With eye to US, post-bin Laden Pakistan turns to 'all-weather' friend China

Pakistan and China hail their relationship during a recent state visit of Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Gilani to Beijing. In Sudan, fighting between Northern and Southern armed forces in the contested border region intensifies. India buys transport aircraft from the US in the highest value military contract between the two countries. Russia cancels joint military exercises with India. All in today's Security Briefing.
Radu Nikolaus Botez
8 June 2011

Last month, Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani undertook a four-day visit to China as part of the ‘China-Pakistan Friendship Year’, celebrating sixty years of what is commonly labelled the “all-weather friendship”.

Gilani emphasized the importance Pakistan attaches to its strong ties with China when he stated that his country was “proud to have China as our best and most trusted friend, and China will always find Pakistan standing beside it at all times.” Chinese premier Wen Jiabao echoed this statement, calling China and Pakistan ‘”all-weather” strategic partners’. As during his visit to Islamabad in December 2010, Wen called upon the international community to recognize Pakistan’s contributions to the war on terrorism and support it in facing domestic threats.

During the state visit, China agreed to provide Pakistan with fifty 'JF-17 Thunder' fighter jets, a single-engine, multi-role combat aircraft, jointly developed by the two countries. Reacting to this deal, Indian defence minister A. K. Anthony stated that “It is a matter of serious concern for us. The main thing is, we have to increase our capability, that is the only answer.”

Following the visit of Gilani, the announcement by Pakistani defence minister Ahmad Mukhtar that his government wanted China to build a naval base at the port of Gwadar to the development of which China has already contributed also caught US and Indian attention. However, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman told reporters that they were not aware of any such discussions taking place during the visit.

The openSecurity verdict: Following the killing of Osama bin Laden, US criticism of Pakistan’s stance in the war against Al Qaeda and the Taleban has intensified. The visit allowed Pakistan to show Washington that it would look towards China should relations with the US deteriorate further. The US has provided assistance worth $20 billion to Pakistan since 9/11, two-thirds of it military-aid, yet its image among the Pakistani population has worsened over past years, not least due to the circumstances of the killing of bin Laden and the deployment of unmanned drones in the border area with Afghanistan. While Chinese workers have been targeted in the past, there is not such a widespread rejection of China’s role in Pakistan.

China, however, is unlikely to actively take advantage of the deterioration of US-Pakistan relations. Aware of the suspicion that any strengthening of its ties with Pakistan would provoke in both Washington and New Delhi, Beijing has followed protocol and allowed Gilani to play the “China-card” by joining him in hailing their friendship but will not take any steps to deepen that relationship in the short term. Chinese actions in the Indian Ocean region have fuelled doubts about its purported peaceful rise, especially by India where the notion of “strategic encirclement” is often used to describe its perception of this development. Beijing has no interest in raising further suspicion by, for instance, building a naval port in Gwadar. Moreover, Sino-Indian ties are believed to have improved after reportedly constructive talks between the two emerging powers during the recent BRICS-Summit. China is unlikely to jeopardize its relationship with India by stepping up its presence in and support for Pakistan. 

Fighting breaks out in Sudan ahead of South’s declaration of independence

As Southern Sudan prepares to declare independence after the referendum held earlier this year in which 99% of voters opted for secession from the North, fighting between North- and South-Sudanese forces broke out on Sunday around the border separating the two entities.

According to the UN, the number of displaced people from Abyei, a town in the border region traditionally inhabited by Ngok Dinka people, has reached 100,000. After taking Abyei, Northern Sudanese forces started bringing in 15,000 Misserya, an Arab nomadic people, in what seems to amount to an attempt at changing the demographic distribution in favour of the North before a referendum that is envisaged in order to determine the status of the area. Some UN officials and observers have called these actions “ethnic cleansing”.

The issues at the heart of the conflict are water and oil: both the Ngok Dinka and the Misserya people need water, which is getting scarcer, for their cattle, while most of Sudan’s oil is located in the South, with the Aybei region one of the few production areas within the North’s reach should its claim be upheld.

India to buy C-17 transport aircraft from US

On Monday, the Indian government approved the purchase of ten Boeing C-17 Globemaster heavy-lift transport aircraft from the US, a deal amounting to $4.1 billion and representing the highest value military contract between the US and India so far. Timothy J. Roemer, US ambassador to India, welcomed the deal on Tuesday, stating that “the sale will further strengthen the strategic ties between the US and Indian armed forces, leading to enhanced cooperation for a safer and more secure region and world.”

The acquisition of the C-17 aircraft, making India the state with the second largest fleet of this type of aircraft after the US, will allow it to provide large-scale humanitarian assistance as it did in the wake of the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean and to deploy troops around the world. It is seen by commentators as intending to compensate for India’s decision not to shortlist US companies Boeing (F/A-18 ‘Super Hornet’) and Lockheed Martin (F-16 ‘Falcon’) for a $10.4 billion defence contract aimed at providing the India Air Force (IAF) with 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA).

Russia cancels joint military exercise with India scheduled for this month

After cancelling a joint maritime exercise with the Indian Navy to be conducted in the waters off Vladivostok in April, Russia has announced that a joint military exercise on land planned to be held this month in Russia will not take place. The countries have undertaken five joint military exercises between their navies and land forces, termed the ‘Indra’ series military exercises, since 2003.

While the official explanation for the annulations of the exercises was that the Russian navy provided support to Japan after the earthquake earlier this year and was thus unavailable for war games, and that the Indian Ministry of Defence had not informed Moscow in a timely manner about the military exercise scheduled for later this month, it is believed that other factors also played an important role. The strengthening of ties between the US and India, notably through the 2008 Nuclear Deal, as well as the rejection of Russia’s bid for a $10.4 billion defence contract under which Russia would have provided MiG-35 fighter jets, are likely to be at the heart of Russia’s decision not to carry out the exercises. A long-time partner and arms supplier, Russian relations with India have cooled down over the past years, in part because of delays in the delivery and increase in the costs of a Russian aircraft carrier that India has ordered from Moscow.

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