Pakistan’s New Counterterrorism Operation Was Likely Triggered By Chinese Concerns About CPEC

The lackluster joint statement that followed the Pakistani premier’s visit to China suggested that the People’s Republic is souring on his country due to its inability to protect Chinese workers there who are helping develop CPEC projects.

Pakistan recently announced the start of its new counterterrorist operation codenamed “Azm-e-Istehkam”, which came as a long-overdue response to dozens of cross-border attacks over the past few years from the Afghan-based TTP terrorist group. Observers wondered why it took so long for another such operation to commence, but before explaining the reason behind the latest one’s timing, the reader should first review the following background briefings on this subject:

* 28 August 2022: “A Dangerous Security Dilemma Is Rapidly Developing In Pakistani-Taliban Relations

* 6 January 2023: “Twenty Truths About Pakistani-Taliban Ties In Light Of Their Latest Tensions

* 11 January 2023: “Continued Pakistani-Taliban Tensions Can Indeed Lead To Another Never-Ending War

* 15 July 2023: “The TTP’s Terrorist Threat To Pakistan Is Metastasizing

* 22 March 2024: “The Latest Terrorist Attack In Gwadar Is A Reminder Of Why CPEC Has Yet To Take Off

To summarize for the reader’s convenience, the Afghan Taliban considers Pakistan’s post-modern coup government that came to power after April 2022’s regime change to be American puppets, while that same government takes issue with them for hosting the TTP despite its cross-border attacks. This catalyzed a spiraling security dilemma that toxified their ties, and there’s now a chance that Pakistan might launch its own cross-border strikes throughout the course of this latest operation.

Having explained the military-strategic lead-up to “Azm-e-Istehkam”, it’s now important to delve into the reasons behind its timing, which follows the lackluster Chinese-Pakistani joint statement that came after returning Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s visit to the People’s Republic in early June. The Diplomat analyzed several joint statements over the years in their detailed report here to prove that China has indeed begun souring on Pakistan due to its economic and security crisis from 2022 onward.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is still officially considered the flagship project of China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI), but it’s woefully underperformed due to rampant corruption inside of Pakistan as well as the aforesaid two interconnected crises that coincided with the post-modern coup. To be sure, all three problems were discernable prior to former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s scandalous US-backed ouster, but none of them had reached anywhere near their present crisis proportions.

If CPEC continues stalling as a result of these aforesaid factors, then it wouldn’t be unforeseeable for the Chinese to lose interest, scale back their investments, and quietly “decouple” it from BRI. In that event, Pakistan’s long-term socio-economic growth trajectory will be ruined, thus forcing it into indefinite servitude to the IMF. It’s already overly dependent on it, so much so that The Intercept reported here last September that it was coerced by them into arming Ukraine, but this will only become even worse.

All Global South elite that are indebted to the US like Pakistan’s ruling military and political ones reasonably fear that they might one day be sold out by it whenever the moment is convenient, hence the need to preemptively avert maximum dependence on their patron if at all possible. This imperative explains why Pakistan’s pro-US elite still want to save CPEC since the full-scale economic crash that could follow this flagship project’s de facto termination could sweep them from power with the US’ approval.

In other words, it’s for reasons of political self-preservation that they finally decided to do something about the TTP after China conveyed its displeasure with the latest developments and made them worry that might soon walk away from CPEC. The latest spree of terrorist attacks against their compatriots in the country was the final straw, and this was presumably signaled to the Prime Minister during his trip to Beijing in early June.

Accordingly, the country then launched its latest counterterrorist operation a few weeks later in order to show China that they’re serious about protecting its people who are helping develop CPEC projects, but it remains to be seen how successful they’ll be in this respect. Candidly speaking, radicalism remains a deeply rooted problem in Pakistani society, especially among its largely rural population and particularly some of its Pashtun minority who inhabit the regions near the Afghan border.

While kinetic action inside the country and robust border defense measures can neutralize the most impending threats, some level of cooperation with the Afghan Taliban is necessary in order to more confidently thwart the TTP, but none appears to be forthcoming. Cross-border strikes might be justified in self-defense, including its preventive and pre-emptive forms, but they could also worsen bilateral ties if they aren’t coordinated with the Taliban and thus exacerbate their security dilemma.

There’s also the non-kinetic form of counterterrorism that’s largely forgotten about amidst the news of Pakistan’s latest military operation, and this concerns socio-economic development programs that reduce the risk of at-risk locals becoming radicalized and joining terrorist groups. Prior efforts, for as noble and well-intentioned they may have been, failed to prevent this problem from reaching its present crisis proportion and necessitating a highly publicized operation in a long-overdue attempt to address it.

China will therefore be watching more closely than anyone else to assess the sincerity of Pakistan’s counterterrorist campaign and whether it achieves tangible results that ensure the security of its compatriots in the country. If they aren’t up to its expectations, then the People’s Republic might scale back its commitment to CPEC prior to quietly “decoupling” this disappointing megaproject from BRI, in which case Pakistan would then become almost entirely dependent on the US for the indefinite future.

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