A senior Pakistani military officer has reportedly said that the month-long joint air force drill between Pakistan and China near the India border is a message to New Delhi that “we have friends too”.
While Pakistan fears it might be attacked by India, it also believes the chances of an India-China war are almost nil despite the months-long border standoff in Eastern Ladakh. “With this exercise, we send a clear message to India. We have friends too,” a senior Pakistani military officer told Nikkei Asia, requesting anonymity.
Pak-China Joint Air Exercise “Shaheen-IX” started today at an Operational Air Base of PAF.
The PLAAF contingent comprising Pilots and Air Defence Controllers is participating in the exercise.#PAFShaheenIX pic.twitter.com/HZrGMe7Zdg
— DGPR (AIR FORCE) (@DGPR_PAF) December 9, 2020
Like the China-Pakistan bonhomie has raised alarms for New Delhi, the growing military cooperation between India and the US has created some discomfort for Islamabad, which has long maintained cordial relations with Washington.
According to the Pakistani military officer, the Islamic country feels threatened following the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) on geospatial cooperation between the US and India, which allows New Delhi to access American satellite intelligence for better weapon accuracy.
No More US F-16 for Pakistan?
While Pakistan finds itself in a difficult spot maintaining cordial ties with the US considering the tensions between Beijing and Washington, the Pakistan Air Force is not using American F-16 fighter jets during the joint exercise with China.
The move has been highlighted by the Chinese media. The air force drill — Shaheen (Eagle) – IX or ‘Xiongying’ in Chinese — is taking place at Bholari in Sindh, northeast of Pakistan’s Karachi city, close to India’s Gujarat border.
A video released by the Pakistan Air Force shows a variety of military aircraft. The Chinese news website Sohu released satellite images showing the Chinese Air Force Chengdu J-10, Shenyang J-11B, and Y-20A at the Bolari Air Force Base in Pakistan.
According to reports, Pakistan dispatched F-7 fighter jets, French Dassault Mirage 5 attack aircraft and new multi-purpose JF-17 Thunder fighter jets. Pakistan has said no American equipment, such as the F-16, has been deployed. The decision has made the Chinese happy as the Chinese media report said that Pakistan Air Force, which had American F-16 and French Phantom fighters as its mainstay in the past, is now more fond of Chinese weapons.
“It is said that the Pakistan Air Force now desperately wants Chinese J-10C fighters,” according to a Chinese media report. The Pakistan Air Force uses a mix of US, French and Chinese hardware, but its economic and political proximity to China and rough relations with India have pushed it into Beijing’s orbit.
The two sides have agreed on increasing their engagement in combat training and joint drills. A week before the drills began on December 9, China and Pakistan also signed a defense pact, seen as a counter to the India-US BECA agreement.
While the details of the Pakistan-China agreement have not been made public yet, it is believed that the deal contains commitments to intelligence-sharing that would help Pakistan track the movements of Indian forces across their tense border.
The India-Pakistan relations hit a new low in 2019 when the Modi government scrapped Article 370, stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status. On the other hand, the Pakistan-China ties are not limited to the economic reason linked to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project alone. The two side have also strengthened their military cooperation, perhaps due to the ongoing border stand-off between Indian and Chinese troops.
Amid China’s trade war with the US, Washington has shifted its attention to India for enhancing its Indo-Pacific strategy to counter China. Now Pakistan, which had partnered with the US in Afghanistan to outsmart the Soviet Union during the Cold War, still wants to maintain cordial ties with Washington.
The Pakistani officer cited above has said that the US and Pakistan have been not only transactional allies but also dependable on each other. Recalling receiving F-16s in return for Pakistan facilitating the American invasion of Afghanistan, the officer said, “Now, the Americans have found a new friend in the Indians. But they should know better”.
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