Chinese President Xi Jinping meets Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in Beijing, China | Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty Images
File photo of Chinese President Xi Jinping with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in Beijing, China | Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty Images
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As China attempted to raise the Kashmir issue at the United Nations Security Council, a recent report on its enhanced cooperation with Pakistan brought out an interesting aspect that could be of concern to India. As per US intelligence, China had a much better understanding of Indian troop positions and movements ahead of the 15 June Galwan clash in Ladakh. The assumption is that Pakistan had shared its intelligence on Indian Army with China, thereby making a considerable value addition to Chinese operations.

While intelligence cooperation between the two is not unknown, in the past Islamabad was a little more cautious, providing intel in return for some specific favour. At other times, it behaved evasively for fear of compromising its deep sources to a foreign power. But it now seems that Beijing has been able to overcome these reservations, as it gains a steady ingress into the Pakistani establishment at the highest levels, as well as on the ground. This Pakistan-China intelligence cooperation poses a challenge for India, because it marks an alarming accretion in a relationship in which Pakistan is beginning to resemble nothing more than a colony.


Also read: Document saying sensitive Ladakh standoff likely to be prolonged removed from MoD website


 

A budding relationship

Signs of the evolving ‘intel chumminess’ has been apparent for the last few years, as the Pakistan Army began to virtually govern through its ‘selected’ Prime Minister Imran Khan. The role of Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa is central to this, with his extension hailed by Beijing. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said: “Gen Bajwa is an extraordinary leader of the Pakistani army. He is also an old friend of Chinese government and the army.”

China is usually careful of commenting on such internal appointments in another country, which makes this lavish praise noteworthy. Moreover, Beijing was earlier distinctly unhappy with Pakistan’s handling of sensitive issues, including frequent attacks on its nationals by Baloch separatists in the Chinese-operated port of Gwadar, the ingress of religious preachers into Xinjiang, and other such issues. In fact, in a first, China even ‘named and shamed’ Pakistan at the National People’s Congress, with official media also proclaiming the threat of radical Islam from Pakistan. In 2017, it went so far as to close its borders.

All that seems to be in the past now, as Islamabad pulls up intel cooperation with Beijing by its bootstraps.


Also read: Focus on Ladakh, India reviews preparedness at other LAC sectors to foil China mischief


Evidence of intelligence sharing

When Baloch insurgents attacked the Chinese consulate in Karachi, the perpetrators were killed in just a month in Kandahar. Whoever launched the strike had precise intelligence, since almost an entire rung of leadership of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) was wiped out. When the same group tried to attack the Karachi Stock Exchange  – where China has a 40 per cent stake – all four members were killed, with the whole operation wound up in “eight minutes” by the Sindh Rangers. Clearly, security forces were literally waiting for the insurgents to show up, indicating advance intelligence of no small degree.

Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) seems to have thrown all its resources into protecting Chinese interests, with sources indicating that Chinese ambassador himself has sometimes sat in on high-level meetings of security agencies on the issue. China is now going a step further in pushing Pakistan to allow the designation of the BLA as a terrorist entity at the UN. This is embarrassing for Islamabad, which doesn’t want the situation to be ‘internationalised’ at a time when it is liquidating Baloch’s youth by the dozens.


Also read: Even China’s friends like Russia & Iran are having a problem with its assertiveness


 

Uighur contention

Then there is the sensitive Uighur Muslim issue, which is now prime time news. Many Uighurs have settled down in Pakistan or married Pakistanis, leading to a considerable exchange of persons across the border. Uighur youth have used Pakistan’s border regions for training to prepare themselves to fight Beijing. This was probably part of the usual ‘terrorist barter system’ that the ISI has used in the past, where it obligingly deports a few ‘terrorists’ in return for cash or kind. In 2018, religious affairs minister Noor-ul-Haq Qadri was even ‘counselling’ the Chinese on its Uighur policy.

That has all changed. As China turned on the pressure, Uighurs in Rawalpindi for instance, have come under more restrictions. Guest houses for Uighurs have been closed, and Hajj permits denied. In January this year, PM Imran Khan refused to discuss the Uighur issue in a media interview, quickly shifting to ‘atrocities’ in Kashmir.

But local sympathy for fellow Muslims has been growing, with reports of Pakistani wives and children disappearing in China, and media covering large scale detention camps and surveillance in Xinjiang. Beijing is aware of this, and in an unusual demand, asked the Pakistanis for an internal assessment of the situation. A sovereign country would have refused. Pakistan did not.

