Islamabad: Pakistan is expanding its nuclear-capable arsenal by embracing China as its new strategic arms partner and backing away from the United States, according to analysts.
Until the mid-1960s, the US was the principal weapons supplier to Pakistan, but it began to back away from the relationship after years of difficult and sometimes unpredictable relations following the 9/11 attacks.
The fact that the US no longer fully supports the military ambitions of Pakistan has led Islamabad to replace America with China as its main source of defence material, at least in terms of arsenals, development and training.
“China is perceived as not coming with nearly as many strings attached as relations with the United States,” Fox News quoted Nate Hughes, director of military analysis at intelligence website Stratfor, as saying.
A Pakistani government official was recently quoted as saying that it was vital for the Navy to acquire more submarines to offset "the pressure we will definitely come under" due to the rapid expansion of India`s naval capability.
"Our Chinese brothers have always come to our help and we are asking them for assistance once again," he added.
Although the value of these contracts is kept a tight secret, one would wonder how Pakistan can commit such enormous resources to defence spending.
“While President Asif Zardari travels to China every six months and signs one memorandum of understanding after another, he has committed way too much than he can deliver. There are too many kickbacks for contracts,” said Maria Sultan, the director general for the South Asia Strategic Stability Institute in Islamabad.
“You have to look at the long-term viability of these loans and look at what Pakistan can pay in 5, 10, 15 years. A lot of loans are forgiven with China not asking for Pakistan to return the capital after paying interest,” she added.
But there may be issues in the Pakistani-China relationship as Sultan pointed out that both nations “have problems understanding each other’s mindset”.
“Pakistan had difficulty in applying to the Chinese the hardcore approach to business that it had experienced the United States at the start. That’s not the approach with the Chinese, which is a personal approach built over time through friendships and gradual trust building. China delivers in 15 years what the US can in four years,” she explained.
That locks Pakistan into a deeper relationship with China, arguably an additional downside when diversity of suppliers is a standard policy in many countries to ensure accessibility to weaponry.
“It creates a dependency, especially when you start to talk about sophisticated modern […] technology. You create dependency in terms of upgrades, in terms of spare parts and ammunition, contractor relationships and training,” said Hughes.