By Bhaskar Roy
For decades India has been engaging in an unrelenting but soft struggle with “all-weather friends” Pakistan and China, to preserve a stable sub-continent, conducive for much needed development. India invested too much time on Pakistan, an appendage of China and now almost a frontline state of Beijing. Instead, India should have focused on China. Over the years, New Delhi has swept Chinese transgressions under the carpet for inexplicable reasons.
The Pak-China axis, a front against India has never been fully emphasised publicly, nor has India taken up issues regarding Pak-China as a ‘bloc’, with either country individually. The Indian government had substantial evidence of the actions of this front, which it could have used nationally and internationally to bring pressure on them but refrained from doing so for reasons impossible to comprehend.
The only time something positive was done was in 1999 when India’s intelligence agency intercepted the telephonic conversation between Pakistan’s army chief, Gen Musharraf and his close confidante, Gen Mehmood about the Kargil war. The transcript of the intercept was released after verification and the international community, including USA, recognised the clinching evidence that the Pak army, and not tribal groups as claimed by Pakistan had attacked India. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was summoned by President Bill Clinton, who read out the riot act to him. Even the doubting American press with its cold war hangover castigated Pakistan.
In the handling of the above, the Indian government should have emphasised the quiet Chinese complicity in the Kargil war- that the intercepted conversation was between Musharraf in Beijing, talking to Mehmood in Rawalpindi! Obviously the Chinese were aware about Kargil. After all it is no secret that the Pak army, the ISI and the establishment are very close to the Chinese government and the PLA (People’s Liberation Army).
The Pakistani armed forces are almost wholly dependent on Chinese arms except for state of the art equipment like the nuclear capable F-16 aircraft and other such equipment (a recognised threat to India).
The Kargil conflict which aimed at cutting off surface connectivity is an example of the impactful cooperation between Pakistan and China to debilitate India.
A more threatening fallout of the Pak-China friendship is the enduring Chinese assistance to Pakistan in the nuclear and missile fields. Past details of these illegal transfers need not be retold here. It was expected that by 2002 this assistance would stop, after their agreement ceased to exist. On the civilian side China fished out a “grandfather clause” to enable Pakistan’s nuclear power sector. But covert transfers in the weapons area continue, such as in the Kushab nuclear facility, in miniaturising warheads for battle field deployment, and in the missile sector. In fact, a top Pakistani official admitted a few months ago that they had deployed battle field nuclear weapons at India’s borders – a very serious matter which did not elicit the kind of outrage it deserved either from the Indian government or the Indian media.
Nuclear weapons deployment on the border when two countries have strained relations, interspersed with firing across the border, should be a matter of concern for the international community. Some Pakistani commentators, mostly ex-servicemen, have even dared India with their nuclear armaments, on Indian television. While we may ignore them, the fact remains that these tactical nuclear weapons in the hands of field military commanders cannot be taken lightly.
Elements in the Pak military with jihadi mind sets, (first introduced by President Zia-ul-Huq in the 1980s) have grown in size and strength. They even targeted Musharraf when he was president. Is Pakistan an unstable state? Most Pakistani interlocutors deny this, but many countries, especially in the west are beginning to believe it may be. Needless to say, an unstable nuclear armed state with terrorist groups moving around freely, many of them supported by the ISI, presents a dangerous scenario for its neighbour. This is specially true when terror groups like the Tehrik-e-Taliban, midwifed by the state, turns against the state.
If a nuclear disaster takes place in Pakistan will China own responsibility? Certainly not- for “China can never be wrong”. It is time the Indian government considers releasing whatever evidence they have, to the public and the international non-proliferation regimes about China’s ongoing proliferation to Pakistan.
A more immediate issue is China’s quiet support to Pakistan in the Masood Azhar case. China blocked India’s move to list this Pak terrorist in the UN Sanctions Committee 1267. Masood Azhar (head of Jaish-e-Muhammad (JEM), a banned terrorist group based in Pakistan) and his brother are among those directly linked to the attack on the Indian air base in Pathankot in January this year. China scuttled the Indian move with a technical hold, that is, China was not satisfied with the evidence provided by Indian and that Pakistan had not endorsed India’s stand.
When India took up the matter with China at the foreign ministers’ level, defence ministers’ level and at the meeting of the National Security Advisors, the response from China was the same – that is, China was against all forms of terrorism and that it had complied with all the rules of the 1267 Committee. In reality China did not budge from its position.
What came out during this process is the fact there is a clear lack of understanding of the Chinese mind, diplomacy and strategy in New Delhi.
India engaged in a classical knee-jerk reaction- retaliating by issuing a visa to Uighur dissident Dolku Issa, a member of the World Uighur Congress, based in USA, to attend a seminar in Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama would be present. But soon India succumbed to Chinese pressure and cancelled Issa’s visa on technical grounds. Visas issued to Lu Jinhua, a Chinese dissident, and Ray Wang a Hong-Kond anti-China activist were also cancelled to pacify the Chinese government.
The Indian government should have anticipated that the Chinese would object strongly to those visas, as they did in the case of Rebiya Kader, president of World Uighur Congress, whose visa was declined (2009) due to pressure from China. Then why take an action which is not sustainable? India rubbed its nose in the ground.
In the case of Pakistan, some points have to be made. During the cold war, the US-Pakistan-China axis was resonating in Asia, Post cold war, the Indian approach was briefly as follows – Prime Ministers I.K. Gujral, A.B.Vajpayee, and Dr. Manmohan Singh reached out to Pakistan, only to be snubbed by Islamabad – Rawalpindi. Briefly, during President Musharraf’s rule there were periods of hope in India, even though he was the architect of the Kargil war. It is speculated that the US had mounted enormous pressure on Musharraf. China also did not want another Kargil which might have led to a full-scale war, which would not have been in China’s interest. Abetment to Pakistan to initiate a war with India would have pitched China into a kind of contradiction with USA. It is alleged that just after President George W Bush served the “with us or against us” ultimatum to Pakistan, Musharraf made a quick overnight visit to China for consultation, and returned to bow to Bush’s diktat. US Deputy Secetary of State Richard Armitage’s warning to Musharraf that “we can bomb Pakistan to the stone age” also had the desired effect. Pakistan joined the US and became its non-NATO ally to fight terrorism. It recouped its diplomatic and strategic losses to the extent that the Americans covered up the Pak’s ISI paying US $ 2,00,000 to the Haqqani network, to attack a CIA camp on the Pakistani side of the Pak-Afghan border. The attack killed seven American citizens on national duty!
With this kind to accommodation the Pak army-intelligence complex could dare to attack India with impunity. The result was the devastating terrorist attack in Mumbai in November 2008 by the LET, an acknowledged asset of the Pak army and ISI.
Narendra Modi was vehemently critical of Pakistan when he was in the opposition. As it turns out, it was a “façade” displayed for domestic politics. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a different avatar. He reached out to Pakistan, inviting Pak Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for his inauguration. Despite diplomatic frictions, he made an impromptu visit to Pakistan on December 25 last year. The response from Pakistan’s deep state came a week later with the Pathankot attack.
China seems quite happy to be quietly encouraging Pakistan’s deep state with acts like supporting Masood Azhar (who thanked China profusely for its stand). China had told India to sort out the Azhar issue with Pakistan. This is a downright insult for India and a demonstration of China’s arrogance.
Many in India are questioning Modi’s approach to Pakistan. People say Nawaz Sharif does not have the slightest chance to resolve differences with India. The Ufa government on talks between the two countries crumbled. The secretary level talks was called off by India because the Pakistani delegation met the anti-India All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC). Pak High Commissioner Abdul Basit seems to be stoking the fire by promoting the line of the deep state rather than Nawaz Sharif’s.
But still Prime Minister Modi should be allowed to continue his peace process because the rug can be pulled out at any time. Building and rebuilding is long and arduous work. But, at the same time Pakistan must not be allowed to get away at will. Constructive approach must be accompanied by strength and unambiguous decisiveness.
Pakistan is changing, albeit very slowly. Pak politicians have discredited themselves over decades through excessive corruption and deceit, leading many to prefer army rule. With army Chief Raheel Sharif’s dismissal of 13 senior army officers, including a Lt. General the army inadvertently admitted that they are as corrupt as the rest. In trying to put Nawaz Sharif under pressure, the army seems to have shot itself in the foot. Yet, Pakistan has changed significantly from the days of Zia-ul-Huq.
Strategically, India must view China and Pakistan, that is the deep state and its acolytes as a conjoined whole. Pakistan’s policy of “bleeding India with a thousand cuts” has a limited time line with changing global dynamics and slow and steady realization among some sections of the people in Pakistan that they are chasing a mirage and their Kashmir policy is a ‘growing stone in the country’s gall bladder’. India could help in this matter by reducing the APHC to irrelevance leading to the demise of the Chinese asymmetric war against India through Pakistani tanzims.
Dealing with China – it is true that India has a 4000 odd kilometre border with China (which China disclaims) and New Delhi must work on this with Beijing. China cannot ignore India – India is too big, the eagerness to attract investments from China needs to be revisited urgently. China will invest in India not for altruistic reasons, but for their own benefit, benefits which will be spread over many areas, not least espionage. Bullet trains from China must not be a priority, in fact at the moment bullet trains are a luxury for India. Let not China get a grip on India’s economy. Reciprocity is fundamental to diplomacy and bilateral relations, including parity in balance of trade.
There are other avenues for India for trading – not only Japan but Taiwan as well. The latter country should be given a try without India convulsing over annoying China. China never thought twice when it acquired more than 5000 sq kms of India claimed disputed territory from Pakistan in a 1963 agreement. Nor did it bother when it constructed the road from Xinjiang to Gwadar through disputed territory.
The Chinese official media keeps repeating about India’s independent foreign policy and lauds it for a specific reason. China is trying to encourage the anti-American lobby, though India must also. ensure that it does not become an American domino. It must be “horse for the courses”.
India need not cower before China’s military might. Parity is not essential. What India must have is the ability to deliver an unsustainable blow to China in reciprocity, in diplomatese. Once Agni-5 is operationalized, it will be one step in that direction. More would follow including SLBMs. China will not embark on MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction).
India must be aware that China had many cards up its sleeve. It heats and cools the border at its own time and convenience. Most importantly, contrary to popular perception in India, the Sikkim question has not, repeat NOT been resolved. India was taken for a ride in 2005 when Premier Wen Jiabao displayed a map to his Indian interlocutors that showed Sikkim as part of India. The Chinese foreign ministry promplty clarified that was not the case, and the Sikkim question will be resolved along with the boundary issue.
In fact, India should emphatically dismiss the Chinese position on Sikkim, and make it clear through an official statement that Sikkim is an integral part of India. The Indian government is quite aware that China heats and cools the border issue to destabilise India’s policy. This should not be fool India any longer. But India must also evolve a mechanism to do the same.
Once our relations with China is brought to an equilibrium, Pakistan’s anti-India establishment will be grounded. The thinking people of Pakistan realise that their country is bleeding because of the deep state’s anti-India policy.
Nawaz Sharif and his brother, Punjab chief minister Shabaz Sharif must review their relationship with extremist elements like Hafeez Saeed. Once China is managed, Pakistan’s deep state will fall in line. India has a lot of work on its hand and there is no running away from it.
*The writer is a New Delhi based strategic analyst. He can be reached at e-mail [email protected]