China will continue to push against India’s Act East policy. If India were internationally inactive, tit will see little obstacle in the neighbourhood.
One can reasonably be certain that the Indian establishment knows that Pakistan’s USP to the world, particularly the three Big Powers -- the United States, Russia and China -- is its propensity to incubate and spread jihad. All the three powers have decided, rightly or wrongly, they need Pakistan on their side to tackle jihadi problems in their own countries and in other areas of their interest. Each of the three Big Powers have their interests in India too, but they vary. From selling defence equipment, technology, investments and trade, including sale of shoddy goods in a large and increasingly prosperous Indian market. Russia-India ties may have lost the closeness of the Cold War days but an essential pragmatism has remained. Conversely, US-India relations have moved away from the ambivalence of the Cold War era to a healthy bilateral relationship. India-China relations have remained frozen in time as conflict of interest in the region has always surfaced accentuating bilateral difficulties even as warped trade relations have grown. New rivalries have added to old suspicions.
Strategic interests in a post-Cold War world have acquired a different salience today. China’s interest in going the full distance to prop up Pakistan is in direct response to India’s growing ties with the US. Russian revival of interest in Pakistan is also because of the same reason along with the terrorism threat that aggravates the problem in West Asia, especially Syria. The US interest in India is both commercial and strategic; the latter being limited to India as a counterbalance against an increasingly aggressive China, especially in the South China Sea. The US will continue to hedge its bets when it comes to Pakistan. It is aware of the problems that emanate from that country, both for itself and India, will condemn Pakistan for its jihadi terrorism but will not go beyond that apart from legislating against individual terrorists. The recent US warning to Pakistan that it will act on its own if that country does not take steps to control terrorism is a surprise and remains to be seen how it takes effect. Pakistan has so far presumed that empty threats would be the maximum pressure, but we perhaps still hope it would be different each time there is a terror attack in India. But then, hope alone is never good foreign policy.
Apart from these three state powers, the world has to contend with another reality – that of Islamic jihad with its capacity to morph into various groups and the readiness, even delight, to resort to extreme violence. This is further complicated by the various conflicting state – regional and global – interests that work against a solution. The strength of this movement is not only in the control exercised by bigots, but that it is spread over different parts of the Muslim world and is aided by three countries, avowedly Islamic -- Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan pursue their regional animosities with the use of jihad as they are not strong enough for direct military confrontation with their chosen adversaries. The Iranians have rarely concealed their hatred for Israel and have suspected that a host of Sunni Arabs will try to undo them with US assistance. Both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are in economic distress at present because of oil price crash and poor economic management, which makes them more vulnerable and dangerous at the same time -- the-nothing-to-lose syndrome.
US policies, aided by its other western allies, have done little to curb Islamic jihad. In fact, they have worsened the situation. The violent ousters of Saddam Hussain and Muammar Gaddafi only led to the growth of Al Qaeda first and then the ISIS, both in Iraq and Libya from where it has spread to Syria. In this situation, none of the major powers would contemplate harsh action against their friends and allies who are seen to be the last hope for preventing terrorism from spreading to their countries. Energy and strategic interests will prevent the three Big Powers from isolating Iran and Saudi Arabia today; Pakistan’s nuclear-terror sponsor status guarantees abiding Big Power interest. China and Russia want to have dominating presence in the area from the Mediterranean to the Arabian Sea as an effort to replace, or at least in addition to, the US.
There was hectic Indian diplomacy post-Uri attacks followed by the reprisal raid into POK in September. However, this pressure on Pakistan and the cancellation of the SAARC summit and earlier Prime Minister’s reference to the Balochistan problem had made it kosher for some Indian media channels to talk about this. This was reaffirmed at the recent (October 2016) BRICS Summit in Goa when neither of the member countries would mention names in response to Prime Minister Modi’s frontal charge against Pakistan. The joint declaration remained bland as far as India was concerned although it did mention Syria which was of interest to both Russia and China. But then the Islamic State is stateless and it is easier to condemn this. Presumably now there is a realisation that ultimately this is India’s battle alone even though other countries may condemn the attack on Uri. While it is good policy to make Pakistan realise that pay-back time had come, sustenance of this policy requires a sound economy and a sound and powerful military. In addition, we have to look closely inwards for remedies even as we look outwards to solve our problems.
Two of the largest armies in the world, each equipped with nuclear weapons in countries with the largest growing economies and with the largest populations, have an un-demarcated border where they face each other. Not the best of arrangement despite the growing trade even as old suspicions remain and new rivalries have surfaced. In the two years since the present government assumed office in New Delhi, Chinese investment in India increased to beyond US $ 2 billion (This is small change if one considers that the Chinese invested more than a trillion dollars abroad in the decade ending 2015). There have been reduced border violations except for the prolonged stand off on the border during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit in 2014. Despite this, China offered to renovate India’s railway system, set up industrial parks in Gujarat and Maharashtra, and provide market access to Indian pharmaceutical and farm products. There were 12 agreements that were signed, including one for an investment of US $ 20 billion in India’s infrastructure in five years.
