May 1, 2023

Challenges & Threats from a Collusive Pakistan-China Relationship

Written By: Jyoti M. Pathania


South Asia is fast emerging as a sub-region of the larger Indo-Pacific theatre where the US-China rivalry is now in full play. Home to about quarter of the world’s population, the region’s geography and resource endowment is unique and critical to global trade and economic integration. South Asian diaspora is creative and diligent, yet these eight nations are amongst the poorest and economically the least integrated region of the world.

The changing structure of geo-politics, ‘geo-economics deep policy paralysis’ and the ‘non-conforming neighbourhood states’, has made India’s difficult neighbourhood even more dangerous with far reaching repercussions for India’s geo-strategic future. Furthermore, the stalemate in India-Pakistan relationship and the hand in glove Pakistan-China collusive relationship, cause an enduring concern for regional instability.

Difficult Neighbourhood

Even after more than ten years, the opening remarks made by the then-Union Home Minister Shri P. Chidambaram during the India-US Homeland Security Dialogue on May 27, 2011, perfectly capture the current situation in India’s neighbourhood.

“it is a truism to say that India lives in perhaps the most difficult neighbourhood in the world. The global epicentre of terrorism is in our immediate western neighbourhood.”

The vast infrastructure of terrorism in Pakistan has for long flourished as an instrument of state policy. Today, different terrorist groups, operating from the safe havens in Pakistan, are becoming increasingly fused; the society in Pakistan has become increasingly radicalised; its economy has weakened; and, the state structure in Pakistan has become fragile. Pakistan itself faces a major threat from the same forces. Its people as well as its state institutions are under attack. Terrorist infiltration or fake currency inflow does not only take place through India’s western border, but is often routed through countries that India shares open borders with. India also has to deal with the challenge of large-scale migrations from across our borders. Insurgent groups have sometimes found refuge in India’s neighbouring countries. Internal instability in these countries has a direct bearing on the population in India’s border states”.[i] A stable, peaceful and prosperous neighbourhood is vital for the security of the people of India with a range of other challenges, which include counterfeit currency, narcotics trafficking, threats and risks in the cyber space.

China and Pakistan Collusiveness

Webster dictionary defines the word collusive as a secret agreement or cooperation especially for an illegal or deceitful purpose. A collusive behaviour involves secret or illegal co-operation between countries or organisations; hence it is co-operation characterised by secrecy and deceit for e.g., Sino–Pakistan linkage or the China and North Korea relationship. Beijing’s secretive ties with Islamabad have run closer than most formal alliances since decades. This collusive alliance is based on a few shared commonalities—both countries have a shared enmity with India; both opposed the action by India of revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019, and China has made it clear that it doesn’t see India’s rise as being in its interests.[ii]

Pakistan’s strategic location is seen by China as critical to its transition from a regional power to a global one and is central to China’s plans for network of ports, pipelines, roads, railways connecting oil & gas fields of West Asia to the mega cities of East Asia. Its coast line serves as a crucial staging post for China’s take off as a naval power, extending its reach from the Indian Ocean to the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea. Penetration of Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) into global jihadi networks are vital assets as China’s gateway in the Islamic world. Andrew Small argues that China’s strategic generosity towards Pakistan is an investment in its own geopolitical well-being. In his book, ‘The China Pakistan Axis’, he argues that Pakistan considers its relationship with China to be the cornerstone of its foreign policy; the best possible ticket out of instability and economic weakness.[iii] Pakistan wishes to leverage its unique advantage of being a bridgehead between China, South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia, through enhanced trade and investment that will benefit all the regions.

One can also argue that both countries have deep state systems. The concept of deep state points to a ‘special power configuration within a state’ that has a significant influence on the running of the statecraft, determining national security, conduct of diplomacy and foreign relations. China has been dominated for nearly a century by a single political party, whose leaders ruled with the help of the strong political party system and the military. Under President Xi Jinping’s leadership, China’s ‘centralisation of political and economic life,’ which includes government-run catholic churches, has progressed to the point where top-down social control tactics are being used to bury a society of many millions of people in a mass grave of cultural amnesia.[iv] This type of arbitrary power exercised by deep state actors, President Xi, CCP and Central Military Commission (CMC) is disturbing and reeks of totalitarianism.

