Pakistan might turn to its “all-weather” ally China to offset its growing international isolation, India’s rising status and deepening Indo-US ties, according to America’s top intelligence official.
“Pakistan is concerned about its international isolation and sees its position through the prism of India’s rising international status, including India’s expanded foreign outreach and deepening ties to the US,” Daniel Coats, director of National Intelligence, said.
“Pakistan is likely to turn to China to offset its isolation, empowering a relationship that will help Beijing to project influence in the Indian Ocean,” Coats told members of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday during a Congressional hearing on worldwide threats.
Chinese and Pakistani leaders describe their strong bilateral ties as “all weather” and Islamabad is a major customer of Chinese weapons, including fighter planes and submarines.
He also said that Pakistan has failed to curb militants and terrorists.
In his prepared testimony, Coats said Pakistan-based terrorist groups will present a sustained threat to the US interests in the region and continue to plan and conduct attacks in India and Afghanistan.
“The threat to the US and the West from Pakistan-based terrorist groups will be persistent but will diffuse. Plotting against the US homeland will be conducted on a more opportunistic basis or driven by individual members within these groups,” he said.
Noting that Pakistan will probably be able to manage its internal security, he said anti-Pakistan groups are likely to focus more on soft targets.
“The groups we judge will pose the greatest threat to Pakistan’s internal security include Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, ISIS-K, Laskhare Jhangvi, and Lashkar-e Jhangvi ai-Aiami,” he said.
Coats said that the emerging China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will probably offer militants and terrorists additional targets.
Coats warned Senators that Pakistan’s pursuit of tactical nuclear weapons potentially lowers the threshold for their use.
“Early deployment during a crisis of smaller, more mobile nuclear weapons would increase the amount of time that systems would be outside the relative security of a storage site, increasing the risk that a coordinated attack by non-state actors might succeed in capturing a complete nuclear weapon,” he said.
Coats said the relations between India and Pakistan became more tense following two major terrorist attacks in 2016 by militants crossing into India from Pakistan.
“They might deteriorate further in 2017, especially in the event of another high-profile terrorist attack in India that New Delhi attributes to originating in or receiving assistance from Pakistan,” he said.
“Islamabad’s failure to curb support to anti-India militants and New Delhi’s growing intolerance of this policy, coupled with a perceived lack of progress in Pakistan’s investigations into the January 2016 Pathankot cross-border attack, set the stage for a deterioration of bilateral relations in 2016,” he said.
Increasing numbers of firefights along the Line of Control (LoC), including the use of artillery and mortars, might exacerbate the risk of unintended escalation between these nuclear-armed neighbours, Coats said.
“Easing of heightened Indo-Pak tension, including negotiations to renew official dialogue, will probably hinge in 2017 on a sharp and sustained reduction of cross-border attacks by terrorist groups based in Pakistan and progress in the Pathankot investigation,” he said.
Last year, heavily-armed terrorists sneaked in from across the border and attacked the Pathankot Air Force Station in Punjab. The attack had claimed the lives of seven security personnel while four terrorists were killed.