The intelligence assessment indicated that major Islamic journals were highlighting the Uighur issue, and lamenting the state of Muslims in China. Beijing expects Pakistan to  ‘manage’ this perception, with the warning that it could impact bilateral relations. Meanwhile, Pakistan has been quietly deporting Uighurs on its soil, and also often eliminating those operating in Afghanistan, using its links with diverse groups including the Taliban. Such an intel relationship is without equal.

Additionally, Pakistan has also assisted Chinese ingress into Afghanistan, which included getting the Taliban to meetings in Beijing several times, even while it assists China in intel operations in non-Islamic states such as Nepal, most apparent in the recent attempts to keep the K.P. Sharma Oli government afloat. A recent quadrilateral meeting between China, Afghanistan, Nepal and Pakistan is a triumph of no small order.


Also read: India is losing the battle — 5 things Modi must do to rescue his image and China policy


 

India’s cause for concern

Obviously, it is the intel sharing in India that is worrying. China has a far superior technical intelligence capability than Pakistan, and it needs no assistance in this. It also has some human intelligence capability among the Tibetans spread out in regions of India such as Dharamshala, Tawang and parts of Himachal Pradesh, as well as southern cities like Bengaluru.

But Pakistan has had intel operations into India for decades, particularly on movement of troops that were acquired using low-level assets. Sources also point to increased Pakistani intel activity during the Galwan stand-off, indicating that the human intelligence capability is being outsourced to Islamabad. This also ties in with the recent report regarding the posting of ISI officers to China Military Commission’s Joint Staff Department, as well as the consistent emphasis on intelligence sharing in Pakistan–China military exercises.

What is even more worrying is that Pakistan is now willing, or has been forced, to go the extra mile in intelligence sharing — an area that is traditionally regarded as central to national security. With China projected to pay up $62 billion for China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), that’s probably one way to pay the bills.

The author is former director, National Security Council Secretariat. Views are personal.

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11 Comments Share Your Views

11 COMMENTS

  1. India needs to fortify itself and go into an all out war with Pakistan and finish it once and for all.
    Pakistan is a menace and a shame to the rest of the muslims in the world.
    The are double faced, devious and untrustworthy.
    Best not to have such neighbours.
    India must strike at the correct time;when the West is attacking China in the South China sea and also economically.
    Till then India must build up its armed forces with locally produced weapons not from the West who are likely to let India down at the time of need.

  2. When India has security advisors as the writer no wonder it is in such a security conundrum.
    Ther entire article seems a cheap copy of Agatha Christie’ flop fiction.
    It’s heartening to see Indians calling Pakistan names. It actually truly speaks of depths of their despair.
    Grow your sleves out of oblivion dear Indians. Your delusional mindset id likely to bring your country to a rapid doom.

  3. Pakistan has become that ‘tuwaif’ that always needs and is on the lookout for a sugar daddy! First it was US, then KSA now China. Till someone better comes along. So used to being ‘taken care of’ that has never learnt to walk on its own.

  4. It’s shameful that you guys call this journalism. Your standards are obviously lowered, as a whole, by the right wing media. But one would expect better from an organization that pretends to be unbiased. Your job is to report the news, not make it. How is it possible that Pakistan and now China are always the bogeymen in every scenario?

    • Same way as India is always bogeyman for Pakistan! Read history, factual history, to see paki obsession with India.
      1947 Pak attacks India, 1965 Pak attacks India, 1971 technically it was pak who started the war, even Siachin India beat Pak to it, terrorism in Kashmir and India started by Pak, Kargil started by Pak..its just that now you have lost everything that you complain!

    • Actually the answer lies in the map! If you remove all but Pak and China maps, it appropriately looks like a dog begging to china!

  5. As General Panag and many other Defense Analysts have pointed out China and Pakistan are engaged in intensive exercises like Shaheen which are directed specifically against India. The next war will certainly be a two front war. It would hence be good for India to increase its defense budget from present 400,000 crore to 20,00,000 crore. That will make India invincible and also fit in with its status of a regional superpower.

  6. It looks like Pakistan has become a vassal State of China, ready to the latter’s bidding be it CPEC, putting down its own people on China’s demand, giving access to its initelligence apparatus. What else? In the history no example of any selfrespecting country stooping so low.

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