In the case of Pakistan, the military, the ISI, Inter-Service Public Relations (ISPR), and the corps commanders, form the core of a deep and powerful nexus known as the deep state. When necessary, this collegiate leadership group has been responsible for forging and breaking political coalitions, as well as fostering animosity between civilians and military forces.[v]

The collusive relationship between Pakistan and China can be understood in an euphoric estimation seen in the catchy phrases like their friendship being “higher than the mountains” and “sweeter than honey”. These phrases intend to convey the ‘substanceof the relationship, not mere rhetoric, as no relationship can possibly thrive between two unequal’s, and that too for long, if it is only driven by rhetoric. Still, for most Pakistan and China watchers, this nexus remains an enigma, and, therefore, some references from past are necessary to contextualise.[vi]

Brief Historical Background

Pakistan and China established diplomatic relations in 1951, but their formative years witnessed little interaction. Perceiving its eastern neighbour as a perennial security threat, Pakistan joined the United State (US)-led Western alliance against communism. This move was received with suspicion in Beijing but both countries were careful not to take any step considered inimical to each other’s interests. Pakistan was the first Muslim country to recognise ‘New China’ and the Chinese leadership appreciated this.[vii]

Chairman Mao Zedong instructed his foreign ministry as early as in 1951 to develop relations with Pakistan. Again, in 1956, while designating his second Ambassador, Mao instructed him to pay special attention to Pakistan, which was ‘China’s southwestern gate.’ Prime Minister Huseyn Shaheed Suharwardy was the first leader from Pakistan to visit Beijing in October 1956, followed barely two months later by Premier Zhou En Lai’s visit to Pakistan.[viii] After Pakistan, Zhou visited India but declined the invitation from Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to visit Srinagar, even at a time when India and China enjoyed close relations. This was a clear signal of China showing deference to Pakistan’s position on Kashmir and its desire of forging a substantive relationship with Pakistan, independent of its ties with India. These overtures in the very early days of the relationship helped lay the foundation of “mutual trust”, which forms the core of their partnership today.[ix]

The border treaty of 1963 was a defining moment in Pakistan-China relations, further enhancing mutual trust. In 1964, Pakistan became the first non-communist country to begin its flights to China. In March 1965, Pakistan denounced the “Two China policy” of the US. China now began to regard Pakistan as a trustworthy partner in South Asia. Pakistan had also taken a clear shift in its foreign policy by showing willingness to come closer to China. By mid-1960s, their relations were poised for a major leap.[x] The 1965 India-Pakistan war proved to be a real catalyst in cementing these ties, as China fully supported Pakistan. China’s image improved exponentially after the war and made a positive impact on Pakistani psyche.

Two infrastructural projects of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), have further elevated the relationship to an all-weather status. Pakistan was amongst the first countries to join the BRI. The 1300 km long Karakoram Highway, connecting China’s Xinjiang Province to Pakistan Punjab, and built with Chinese assistance, was opened to the public in 1978. This highway now serves as the main route for CPEC, and extends up to Gwadar in Baluchistan. The Central Asian Republics, which are landlocked, are keen to take advantage of the CPEC to reach the Pakistani ports of Gwadar and Karachi. The CPEC route will also help China to overcome its Malacca Straits dilemma and cut costs and time in transportation of its exports to Africa and the Middle East, besides establishing a connectivity network with Central Asia and Afghanistan.[xi] This special alliance is supported by the principles of shared trust, shared historical baggage, shared interests, and a common worldview i.e., India.

Threats & Challenges facing India

Terrorism, proxy wars and insurgencies have been a part of Pakistan’s strategy and with onset of information warfare, support from China has expanded. It has been the epicentre of terrorism and the repercussions have been felt not only in India, but Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives and even Pakistan itself.

