THE NEW AXIS?
REWARD OF FRIENDSHIP
A CARGO SHIP, BERTHED AT GWADAR PORT, BALOCHISTAN
dimensions, which explains the Pakistani military’s increasingly prominent role in its development. Its army has raised a special security division of 15,000 troops to guard projects, while Army Chief General Raheel Sharif has made several visits to Beijing to personally guarantee the safety of Chinese personnel. Privately, many Chinese officials see the military as a more favourable interlocutor in pushing CPEC, rather than a weak civilian government.
One of CPEC’s most important projects is the upgradation of infrastructure in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, starting with the Karakoram Highway. In the event of a conflict between India and Pakistan, this link will allow China to rapidly transport materials and assistance, even if it is unlikely to involve its own troops directly. Officials believe it is only a matter of time before the PLA has boots on the ground in PoK, ostensibly to protect Chinese personnel. This year, China and Pakistan have for the first time begun joint patrols in areas bordering PoK and Xinjiang. For Pakistan, China is the best bet to fill the void left by declining American economic and military support. While China is unlikely to “backfill US financial support like-for-like”, says Small of the German Marshall Fund, “the commitments of loans, investments and even some grants will still be there on a significant scale”. “There is a far greater premium being placed,” he adds, “on ensuring that Pakistan isn’t economically weakened.”
Pakistan, however, isn’t turning only to China. In 2014, Russia ended a self-imposed embargo on the sales of arms to Pakistan. Last year, it sold Pakistan four Mi-35 helicopter gunships. The sale raised eyebrows in New Delhi because it marked a departure from earlier indirect military sales—Russia has previously sold the RD-93 jet engines for the JF-17s. The recent first-ever Russia-Pakistan military-to-military exercises were held in September, over which New Delhi lodged a strong protest with Moscow.
“Russia should step away from