Supplying arms to Ukraine, taking US envoy on Gwadar tour: Is Pak rethinking China strategy?

NEW DELHI: A US diplomat’s recent visit to the Pakistani port of Gwadar, the heart of China’s Belt and Road Initiative projects in the country, and a ‘secret’ arms deal with America to assist Ukraine, has highlighted Islamabad’s delicate balancing of ties with rival superpowers in an effort to gain leverage for itself.
Arms deal with US to help Ukraine
Earlier this month, a report by the US-based non-profit organisation The Intercept claimed that Pakistan secretly supplied arms that were eventually used to aid Ukrainian forces amid its ongoing war with Russia.According to documents leaked by a source within the Pakistani military to The Intercept, US and Pakistan agreed to the sale of munitions from the summer of 2022 to the spring of 2023. The Russian invasion took place in February 2022.
Pakistan is known as a production hub for the types of basic munitions needed for grinding warfare, said the report.
The report claimed that Pakistan earned political goodwill from the arms sale, which in turn played a key role in helping the cash-strapped country secure a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.
It further said the US State Department took the IMF into confidence about the undisclosed weapons deal.
“To win the loan, Pakistan had been told by the IMF it had to meet certain financing and refinancing targets related to its debt and foreign investment — targets that the country was struggling to meet. The weapons sales came to the rescue, with the funds garnered from the sale of munitions for Ukraine going a long way to cover the gap,” The Intercept reported.
Gwadar tour for US envoy
Around the time the damning report was released, US Ambassador to Pakistan Donald Blome got a tour of Gwardar Port — a coastal town in southwestern Balochistan province which is home to a Chinese-built and operated deep-sea port, a core facility for the $50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.
This was the first visit by a US diplomat to the area since 2021 when the charge d’affaires made a brief stop at the port. Before that, US officials had not set foot in Gwadar since 2006.
During the visit, Blome met local officials and the Pakistani Navy’s west commander. He also spoke to reporters on a hilltop with the port in the backdrop, said a report by Nikkei Asia.
“Ambassador Blome also visited Gwadar Port and learned about port operations, Gwadar’s potential as a regional transshipment hub, and ways to connect with Pakistan’s largest export market: the United States,” the US Embassy in Islamabad had said of the September 12 visit.
Crucial timing
The high-profile tour comes at a time when Beijing is already frustrated with Islamabad over increasing threats against its interests and personnel in the country, as well as cash-strapped Pakistan’s delayed payments for several major projects that come under the CPEC.
Islamabad is reportedly negotiating with Beijing to reduce the cost of a railway known as Main Line-1, the largest CPEC endeavor, to $6.6 billion from $9.9 billion.
Talking about Blome’s visit, Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs said the country was welcoming foreign dignitaries to see the protential of Gwadar Port.
Leverage against China
But Nikkei Asia spoke to experts who said that Blome’s visit should be seen from a different angle.
A government official told Nikkei on condition of anonymity that Islamabad wants some leverage over Beijing in forthcoming negotiations on CPEC projects, likely to be finalised next month. “The visit of Blome should be seen in that context,” the official said.

Nasir Sohrabi, president of the Rural Community Development Council of Gwadar, sees the visit as an expression of American desire to work in Gwadar in some capacity. Echoing the official, he said, “Pakistan might be hinting to work with the US in Gwadar as a means to pressurise China for gaining concessions on CPEC projects in some way.”
The US “made its presence felt in Gwadar through this visit,” Sohrabi said.
Assurance to US
“The establishment in Pakistan appears to be trying to avoid putting all its eggs in the China basket, and to seek closer relations with Washington,” said Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center.
“Pakistan may have also wanted to ease US concerns about Beijing using Gwadar for military purposes, especially in terms of potentially using the port as a Chinese naval base,” Kugelman said. “A good way to provide that reassurance is to give Blome a tour.”
In 2022, the Pentagon said in its annual report to Congress that Gwadar could one day host a People’s Liberation Army Navy facility.
(With inputs from agencies)

Watch Pakistan is supplying arms to Ukraine as part of ‘secret deal’ that helped it secure IMF loan: Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *