By Bhaskar Roy
The Pak-based terrorist attack on the Indian army camp in Uri on September 18, which killed 19 Indian soldiers, has hit a raw nerve in India. This audacious, well planned attack across the LOC (Line of Control) received global condemnation, including from unlikely countries like China, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Although most of the countries did not name Pakistan directly, the wording of the statements left no doubt as to what was meant. Coming soon after Prime Minister Modi’s charge of terrorism against Pakistan at the recently concluded G-20 and ASEAN summits earlier in the month, shielding Islamabad was out of the question for anyone. Washington impressed upon Pakistan to rein in terrorists of all hues in the country, without the classification of “good terrorists” and “bad terrorists”. President Barack Obama declined to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly despite Pakistani request. But Pakistan is so used to getting snubbed that it would have not mattered much to the GKQ Khakis in Rawalpindi, who really run Pakistan.
A cause for worry for the international community is the change in tactics by Pakistani terrorists, who are known as Pakistan’s assets even by their own admission. It now seems that Pak terrorists are hitting Indian military targets. The first attack was on the Indian air force base in Pathankot in January, followed by the one in Uri. The question is whether Pakistan is trying to provoke a war with India. Even if they think that they can dare India and get away with it, patience in India is wearing thin and the government in New Delhi is under intense public pressure to act. Pakistan’s periodic muscle flexing with its nuclear weapons including tactical nuclear warheads ranged against India, does disturb the neighbourhood and the international community. Nobody wants a war, except, perhaps some stupid hawks in Pakistan.
As succinctly put by Pakistani strategic commentator and author of “Military Inc.,” Ayesha Siddiqi, the earlier mantra of the Pakistani army was “Allah, America Army”. After the USA started tightening its purse strings and pressed Pakistan to go after the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network (HQN), their new mantra is “China, COAS, Cashmere”. But things are not that simple.
After the meeting in New York between Nawaz Sharif and Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, the Pakistanis issued a press note stating that China supports Pakistan on Kashmir. Apparently , with no official rebuttal from China, Pak Punjab’s chief minister’s office issued a statement saying China’s consul general in Lahore, Yu Boran had said that, “In case of any (foreign) aggression, our country will extend full support to Pakistan”. The statement went on to say that Yu also stated, “We are and will be siding with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue…….there is no justification for atrocities on unarmed Kashmiris…… and the Kashmir dispute should be solved in accordance with the aspirations of the Kashmiri people”.
The above statement would amount to a momentous shift by the Chinese government on the Kashmir issue, but a statement of this nature would not be issued at the level of a consul general. Soon after, there was an official Chinese rebuttal (September 26), when Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in reply to a question, “China’s position on the relevant issue is consistent and clear. As neighbour and friend to both Pakistan and India we hope the two countries will properly address their differences through dialogue and consultation, manage and control the situation and jointly work for peace and stability of South Asia and the growth of the region”.
The Chinese position on the Kashmir issue is quite similar to India’s and suggests they prefer the 1972 Shimla Agreement between India and Pakistan. Geng Shuang said nothing about the UN resolution on the role of the Kashmiri people; he also side stepped China’s alleged promise to come to Pakistan’s aid in case of external aggression. That would complicate the issue and further embarrass Pakistan. After all, the two are “time-tested, all weather friends”.
The flagship project of China, the “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) strategy in Pakistan is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).The Pak army and the federal government are in a tussle to take ownership and credit. Nawaz Sharif has already taken credit for it publicly. The Pakistanis – including the Pak hawks on talk shows are walking on cloud-9, looking at the $46 billion dollars China has promised for the work, which includes infrastructure, a power plant and other projects. There is an ongoing tussle in Pakistan as to which provinces will get the maximum benefits. Given that Pakistan has decided to allot projects on the basis of population, Balochistan, Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir will get the least, while Punjab will get the lion’s share.
There appears to be a debate in China on the security of their personnel working on the project, though Pakistan has set up two Special Security Divisions for their protection. How fast should China proceed with the work, is a question. The official Chinese daily, the Global Times, has suggested against putting all eggs in one basket and that China could explore avenues in South East Asia. Regarding the CPEC, issues on payments and sharing of costs will arise. Electricity consumers are being told that they will have to pay a cess of one percent to fund security.
Prime Minister Modi has already apprised President Xi Jinping of the fact that the CPEC passes through POK and Gilgit Baltistan, disputed territories claimed by India. China’s argument has been that this is civilian economic work, not military construction. There are reports, however, that Chinese military engineering personnel are working there. Anyway, a third country has no right to assist or work with one of the parties of the dispute. Mr. Modi has presented these arguments clearly, on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting in Hangzhou, China, to the Chinese president.
Of course, China has huge interests in Pakistan. It is Beijing’s launching pad for a number of objectives, like outreach to the Gulf and West Asia, as well as Europe through Central Asia. From the 1990s it has built up Pakistan as a bulwark against US expansion on its borders. US assistance to Pakistan was seen by the Chinese as being in China’s interest. The US was picking up huge bills (over $31 billion since 9/11, in civil and military aid to combat terrorism and build institutions). Part of it was used by Rawalpindi to strengthen its military against India. All to China’s advantage – and it did not have to spend a penny.
