The Sino-Pak axis has matured. The decades old ‘Cheen-Pak Bhai Bhai’ narrative is fast moving beyond pan-Karakoram fraternal rhetoric complemented by scenically exotic highways, shared rocket designs and muted nuclear deals to morph into optically sound, fundamentally critical, even mutually loud and proud policy, infrastructure and defense initiatives on the ground. China – and not just its submarines – is coming to Pakistan, and Pakistan is getting ready to receive the People’s Republic. The ‘Bhai’ in Beijing, as the mood in Islamabad indicates, is now a BFF – Best Friend Forever – even a Friend With Benefits.
The comprehensive Chinese assistance package – hinged on the 3000 kilometer-long China-Pak Economic Corridor, an aggressive energy build-up and military modernization – is the largest planned foreign investment program for any country, ever, touching almost crossing over $100 billion in the next decade and a half, and is being seen as the next, and perhaps the last, big thing that war-weary Pakistan must grab on to, at any cost.
The Peking Promise
The plan is simple: The deep-sea port of Gwadar is going to drive Chinese imports, largely oil and gas, into western China, which is relatively underdeveloped versus the rest of the PRC and prone to militancy. The levies, infrastructure and traffic will tone up the CPEC network to create jobs, roads and even entire towns along the way from Pakistani Balochistan, through all of the Islamic Republic’s other provinces, to Chinese Kashgar in Xinjiang. Add the potential of Chinese naval presence in Gwadar that will let it over see Hormuz and neighboring ports and the reality of Pakistan’s newly formed and purpose-built 34th Infantry Division to protect Chinese assets and personnel, and there is a single-minded confidence that the corridor must be secured and will be secured. After all, the Pakistanis have given their word to Beijing.
“China is Pakistan’s only strategic friend…not even the Saudis get to have that privilege any longer” said a senior intelligence officer last month when China’s deputy intelligence chief, Dong Haizhou was promised “no hurdles for CPEC” by army chief General Raheel Sharif during a visit to GHQ, according to the military spokesperson’s office.
So, fuelled by the blank political cheque presented to the civilian and military security apparatus by popular support after the terrible Peshawar Army Public School massacre last December – which has granted the military, police and federal investigators unprecedented constitutional powers to clean house – whoever gets in the way of a CPEC-oriented Pakistan must move aside, or be pushed out. The purge is here, and the reasoning is to satisfy China.
But this isn’t just the regular arrests and assassinations purge, the type that Pakistanis are used to. It’s more of a wide-ranging political rethink, a housekeeping exercise that runs from the south to the north, just like the corridor it is meant to pave. In Karachi and Sindh, the drive against ‘corrupt’ political parties like former president Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party has begun, which has forced him to take some respite and exit the country; also, that’s where the ‘violent’ wings of Karachi’s all-powerful Muttahida Qaumi Movement are being clipped, with some help from the BBC (which claims that India’s Research and Analysis Wing funded and trained the party’s militants) and British authorities (who are investigating the MQM’s leadership in London for murder and money laundering). Karachi, too violent and complicated to tackle alone, needed a pincer move to control it, and the Pakistanis have managed to find a partner here in the UK.