China has been helping the Pakistan Army build its defence infrastructure, besides providing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, setting up communication towers and laying underground cables along the Line of Control, officials said.
This, according to officials, is part of efforts to further shore up China's position as an all-weather friend of Pakistan while ensuring the safety of growing Chinese enclaves in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) set up on the pretext of securing the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) road and hydel projects built in the occupied territory.
The officials said that the recently developed SH-15, a 155 mm truck-mounted howitzer gun, has also been spotted at some places along the Line of Control (LoC) after it was displayed on Pakistan Day in 2022.
Known as a 'shoot and scoot' artillery weapon, Pakistan had signed a contract with Chinese firm North Industries Group Corporation Limited (Norinco) for the supply of 236 SH-15s and, according to London-based Janes Defence magazine, the first batch was delivered in January 2022.
Though no senior PLA officials were observed at forward posts, unlike earlier in 2014, some intercepts suggested that Chinese troops and engineers were setting up infrastructure along the LoC, including underground bunkers, the officials said.
The Army has officially maintained silence on the issue but has been constantly updating the intelligence agencies, sources said.
The Chinese military's presence, according to experts, is due to Beijing's 46-billion-dollar CPEC under which Gwadar Port in Karachi will be linked to China's Xinjiang province by the Karakoram highway, an area under the illegal occupation of China.
The officials suggested that Chinese experts were digging tunnels in the Leepa Valley located in PoK, preparatory to building an all-weather road that will serve as an alternative route to reach the Karakoram highway.
It may be mentioned here that a Chinese telecom company took over Pakistan's telecom company in 2007 and formed China Mobile Pakistan (CMPak), which is a 100% owned subsidiary of China Mobile Communications Corporation.
In August last year, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), while renewing the mobile licence of CMPak (Zong) for PoK, allowed expansion of the Next Generation Mobile Services (NGMS) in the region.
India has strongly objected to the presence of Chinese in Gilgit and Baltistan regions in the past, and officials said the Army was completely prepared to frustrate any moves from across the border.
India and Pakistan have been observing a ceasefire since February 25, 2021.
Srikanth Kondapalli, professor of Chinese studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University who is part of a think-tank on Indian policy towards China, feels that arms transfers to Pakistan are part of a design to secure China's interests in the region.
He said that arms transfers are in line with China’s stated stand of being Pakistan’s “all-weather” friend and to check India by pursuing an overall regional dominance policy.
“China initiated the Economic Corridor (CPEC) in 2014 in violation of India’s sovereignty concerns in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
"In addition to expansion of the Karakoram Highway, China has sent an estimated 36,000 'security guards' into PoK to protect its hydro-electricity projects and other infrastructure projects from terror attacks," he said.
Kondapali said that China had also been constructing "well-off society" villages in PoK.
"Modern warfare also requires 24/7 surveillance and China has supplied 10 CH-4A drones, specifically designed for high-altitude missions over land and sea that can fire from 5,000 metres away. These are in addition to 48 Wing Loong-II drones, used as a surveillance and aerial reconnaissance and precision strike platform, to Pakistan since 2018," he said.