NEW DELHI: Indian government officials tracking arms exports to Pakistan say that the last few weeks have seen Pakistan exponentially increasing its arms imports from China. These include ammunition for tanks, artillery and missiles for aircraft. In the last 10 years, from 2009-2018, 86% of Pakistan’s arms imports can be classified as offensive weapons that include aircraft, armoured vehicles, missiles and artillery. In the last decade, almost 70% of Pakistan’s arms and ammunition have come from China.

China has armed Pakistan will all sorts of weapons, right from anti-tank missiles, fighter aircraft, UAV, surface-to-air missiles (SAM), frigates, corvette and submarines to combat helicopters, anti-ship missiles, beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM), torpedoes and multi-rocket launchers.

Defence watchers in the Indian establishment attribute this increase in imports to the rising tension between India and Pakistan after the abrogation of Article 370, with Pakistani strategists now worried that the threat of India trying to recover Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) is very real. They also say that this rise in the import of arms is making Pakistani generals at Rawalpindi General Headquarters (GHQ) increasingly aggressive towards India.

“Pakistan is worried that they are going to face a full-fledged Indian advancement into the PoK. This advancement, in their understanding, will become inevitable if something like the Pulwama attack is to be carried out by Pakistan-sponsored and protected groups in the coming days. To prepare itself for that eventuality, the Pakistan army has started stocking up on ammunition and has received from China multiple large consignments of guns and other weapons that are used by the ground army apart from ammunition for aircraft fighters,” an authoritative source said.

Siemon Wezeman, who is a senior researcher, Arms and Military Expenditure Programme with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told The Sunday Guardian, that most of Pakistan’s acquisitions of arms have taken place because of conflict and tensions with India. “It has very little to do with other threats or perceived threats. Thus, what India buys and does, leads to a Pakistani reaction in arms acquisitions and vice-versa. Pakistan is highly dependent on China for weapons. That dependency has only grown in recent years as European states are fairly unwilling to supply weapons to it and Pakistan can’t afford many Western weapons. The United States has cut military aid to Pakistan and is looking at India as its main partner in the Indian Ocean/South Asia region. India has enough clout and attraction as a market to tell would-be suppliers to Pakistan that any such supplies may endanger their chances with India (e.g. Pakistan has been courting the Russians to sell weapons, but India is far more important as a market for Russia than Pakistan can ever be—so no serious Russian sales to Pakistan). As far as we can see, China will remain the main supplier of arms to Pakistan, and considering the development of China’s arms technology, that will not leave Pakistan in any trouble,” he said.

As per a recent survey done by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), seven Chinese companies have found a place among the top 20 biggest defence companies of the world. Each of these Chinese companies had more than US$5 billion in revenue in 2016. The Chinese list was led by China South Industries Group Corporation (CSGC), which came in at fifth, with an estimated revenue of about $22 billion in arms sales in 2016.

The other six among the top 20 are the China Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC), China Electronics Technology Enterprise (CETC), China North Industries Group Corporation (NORINCO), China South Industries Group Corporation (CSGC), China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC), China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), and China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC).

Incidentally, earlier this February, NORINCO signed a $10 billion deal with the Saudi Arabia-based Saudi Aramco to develop a fully integrated refining and petrochemical complex in the city of Panjin in the Liaoning province of China. Months later, Aramco signed a $15 billion deal with the India-based Reliance Industries Limited to buy 20% stake in Reliance’s chemical and refining business.

In the past, many of the cadre of NSCN-IM and Ulfa have been found to be carrying arms and ammunitions, including AK rifles, machine guns and M20 pistols manufactured by NORINCO.

“It is no secret that the Chinese government and the Chinese companies are arming Pakistan—both state and non-state actors. This cannot happen unless these companies have the patronage of the Chinese government. These ‘hostile steps’ are havning an impact on our relations with China. We will and we are taking steps to secure our strategic interests,” an official source said.

The most recent arms deal that Pakistan and China has entered into is the purchase of 48 Wing Loong II UAV, which is a high-end reconnaissance, strike and multi-role endurance unmanned aerial system, capable of being fitted with air-to-surface weapons. It is equivalent to the American Reaper drone. Pakistan already has four Chinese made Rainbow-4 UAVs in its arsenal.

Siemon Wezeman said that now most of the weapons produced by China were world class, but since they had not been tested in a war-like situation, doubts regarding their quality were bound to arise: “China used to produce second or third rate weapons, but that is past now. Most or all Chinese weapons produced today are good, often on par with many or most Western weapons—they are ‘world class’, at least on paper. If one believes the US, the level of technology in Chinese weapons even worries them. At least the Pakistanis seem to be fairly happy with what they now get from China. Even the JF-17 combat aircraft, which the Pakistanis years ago called a bit second-rate, is now seen as a very decent weapon, especially since China has developed all kinds of advanced guided bombs and missiles, as well as radars, electronic warfare and other systems to make the somewhat dated basic aircraft into a fairly advanced system. The test of (these weapons) will be in a near full-scale war. And recent Chinese weapons haven’t really been tested that way; so there is always doubt if they all work as advertised.”

(Details regarding arms trade between China and Pakistan have been compiled from the data maintained by the Sweden-based Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.)