, tend to be African).


  12. This article is wrong on so many levels.

    1) China is already “Friends” with Pakistan and vice versa. I saw a poll somewhere of the sampling of Pakistanis approval rating of China is somewhere in the high 70%.
    2) Pakistan already got the short end of the stick before of this rumor of China setting up shop in Pakistan. I mean before 9/11 there were only one suicide bomber attack. Now suicide bombers, drone strikes, CIA black ops, and not to mention US kill squads are common in Pakistan. All because Pakistan was dumb enough to be the country to be the lifeblood for US Afghanistan war by allowing the US send supplies and equipment there.
    3) Opium production in Afghanistan actually skyrocketed during Afghanistan war despite US’ promises to get rid of it. So China has to put more guards in its borders to stop this crap from coming in. Not to mention that Western funded terrorist organization World Uyghur Congress led by Rebiya Kadeer probably send spies to destabilize China.
    4) Reports from India propaganda that China setting a base in Kashmir is simply false. I believe that Pakistan was asking China setting up a Naval base in southern Pakistan. I doubt that China would comply though.
    5) Pakistan’s central government doesn’t have alot of control in the Kashmir region. Many people there would probably turn a blind eye if Bin Laden was there.

    Seriously, China simply end the war in Afghanistan simply by funding the same US’ Charlie Wilsons terrorists that the US did 20+ years ago and they don’t even have to send a single soldier on the ground. But China simply don’t do this kind of low blows like what US and the West does.


  13. “Seriously, China simply end the war in Afghanistan simply by funding the same US’ Charlie Wilsons terrorists that the US did 20+ years ago and they don’t even have to send a single soldier on the ground. But China simply don’t do this kind of low blows like what US and the West does.”

    Somebody please put this through translation software. Then we can worry about the inevitable (il)logic.


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