China is unlikely to abandon the CPEC, because that could have repercussions on its 21st Century Silk Road efforts in countries like Nepal and Myanmar which are yet to officially agree to the project in their countries; and raise questions in Sri Lanka which has agreed to join the project.
But China may go slow, given the circumstances. It may even lift its technical hold on declaring Masood Azhar an international terrorist in the UN Sub-Committee on terrorism. Beijing is working hard to be seen as a responsible international actor, and will have to behave responsibly.
China and Pakistan have declared themselves as “all weather friends” – an example of impeccable bilateral relationship. But when the weather gets really rough relations will have to be readjusted.
India will have to see Russia through a different prism in today’s readjusted alliances and balances of power. New Delhi must not get shocked with the recent counter-terrorism exercise between Pakistan and Russia. It was fixed before the Uri incident and as the Russian Ambassador in New Delhi emphatically stated, the exercise would not take place in sensitive places like POK or Gilgit Baltistan. Russia has interest in counter-terrorism in its territory and neighbourhood, and they will gain valuable experience here.
Moscow’s sale of helicopters to Pakistan are not meant for use against India. It has to keep its military-industrial complex running. Russia has a lot of things going with India especially in the military and civil nuclear areas. Its relations with China is a counter to the US but do not count on an “all weather friendship” between them. There is a long history of distrust between them.
The US position is well known. They are not going to abandon Pakistan, but will maintain pressure on them where their own interests are concerned.
War Other Than Military (WOTM)
India seems to be deciding on WOTM in its Pak policy, keeping its military preparedness and Cold Start Strategy in fine tune and constant review. Immediate retaliation in case of another attack like Uri should be bracketed with WOTM. It should be done with pinpointed accuracy, with telling effect and must be costly for Pakistan, with the message that payback time has come.
It is high time that the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to Pakistan is withdrawn. This was accorded in 1996 but Pakistan dithered for 20 years. In fact the MFN status to Pakistan was still born. Islamabad may dismiss this step but it will have an effect internationally.
Pushing for international isolation of Pakistan and designating it internationally as a state sponsoring terrorism is unlikely to fructify for reasons like the US policy on Pakistan and China’s staunch support to that country. But the Indian pressure must continue and it will have an effect as the world acknowledges that terrorism across the globe has Pakistani linkage. The question must be raised as to how the Afghan Taliban, a designated terrorist organization, has its headquarters in Quetta by Pakistan’s own admission. The bipartisan bill introduced in the US Congress by two senior congressmen, Ted Poe and Dana Rohrabacher, is a prime example of American concern.
The Indus Water Treaty needs much more consultation within the government and other stakeholders like the opposition parties represented in Parliament. If a decision is taken to abrogate the treaty all consequences must be examined, including war. But this must be kept in abeyance as a last resort. Meanwhile, efforts to use the river waters which are legally India’s under the treaty must be implemented on a war footing.
India has taken up the the Balochistan issue at the right time. Pakistan is on the backfoot on the issue. Baloch independence leader Brahmdagh Bugti could either be given asylum or a long term residence visa – the latter would be better under the circumstances.
A word of caution, though. The Baloch struggle must not be seen in the framework of Bangladesh only, although Pakistani atrocities are present in both cases. East Pakistan was located far away from West Pakistan, with India separating the two wings. East Pakistan was surrounded by India on three sides. The anti-Pakistani sentiments among the Bengalis in East Pakistan started with the Language Movement in 1952 but the people seriously rose to defy Pakistan only around 1970, though the movement was growing. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi went on an international campaign in 1970-71 when millions of refugees from East Pakistan poured into India. Then the Bangladeshis set up a government in exile.
Balochistan’s large border is with Iran, and Teheran is unlikely to come to the fore to support Baloch independence. The other border is with Afghanistan. The general people of Balochistan are still not galvanized for such an uprising. The Baloch independence leaders will have to take several steps to get the people of the world, especially in the US, UK and Europe to support them. But Indian support should remain uninterrupted. Incidentally, Bangladesh is considering a Baloch policy.
India must firm up its overt and covert operations against Pakistan. Educate and popularise the rights of the non-Punjabis in Pakistan and do similar exercises with the Afghans, starting with the illegality of the Durand Line as the boundary with Pakistan.
Pakistan has to be hemmed in from all sides. India’s prime time television talk-shows need to be more restrained. Some of the hosts make sarcastic remarks and insult panelists. They have no idea about how diplomacy works and how international relations are executed. When the US placed wide-ranging sanctions against India after the nuclear tests in 1998, it was painstaking diplomacy which got India out of the rut.
In the meantime, strengthening the military, which has lagged since the spurious Bofors controversy, must be started on immediately. Many experts used to cite the examples of Germany and Japan concentrating only on economic development. These wise men forgot that both these countries were covered by the American nuclear umbrella and the mighty American military. India has to walk alone.
Since completing this article, news has come in that a contingent of Indian Special Forces crossed the LOC in the early hours of September 29, and destroyed seven terrorist launching pads, killing around 40 terrorists and several Pak army personnel who were the minders of these terrorists.
Meanwhile, the SAARC summit in Pakistan scheduled for November has been cancelled, after India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan withdrew citing Pakistan’s terrorist war.
*The writer is a New Delhi based strategic analyst. He can be reached at e-mail [email protected]