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October 9, 2019

Gen Bajwa’s China visit assumes significance, prior to Xi-Modi summit


October 9, 2019

General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) met Commander Army General Han Weiguo, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and General Xu Qiliang, Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) at PLA HQ in Beijing.-INP

Amid wider domestic and foreign policy developments in the region, Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa’s trip to China assumes great importance. As per schedule, apart from top defence level talks with the Chinese military leadership, COAS will also join Prime Minister Imran Khan in latter’s meeting with Chinese President Xi and Prime Minister Li Keqiang during the three days tour.

Related: No peace efforts with India at cost of nation’s dignity, says COAS

A lot has happened regionally and internationally since last time Gen Bajwa visited China: for example, India has scrapped 370 and annexed IOK against the spirit of UN resolutions and bilateral agreements. Delhi also infringed on Chinese sovereign claim on part of Ladakh. The situation in IOK could spiral out of control once restrictions are lifted potentially snowballing into wider conflict between India and Pakistan. China joined forces with Pakistan to raise the issue at the UNSC for the first time in decades.

How to deal with aggressive India is likely to be one area of discussions between the military leadership of the two countries. India’s latest offensive military drills right on the Chinese ceasefire line or LAC has irked Beijing provoking strong protest against Delhi.

In contrast, bellicose rhetoric coming out of India against Pakistan has also raised tension with Pakistan despite every effort by Islamabad to de-escalate.

Coincidentally, President Xi’s scheduled visit to India for second informal China-India summit comes ahead of this high profile tour of the Army Chief—strategic deliberations with COAS will likely also inform what President Xi will be discussing in the unscripted summit with Indian Prime Minister. Delhi is closely watching what transpires between Gen Bajwa and Chinese leadership.

It is also believed that the agenda of Army Chief also include expanding the scope of joint naval presence in Indian Ocean to counter Delhi’s build up. Additionally, discussion on air force modernisation also on the card.

Besides, India’s threats, situation in IOK Army Chief General Bajwa is also expected to discuss regional issues.

And on top of the list is stalled Afghan reconciliation talks. Before Army Chief’s departure to China, Islamabad hosted a high powered delegation of the Afghan Taliban and the US point person, Zalmay Khalilzad to jump start the stalled process of reconciliation: one positive outcome of these parlays was the release of 11 Taliban prisoners in exchange for three Indian engineers.

According to the ISPR, Army Chief discussed Afghanistan with the Chinese military leadership. China being a stakeholder in Afghan peace and stability would very much want to listen to the input of Gen Bajwa on this issue. Both countries are seeking a peaceful resolution and the US forces’ drawdown from the country without leaving a civil war like situation. It was Gen Bajwa’s thought process that led to regional consensus between Russia, China, the US and Pakistan as main stakeholders culminating in Beijing Conference issuing a joint statement for Afghan Road Map.

Also Iran crisis is another area of shared interests between Pakistan and China. Islamabad is involved in Track 2 diplomacy to reduce tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Beijing entering into the space of West Asia by virtue of recent strategic partnership with Iran, has a strategic interest to see de-escalation between Tehran and Riyadh. Given its quest to make Iran as part of BRI project, the last thing China wants another war in West Asia.

A key objective of the visit is also to advance Pakistan’s military diplomatic interests and boost military to military ties between the countries, General Bajwa will be reviewing issues as part of the bilateral strategic relations. Beijing believes in the leadership of Gen Bajwa as an anchor of stability as through his military diplomacy, Army Chief is actively helping Prime Minister Imran Khan in foreign policy in the realms of security and defence to overcome current challenges.

The military to military ties have seen positive turnarounds, been elevated and consolidated over a period of time and, as they are, have assumed greater significance in bilateral relations.

Gen Bajwa enjoys huge respect in China—a rare appreciation from Beijing for his leadership took many watchers by surprise when his tenure was extended as Army Chief for another three years. That time Beijing’s unprecedented positive comments like, “We believe under his leadership, the Pakistan army will continue to make contributions to uphold Pakistan's sovereignty, security interests and regional peace and stability," was an admission of his efforts on several fronts.

China also highlights the fact that Beijing admires special relations with Pakistan’s military establishment: it was Gen Bajwa who for the first time went to Beijing and assured Chinese leadership that like Pakistan’s armed forces, the civilian government of PM Imran Khan will also continue its pragmatic partnership and taking the CPEC to the next level quelling all negative propaganda in some western and Pakistani media attributed to certain government ministers against the mega project.

The new CPEC authority established through an Ordinance is also a manifestation of the highest level of commitment of Gen Bajwa. Under his watch, the army raised a battalion and announced plans to form another battalion to protect Chinese citizens and installations under the CPEC project.

All these efforts were aimed to demonstrate the will of Pakistan army and sharing partnership with civilian government in removing bottlenecks in the way of the CPEC and ensuring smooth cooperation with China.

COAS shared the Chinese President Xi’s stance that CPEC is a benchmark for international cooperation in the BRI and should serve as a role model for 80 countries who have committed to join the mammoth project.

Under his leadership, Gen Bajwa developed strong bound with China’s military establishment with a new learning curve in evolution of professionalism in fighting future wars, use of high tech and dynamically networked manpower.

For exhibiting, his vision unfolded in Raadul Fasad and hardening the gains of anti-terror efforts in erstwhile Fata and the rest of the country, Gen Bajwa was particularly credited by the Chinese leadership. Last but not least, Chinese admiration for Gen Bajwa partly stemmed from the fact that Pakistan army is the only institution which is highly respected in the country.

In conclusion, as always in times of crisis, it was China which stood behind Pakistan on IOK crisis and raised the issue at the UNSC, after the recent crisis over India in the wake of IOK’s annexation by Delhi. Cognisant of this special bond between Beijing and Islamabad, COAS has proved his mettle for astute defence diplomacy for Pakistan striving to further cement the defence and strategic relations of the bilateral ties between the two countries.

Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Balochistan, and ex-adviser to the Balochistan Government on media and strategic communication. He remained associated with BBC World Service. He is also Chairman of Centre for Geo-Politics & Balochistan.