Since 1947, Pakistan has been following Fabian strategy with grave consequences for India. It has been able to constrain India by presenting the impression that the proxy war is out of its control and that it is a victim of such terror attacks. It avoids large-scale conflict by varying the intensity from low to high and then lowering it to avoid spiralling out of control. This has resulted in a lengthy struggle and dovetailed into no less than an act of war.

Pakistan-based terror infrastructure is a threat not just to India and South Asia, but also to the US, its allies and quite possibly, in future, even to China. This reality is far bigger than any strategic utility Pakistan might offer to these countries. In the name of promoting geo-strategic interests, it has been providing ‘safe haven spaces for the radical terror outfits as also stated in the US State Department’s Country Report on Terrorism, September 21, 2021. The report states that Pakistan is a base of operations and/ or target for numerous armed, non-state militant groups, some existing since the 1980s. Out of 67 active terrorist groups in the world, Pakistan is home to at least 12 groups, including five of them being India-centric, like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).[xii]

For the deep state, a policy mix of ‘terror and talks’ has been the strategy against India. A resurgence of regional terrorism and militancy after the Taliban’s August 2021 success is clearly visible. Lashkar Chief Hafiz Sayeed, stated “full-scale armed jihad will begin soon in Kashmir after American forces withdraw from Afghanistan.”[xiii] The focus is not on J&K alone, but on the whole of India. Linkages exist amongst Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and Indian Mujahideen (IM), with Pakistan continuing to sponsor terrorist groups, and fund, train and arm them in their war of attrition against India. “There are at least 42 terrorist training camps in Pakistani Occupied Kashmir (POK) alone[xiv]. There exists a pool of modules that can be instructed to commit acts of terror just about anywhere in India.

Pakistan Governments Submissions

In a 2012 interview with the BBC, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari confessed that previous governments “deliberately developed and nurtured militants as a policy to achieve some short-term gains”. In an interview to a private TV channel in 2018, Gen Musharraf too, acknowledged that terrorists were trained in Pakistan. “We trained Taliban and sent them to fight against Russia. Taliban, Haqqani, Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri were our heroes then”, he said.  During his official visit to the United States in July 2019, Prime Minister Imran Khan admitted the presence of 30,000-40,000 armed terrorists in his country. Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid, stated in 2021 that “All key Taliban leaders were born and raised in Pakistan, we trained them as part of our ‘service,’ and many more may be studying”. Pakistan, as hotspot of terrorism & Islamic Radicalism is  spreading  its tentacles to other South Asian countries, like India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar as the ‘military extensions of the Pakistan Army. ISIS terrorist group pays Rs 50,000 to 60,000 per month to every warrior/ unemployed youth.[xv]

Pakistan intelligence agency, a core component of the deep state, has strong nexus with the terrorists and radical rightist organisations. The JeM is headquartered in Bahawalpur, which is also the headquarter of Pakistan Army’s 31 Corps. ISI’s significant covert support to the Taliban, employing it as a proxy force during and after the Afghan war is very well known. Haqqani network, the most powerful of the Taliban’s constituent forces, was in fact the strategic arm of Pakistan’s ISI.

Both Pakistan and China have lent support to the insurgency movement in parts of India. Support to the insurgent groups, like the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), Northeast insurgents’ groups, Maoists, Naxal movement and other separatist organisations continues in some form or other. Their aim is to make insurgency self-sustaining. This remains the biggest challenge with Left Wing Extremism (LWE). After the abrogation of Article 370, the local flavour of terrorists activities is by protecting and raising the Resistance Force (TRF)- an offshoot of Pak- based terror outfit LeT – Resorting to selective killings of non-Kashmiris and the minorities in the Kashmir valley in sheer frustration. Hence a ‘unique patronage’ and ‘support for their political ascension’ and development’ is given by deep state.

