Dear Rahul Gandhi, Here's A Short History Of The China-Pakistan Relationship

by Swarajya Staff - Feb 3, 2022 05:32 PM +05:30 IST
Dear Rahul Gandhi, Here's A Short History Of The China-Pakistan RelationshipRahul Gandhi
  • Rahul Gandhi said in parliament that the Narendra Modi government had brought China and Pakistan together.

    Here's a short history of the China-Pakistan relations.

Speaking during the debate in the Lok Sabha on the Motion of Thanks on the President's address, Rahul Gandhi said that the Narendra Modi government had brought China and Pakistan together. No one quite understands what he meant, as is most often the case, but his comment has been interpreted to mean that the current dispensation is to blame for the strategic alignment between Islamabad and Beijing.

"You can ask anybody who understands. The single biggest strategic goal of India's foreign policy has been to keep Pakistan and China separate. This is fundamental for India. What you have done is you have brought them together...This is the single biggest crime that you could commit against the people of India," the former Congress president said.

Experts have argued that the first part of Rahul Gandhi's comment, in which he talks about keeping "China and Pakistan separate" as the "single biggest strategic goal" of Indian foreign policy, could be attributed to the lack of understanding of India's priorities, and the constraints that it operates in, which few outside the government appreciate. But the second part, in which he blames the current government for the alignment between China and Pakistan, could be a result of ignorance, foreign policy experts said.

A lesson on the history of China-Pakistan relations is in order.

While Pakistan recognised China in 1950 — the third non-communist country and first Muslim one to do so, the relations between the two remained limited due to the former's participation in United States-led anti-communist military pacts, SEATO and CENTO. The ties between Islamabad and Beijing began taking off only in the early 1960s, when India's relations with China dipped to their lowest since independence, leading to the war of 1962, in which India suffered a humiliating defeat.

Even though it remained part of the US-led block and enjoyed generous military and economic aid from the West, the sharp deterioration of China's relations with India and the war of 1962 gave Islamabad a reason to build closer ties with China — the enemy of its enemy.

In 1963, Pakistan and China concluded a boundary agreement, with Islamabad ceding Shaksgam Valley, around 5,180 -square-kilometres of territory which India claims as part of Jammu and Kashmir, to Beijing.

In 1965, when Pakistan invaded India, China supported it diplomatically. After the US suspended its military aid to Pakistan during the 1965 War, Beijing suddenly became more than the enemy of Islamabad's enemy. As China emerged as a major supporter and arms supplier, the 1965 war proved to be a turning point in the relationship — the beginning of their enduring defence and security ties.

Islamabad's relations with Beijing matured by the late 1960s, so much so that it facilitated US-China rapprochement during the Nixon era. It resulted in US National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger's visit to China in 1971, and finally led to President Richard Nixon's week-long visit to China in 1972.

The relationship gained momentum in the 1970s, with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto visiting China three times between 1972 and 1976, which was followed by Zia-ul Huq's visit to China in 1977 and 1980.

In 1971, as tensions rose between India and Pakistan, China assured support to Islamabad "if the Indian expansionists dare to launch aggression against Pakistan, although it did little when the war actually began.

In the years after the war, China provided technical and material support to Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme. Pakistan received the Chinese CHIC-4 bomb design, used in China’s fourth nuclear test.

The Karakoram Highway linking Pakistan with western China through the Indian territory under Islamabad's illegal occupation since 1948, termed as "a road to friendship", opened officially in 1978.

In the 1980s, Pakistan received help from China in supplying weapons (paid for by the US) to guerrillas fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

In 1986, Islamabad and Beijing signed a nuclear cooperation agreement. The next year, China agreed to supply M-11 missiles and launchers to the Pakistan Army and started helping Islamabad develop delivery platforms for its nuclear weapons.

With US sanctions on Pakistan following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Islamabad also started focusing on increasing economic linkages with China. However, the security leg of the relationship continued to remain the main driver of the relationship.

In 1990, China is believed to have tested a Pakistani derivative of the CHIC-4 bomb design supplied by Beijing. It also started helping Pakistan build nuclear plants and green-lit the exchange of missile and nuclear technology between Pakistan and North Korea during this period. A 300-megawatt nuclear plant built with Chinese help was completed in 1999.

The same year, Islamabad reached an agreement with China for the development and production of JF-17 fighters for the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). The fighter jet now forms the backbone of PAF's fleet. During the 2000s, China emerged as the principal weapons supplier to Pakistan and remains the largest supplier of arms to the country today.

The Congress was in power for most of this period, with members of the Nehru-Gandhi family leading it for the majority of its time in government. By Rahul Gandhi's logic, it is the successive Congress-led governments in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and the 90s who should be blamed for close China-Pakistan ties because the two countries were already in a tight strategic embrace when Modi took office in 2014, many BJP leaders have said.

However, experts have argued that it would be unfair to blame any Indian government, past or present, for the ties between Pakistan and China, because the relationship has been shaped by events and factors which were not of India's making and often outside India's control.

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