By Prof. B. R. Deepak*
Following the 2nd January 2016 attack on the Pathankot air force base in Punjab by the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorists from Pakistan, India requested the 1267 sanctions committee of the UN in February to include in the list Masood Azhar, the leader of the JeM created by Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) in the wake of 1999 hijack of AI flight 814 to Kandahar by Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) of which Masood was a member then and confined to imprisonment in India. The hijackers demanded release of Masood and others languishing in the Indian prisons in exchange of civilians in the passenger aircraft. The JeM has been involved in masterminding the 2001 Indian Parliament attack. Had China not exercised its ‘hidden veto’ on 1 April 2016, the resolution would have required Pakistan and other countries to freeze Masood’s assets and ban his movements inside and outside Pakistan. Out of 15 members of the Council, China was the sole member to support Massod’s case.
When India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin slammed the use of the ‘hidden veto’ by China and demanded accountability on 15 April, China further defended its move saying that “China always deals with the listing of 1267 committee based on facts and pursuant to UN Security Council resolutions and relevant rules in a fair manner.” India further conveyed it displeasure to China when Indian foreign Minister, Sushma Swaraj and Indian Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar separately raised the same issue with their counterparts in Moscow and Beijing respectively on 18 April. Later during his Beijing visit for the 19th round of border talks, India’s National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval raised the issue again on April 21 with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi. However, China stuck to its guns without any further explanation. It may be remembered that China had exercised similar veto in favour of Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the Lashkar-e-Taiba mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attack in which 166 people were killed.
Why China does it?
JeM and LeT etc. terror outfits have been created by Pakistan with the motive to separate Kashmir from India and flare up insurgency there and elsewhere in India. It has been admitted by the Chinese think tanks and academicians that the “mono-dimensional (danweixing) China-Pak relationship is focused at military security cooperation with not an endogenous (neishengxing) aim but around external security concern (waibu anquan guanqie) that is to counter India.” They further posit that “this kind of cooperation, to a greater extent is due to the long rivalry of both Pakistan and China with India, as India for a long time has been number one enemy of Pakistan, and also poses major threat to the security of western China. Therefore, to keep away the common enemy is a decisive factor in this relationship”.
No wonder, we have witnessed China arming Pakistan to teeth including building their nuclear and missile arsenal. Even the recent investment of $46 billion towards building a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has been seen as security corridor rather than an economic corridor, for the investment returns from such a corridor are abysmal according to many Chinese analysts. Moreover, since the present status quo suits China, it is in no mood to relent to the Indian requests even if the stand is indefensible domestically or internationally, for Chinese citizens as well international community would like China to be a responsible stakeholder in the global system. Therefore, it is perhaps owing to these contradictions, India’s asymmetrical relationship with China, and China’s ‘all weather’ military cooperation with Pakistan including PLA’s projects in the Indian claimed Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) that of late India has issued statements in tandem with the US, Japan and Vietnam on the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea (SCS) much to the displeasure of China even though India has not agreed to the US request for ‘joint patrols’ in the SCS.
Opportunity to up the ante?
In a knee jerk reaction, ‘paying China in the same coin’ India tried to play the ‘Uyghur card’ by issuing an electronic visa to Dolkun Isa, a World Uyghur Congress (WUC) leader for a conference to be held in Dharamsala on 28 April organised by a US based organisation called Citizen Power for China, where people antagonistic to China including Tibetans, Uyghurs, Falungongs, Mongols are expected to congregate. China has declared Isa as a terrorist, and has been on the red corner notice of the Interpol too. Even if China doesn’t buy the Indian thesis of cross-border terrorism, irrespective of the fact that stability in western China, according to the Chinese government has been endangered by the forces of terrorism, separatism and extremism, and irrespective of the fact that scores of the East Turkestan separatist organizations in Xinjiang have their links in Pakistan, so much so, Hasan Mahsum the founder of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement was also killed in Pakistan in 2003, China has no hesitation in saying that ‘Chinese government will continue to support Pakistan in formulating and implementing anti-terrorist activities based on its national conditions,’ implying that it will support Pakistan’s theory of good and bad terrorists.
We have seen that how the Chinese press absolved Pakistan from 26.11 Mumbai attacks and blamed it on some ‘Hindu fundamentalists’ as Kasab and others were supporting the Hindu sacred thread on their wrists. If we analyze the Chinese news for domestic consumption, we would see that it has always supported the stand of Pakistan irrespective of its brazen involvement whether it was the reportage of the Kargil, attack on the Indian parliament or the Mumbai attacks in Chinese media.
It is established that Pakistan is a willing pawn in the containment of India, but is it wise for India to play a Xinjiang ‘Card’? I believe not. At the outset, even though China has created diplomatic hurdles for India, including the stapled visas, it has never supported the insurgencies in India. Remember in the aftermath of the 1962 war, how China encouraged the Naxal violence, trained the Nagas and Mizos in China and sent them back to India. And, how it issued statements after statements saying that China will not cease supporting the Kashmiri people in their struggle for self-determination. It was only during Vajpayee’s China visit as a Foreign Minister in 1979 that China assured India that Chinese support and assistance to some disaffected elements in India’s northeast was a matter of the past. Playing Uyghur or even Tibet card would be extremely dangerous for India, for China may play various cards against India including Kashmir, Northeast, Nepal, Maoist, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka etc. cards.
Secondly, to play cards, it is common knowledge that your hands must be strong, which at this point in time are weak and vulnerable. There are wide asymmetries in terms of our GDP as well as military spending. Imagine if our northern and eastern borders suffers the fate of our western border! China’s economic strength is 5 times more than India’s; its military spending is manifolds higher than India. Thirdly, India’s economy needs to be consolidated and growth rate sustained for 10-15 years, at least halfway the Chinese mark of 30 years. India needs a peaceful neighbourhood for lifting millions from poverty. Finally, since China sees India as an investment destination, it would be stupid to turn our backs on Chinese capital and price competitive technology. Rather India should be joining hands with China as far as economic engagement is concerned.
What could be done?
Since international community has desired China to be a responsible stakeholder in the international system, India must join the chorus, and expose China’s double standards in every international forum. In this regard Syed Akbaruddin slamming China’s ‘hidden veto’ at the UN and Indian leadership raising the matter in Moscow and Beijing was an appropriate thing to do. Secondly, India must initiate some websites in Chinese and bringing such indefensible policies of the Chinese government to the notice of its netizens. The websites may be censored, but some information will definitely reach the Chinese people. Finally, as China does, we need to deal with the issue of terrorism and other such issues of national interests on our own terms. There should be no need to invite an investigating team from country A or B to give their certificates to us. Finally, India needs to strengthen its own security apparatus and plug in all the existing loopholes. After all, the success of any policy including the foreign will hinge on India’s internal drivers.
*Professor B R Deepak teaches at Centre for Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. The views expressed are his own