General Munir's visit to China was in the backdrop of mounting pressure, from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), on cash-strapped Pakistan towards securing financial commitments from Pakistan's friendly countries to bridge the external payment financial gap
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
On April 25, 2023, Pakistan’s Army Chief General Asim Munir arrived in China on a four-day official visit aimed at boosting bilateral defence ties. This was Munir’s fourth overseas visit since he was promoted to Army Chief in November 2022. In January 2023, he visited Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates on his first official visit abroad. In February 2023, he visited the United Kingdom on invitation from Britain’s Ministry of Defence to discuss security-related strategic issues. It is no secret that Pakistan has been supplying artillery ammunition to Ukraine which is picked up and packaged by Britain for onward dispatch to Kiev. Photos of Pakistan Ordnance Factory markings on the ammunition are the giveaway. After his UK visit, Munir again visited the UAE.
Normally, a newly promoted Pakistani Army Chief makes the first overseas visit, within weeks of his appointment, to Beijing to pay obedience to the masters in Beijing. However, Pakistan is undergoing a tense internal situation, with political instability, economy in dire straits and attacks mounting on Pakistan’s security forces especially by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA). The delay this time is attributed to the internal situation in Pakistan. So far, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have committed to providing $3 billion to Pakistan but the international lender has demanded assurance for the remaining amount.
General Zhang Youxia, Vice Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission (CMC) said that China and Pakistan are all-weather strategic cooperative partners and iron-clad friends
Munir’s visit to China was in the backdrop of mounting pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on cash-strapped Pakistan to arrange at least $6 billion to bridge the external payment financial gap. Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had acknowledged a week earlier that Asim Munir’s efforts towards securing financial commitments from Pakistan’s friendly countries. In addition to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, China has been providing critical support to Pakistan.
While Chinese President Xi Jinping was engaged in telephonic conversation with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on April 26, 2023, Asim Munir was in audience with General Zhang Youxia, Vice Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission (CMC) at the Dragon’s lair in Beijing as part of his four-day visit. According to Chinese media, Youxia said that China and Pakistan are all-weather strategic cooperative partners and iron-clad friends, stressing that no matter how the international situation changes, China always puts Pakistan as a priority in its neighbourhood diplomacy and firmly supports Pakistan in safeguarding its sovereignty, territorial integrity, development interests and national dignity. He added that China is willing to build a closer China-Pakistan community with a shared future in the new era. Munir on his part parroted the anthem “higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, and sweeter than honey”.
China has been looking to officially establish Chinese outposts in Pakistan, especially along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border with plans to extend the BRI into Afghanistan and beyond
The media also quoted unnamed military sources to say that Youxia “again” raised the demand of setting up military outposts in Pakistan to protect Beijing’s investments in the conflict-prone Pakistan-Afghanistan region as part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Munir assured Youxia on the security of Chinese nationals, projects and investments in Pakistan. For the military outposts in Pakistan, both sides will form a joint military command in the future, according to the sources. Munir also met his PLA counterpart Li Qiaoming. According to a press release issued by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in Islamabad, “Matters of mutual security interests and military cooperation were discussed. Both military commanders reiterated the need for maintaining peace and stability in the region and enhancing military-to-military cooperation.”
Pakistan is faced with the dilemma of whether to permit Chinese outposts on Pakistani soil or not. It is no secret that PLA contingents have been present in Pakistan since long to assist guarding the BRI and BRI-related projects, as also in Gwadar port – all operating in civil attire. But China has been looking to officially establish Chinese outposts in Pakistan, especially along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border with plans to extend the BRI into Afghanistan and beyond. Pakistani officers are already posted in PLA establishments; in China’s Western Theatre Command and Southern Theatre Command. However, permitting Chinese outposts in Pakistan would not be to the liking of the West – same way as China would not want a US base(s) in Pakistan. Hence, the decision to form joint China-Pakistan military commands in the future.
Pakistan’s economic crisis has worsened due to the prevailing political chaos in the country
Incidentally, Pakistan has historically resorted to lynching and killings of individuals even ‘suspected’ of blasphemy. But Chinese national Tian accused of blasphemy was out of jail pronto after Li Qiang gave a telephonic bamboo to Shehbaz Sharif. Pakistan says Tian moved to ‘undisclosed’ location – to be escorted to Beijing? The US has says it is concerned about the debt that Pakistan owes to China and other countries, while Elizabeth Horst, principal deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs at the US Department of State, visiting Pakistan said, “Pakistan has a lot of investment potential in various sectors of the economy while robust policies can help attract local and foreign investment in the country, ensuring sustainable development.” Meanwhile, the Afghan Taliban have agreed to China’s suggestion to extend the CPEC into Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s economic crisis has worsened due to the prevailing political chaos in the country. Fighting between the coalition government and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf of ousted premier Imran Khan on the one hand and the government and judiciary on the other hand over the holding of elections in Punjab have exacerbated the financial crisis. But the arrest of Imran Khan has added a new criticality to the situation. What will happen by the time this article is published cannot be predicted but according to sources within Pakistan Army as of now, General Shamshad Mirza, the current Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) may potentially plan a takeover of the Army against Asim Munir.