An Insecure Environment & Nuclear bogey

Pakistan and China have managed to create an environment of insecurity in India, especially evident during commemoration of national occasions like Republic Day and Independence Day, and on various religious festivals, all of whom remain under the shadow of terror threat. An additional layer of security is added each year which inadvertently means an encroachment on public freedom and their shrinking spaces. Pakistan also raises the nuclear bogey to deter India as a recuse to bridge the conventional asymmetry. China’s crucial support in Islamabad’s nuclear and ballistic-missile programmes continues unabated. The possibility looms of handing over individual weapons to terrorist groups for detonation anywhere in the world, making a new 9/11 incomparably even more deadlier.

Drones from Pakistan flying into India across the Line of Control and International Border have emerged as a huge challenge for India’s Border Security Force. They bring in everything from arms to narcotics to fake currency that give rise to terror and lawlessness in India. The ‘economics of terrorismwhich come up with a terrorist attack may cause short-term and long-term disturbance to the economic system, for instance after the 26/11 Mumbai attack, the financial business of the economic capital of India took a long time to get back on track. The cost of sustained tension with Pakistan is an external check on India’s rise. This will remain for the immediate future, as for its own survival, the Pakistan military will continue to regard India as an existential threat and will continue to stoke tension, in its bid to remain relevant amongst its own people. This would impede to some extent, India’s rise to a super power status.[xvi]

Threat of a Two-front War

The discussions on a two-front military threat for India started around 2006 and were formally articulated in the defence minister’s operational directive in 2009. At the annual press conference in 2020, then Indian Army Chief General M. M. Naravane said that “There is increased cooperation between Pakistan and China, both in military and non-military fields. A two-front situation is something we must be ready to deal with.” The two-front threat has been acknowledged by other top Indian military commanders, although the country’s political leadership has publicly stayed silent on the matter. In September 2020, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat acknowledged, “Chinese economic cooperation with Pakistan, in Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, along with continued military, economic and diplomatic support mandate high levels of preparation by us. This also poses the threat of coordinated action along the northern and western fronts, which we have to consider in our defence planning.”

Sushant Singh argues that China remains a long-term strategic competitor and permanent peace with Pakistan is unlikely. A two-front military threat is a possibility, and would be a formidable challenge with no easy answers.[xvii] This ongoing friction and border tensions on two fronts contributes to the spike in military purchases. India is the world’s third-largest military spender in 2020, behind only the US and China. According to the SIPRI report, it must maintain a force of roughly 15 lakh soldiers due to the two active and unresolved borders with China and Pakistan. While India spent 2.9 per cent of its GDP on the military, Pakistan spent 4 per cent of its GDP on defence forces.[xviii]


In the era of new geo-political competition and alignments, Pakistan deep state and China collusive relationship will continue to pose the primary foreign policy and security challenge to India in the coming years. India must be prepared to take on a two-front challenge by suitably strengthening its economic heft and military capability, combined with suitable political and diplomatic measures.

Author Brief Bio:   Dr. Jyoti M. Pathania is a Professor at the Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University, India and is the founding Editor of Online Indian Journal of Peace & Conflict Resolution, http//




[1] Andrew Small, The Chian Pakistan Axis Asia’s New Geopolitics, Penguin Random House India Books,2015

[1] Babones, Salvatore. “Yes, You can Use the Word T-Word to Describe China”. Foreign Policy, April 10, 2021. totalitarian-authoritarian-debate/. Accessed on October 7, 2020

[1] Jyoti M.Pathania, Deep State Continuum  in Pakistan and its Implications for India., KW Pvt Ltd, 2022

[1] in https://









[1]Yunis Khushi “ISIS in Pakistan: A Critical Analysis of Factors and Implications of ISIS Recruitments and Concept of Jihad-Bil-Nikah”, Arts and Social Sciences Journal,

access/isis-in-pakistan-a-critical- analysis-of-factors-and-implications-of-isisrecruitments-and-concept-of- jihadbilnikah-2151-6200-1000276.pdf.

[1] Analysis drawn from the authors questionnaire submitted to the Strategic community and students




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