A Joint Saudi-Pakistani Venture Gives China a Foothold in the Gulf
The Obama administration has scarcely uttered a word about the takeover of Bahrain on March 14 by 3,000 Saudi and 1,000 Gulf emirate troops who were brought in to put down the Shiite riots against King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa spearheaded by Iran and the Lebanese Hizballah.
That does not mean that Washington is indifferent; far from it. In the last three weeks, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Washington sources report administration officials are getting very nervous about the movement of thousands of Pakistanis into Bahrain, the by-product of the mounting distrust between the US and Pakistan in the fallout from the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad on May 2.
The downturn was further signaled Thursday, May 26, when the government in Islamabad was quoted as telling the United States to halve the number of military instructors stationed in Pakistan.
Our military sources report that the Pakistanis arriving in Bahrain fall into two groups:
1. A 1,000-strong commando battalion, which has been attached to the Saudi force and placed under its command. It was the first time Pakistani troops who were asked to leave Saudi Arabia in the first half of the 1990s were called back.
When Saudi Arabia first moved its troops into the beleaguered neighboring kingdom, Riyadh invoked its never-published mutual defense pact with Pakistan, one of whose provisions makes nuclear weapons and missiles for their delivery available to Saudi Arabia upon demand.
Saudi imports thousands of Pakistani Sunnis to Bahrain
2. Another 10,000 Pakistanis, including complete families, have been airlifted by Saudi Arabia into Bahrain in recent weeks, part of its effort to boost the Sunni Muslim population against the 70 percent Shiite component of the island-kingdom's 1.2 million inhabitants. Upon landing in Manama, each family receives a $1,000 grant with Bahraini citizenship papers.
Another 200,000 Sunni immigrants would be needed to radically change these figures.
The impression gained by the US administration is that the Saudi project for grafting a Pakistani population onto Bahrain will not end there and is planned for other parts of the Gulf region too, including Saudi Arabia itself, where roughly a million Pakistani ex-pats already live and work.
What worries Washington is that this enterprise ties in with the rapid deepening of Pakistan's relations with China. Both are working had to show Washington that Islamabad is not dependent on the US for military and economic sustenance.
When US President Barak Obama in his Middle East speech of May 19 pledged $1 billion in American aid to Egypt, the Saudis came forward and quadrupled the offer. If that is the Saudi paradigm, then Riyadh will top up Pakistani coffers to make up for every cutback in US assistance.
The Saudi-Pakistani venture opens the Gulf to Chinese access
Pakistan can also count on plentiful petrodollar funding for arms purchases in China.
US officials are scrutinizing reports from Islamabad that China is to immediately provide Pakistan with 50 JF-17 Thunder warplanes and that the two countries are already co-producing versions of this warplane with more sophisticated avionics.
A Pakistani defense source said the project will be fully funded by China. But the Americans suspect that the money is coming from Saudi Arabia and its transfer cash on the nail to Beijing accounts for China's offer of immediate delivery.
The Americans have also discovered that Chinese engineers recently speeded up the building of highways linking Tibet to the Arabian Sea through Pakistan. The target date for the first traffic to use those routes has been bought forward to mid-2012.
These steps, combined with the missile purchase transactions recently closed in Beijing by Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi National Security Council Chairman (who is also in charge of the oil kingdom's military intervention in the Arab Revolt), draw a strong connecting link between the joint Saudi-Pakistani military venture and Chinese aspirations in the Persian Gulf.