Pakistan has increasingly become a pawn of China and the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan has opened options for Beijing to expand its influence in the region through Islamabad, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria said on Tuesday.
In an address at a seminar organised by think-tank Vivekananda International Foundation, he said Pakistan's dependence on China is going to increase as the country is set to reel under a Chinese debt-trap.
Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria said India's "most important" national security challenge is to understand China, its "possible game plan" and the deepening and evolving Sino-Pak relationship. "Pakistan has increasingly become a pawn in Chinese policy. Under an increasing CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) related debt trap, we are going to witness further military dependencies in the future," he said.
"The US exit from Afghanistan has opened increased options for China in the region — both direct and through Pakistan — allowing it a possible entry into Central Asia, a region that they have been eyeing for long," the IAF chief added. The Air Chief Marshal said coercion and economic dependence are being used as tools for making weaker countries accept one-sided actions, in an apparent reference to China.
"We are now witnessing a rise in attempts to alter the status quo through wanton disregard or selective interpretation of established international laws and norms. Coercion and economic dependence are being used as tools for making weaker countries accept one-sided actions, thereby undermining the established order itself at the international level," he said. "Fragile states find it convenient to align with dominant powers to ensure regime survival, thereby affecting the regional security scenario further and something we need to increasingly factor in in our national security matrix," he added.
Replying to a question on possible military cooperation among India, the US, Japan and Australia under the Quad or Quadrilateral coalition, he did not rule out such a possibility and indicated that discussions are underway. "Quad, as a kind of execution, has not happened so far. But as a plan of action, it is possible," he said.
Without naming China, Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria also referred to the "debt-trap diplomacy" to achieve geopolitical goals by ensnaring the recipient countries with loans that cannot be repaid. He said it has allowed "foreign created and controlled" ports and facilities very close to the Indian mainland and island territories. "With the new PLA doctrines underscoring the importance of developing force projection capabilities to counter US global dominance, there is a direct impact of such development on our security matrix," he said.
"For example, what happens if China was to use one of such launching pads for an action against us in a conflict situation? Does the third country port or launching pad become a target for us or not? What are the implications? It is something we need to factor in, it is something that needs to go into our planning process and thinking process," he said. Talking about national security challenges, the IAF chief said there are very few major states that still have unsettled borders to the extent India does to its north.
"On our northern borders, the Himalayan barrier, which separated South Asia from China, has been literally flattened by the massive infrastructural development and the time it takes to travel large distances has really shrunk," he said. "The western border has been active from the day Pakistan was created. In addition to the terrorism inflicted upon us through proxy actions, we have been thwarting continuous attempts by our adversary to breach our territory and sovereignty on many occasions," he said.
The IAF chief said the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific regions are witnessing a tectonic shift in the strategic sphere as the maritime trade and the economic centre of gravity drift towards them. "With the West and the US in a strategic retreat for the last couple of years, it has opened up a window of opportunity for a geo-strategic realignment and this is being largely shaped by China. China's rapid economic growth and expanding economy has allowed it to invest heavily into military technology and research and development," he said.