Yet, China will not agree to let India become a member of the UNSC, NSG or agree to the UN designating Masood Azhar of Jaish-e-Mohammed as a terrorist despite the Jaish’s involvement in the Pathankot attack and terrorism in India. Nor agree to naming Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism, as it did at the recent BRICS Summit. The idea is to keep India on the backfoot and away from membership of bodies like the NSG which may be stepping stone into the UNSC. India’s membership of the MTCR must have rankled Beijing. Keeping India out of crucial groupings like the NSG is China’s way of ‘showing India its place’; in China’s perspective, India is thus not an equal of China but of Pakistan. Our constant hype about Pakistan contributes a great deal to this kind of impression gaining acceptance. Geo-strategically, China needs Pakistan for access to Gwadar and keeping India out of the NSG is also a way of keeping Pakistan happy.
Imperial powers schemed, plotted and even fought wars in Afghanistan to keep Czarist Russia away from the warm waters of the Arabian Sea in the 19th century and succeeded against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan at the end of the last century. Today, the world’s mightiest power apparently looks the other way as China builds its strong hold in Gwadar. It is capitalism at its best when even lesser powers in the West who are willing to invest in the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) with the UK promising a grant of US $ 121 million in 2015 as China turns its money power into strategic advantage and achieving connectivity in the 21st century. The CPEC is linked to another ambitious Chinese project, One Belt One Road and the Maritime Silk Road project. China estimates an expenditure of more than $1 billion in various projects around Gwadar by 2017. Access to Kashgar will be through Gilgit and Baltistan on the upgraded Karakoram Highway and these huge investments and multi projects in Pakistan and in POK and Gilgit and Baltistan are based on the conclusion that Gilgit and Baltistan would remain in Pakistan’s control for posterity. In other words, China is signalling that it accepts this part of J&K now belongs to Pakistan.
Xi’s OBOR and the Maritime Silk Road projects are the big-ticket items. The road starts from Xian and ends in Rotterdam travelling through Central Asia, Iran, Turkey, Russia and into western Europe. The sea route begins in Fuzhao, links with Africa through the Straits of Malacca and on to Athens ending in Venice. The CPEC is the Pakistan leg of this project where creation of infrastructure, power projects, R&D and defence of Pakistan will be increasingly tied to Chinese investments and decisions.
OBOR is designed to develop China’s interior and its western regions by reducing dependence on sea routes as well as integrating Chinese and European economies. There would be major security challenges for protecting the proposed 81,000 kilometres of high-speed railway running through 65 countries, covering 70 % of the world’s population for this $1.4 trillion project. The inclusion of countries where Islamic extremism is on the rise and some of whom have Islamic extremist groups who have promised to help the Uighurs in Xinjiang would be an additional risk.
Gwadar is today the centerpiece of the ambitious and massive US $ 45 billion infrastructure project that China has launched in Pakistan. Supply routes from Gwadar to Kashgar shorten the distance between Kashgar and Shanghai by about 3000 kilometres. Gwadar is about 500 kilometres from the Straits of Hormuz through which all the oil and gas from the Gulf for the rest of the world exits. Gwadar is 843 kilometres from Jamnagar, India. All the massive projects will need equally formidable Chinese presence for great lengths of time and for which the Pakistan government has agreed to provide specialised security which would be needed in provinces like Balochistan. It will be a prestige issue for the Chinese and they will bend everything to make this successful.
The important issue for India is not so much how successful all these projects will be or how the relationship between Pakistanis and Chinese will evolve. The important issue is that whatever happens, there will be massive Chinese presence in Pakistan which could evolve in different ways with time. China and Pakistan have a secure fibre optic link between PLA West Zone’s South Xinjiang District headquarters and Pakistan Army’s GHQ in Rawalpindi. China’s West Zone is tasked with protection of its borders with Afghanistan, Pakistan and India and to protect Chinese investments and national involved in the CPEC. China is aiding Pakistan in the design and development of tactical nuclear weapons. This presence in Pakistan is another dimension – adverse for India -- to the India-China equation. China therefore needs Pakistan in its great strategic objective.
China is flush with money. Everyone knows that. It is still necessary to remember that China’s GDP was US $ 10.8 trillion in 2015, according to World Bank figures. This makes it almost five times bigger than India’s at US $ 2.07 trillion. According to economic expert Mohan Guruswamy, the Chinese economy may be slowing down, but even at seven per cent rate of growth it adds nearly US $ 500 billion to global growth whereas at 7.9 per cent we add only US $ 140 billion. According to him, we need to grow at least at 9-10 per cent for the next decade to make up this deficit. This is our other challenge. Besides at a figure of US $140 billion, China’s defence budget outstrips India’s budget of about US $ 58 billion. Any suggestions that India will overtake China in the decades ahead need to factor in these realities. We simply have to find other ways to dealing with China.
Its attitude even at the BRICS Summit confirms this. We should have expected this. A few months after President Xi signed deals with India for US 20 billion, he signed the massive US $ 45 billion CPEC deal with Pakistan in April 2015 and this year en route to Goa, he met with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka and the two signed a deal for Chinese assistance of US $ 20 billion. This hugely overshadows the US $ 2 billion line of credit that we promised Dhaka last year. Along with Russia, it remained adamant on the issue of terrorism. Some may criticise the policy of over emphasising the issue of terrorism at forums like BRICS, but the flip side is that the Russian-Chinese attitude confirms that, in the final analysis, on issues like terrorism we are on our own.
China’s consistent obduracy on issues like Jaish-e-Mohammed on display internationally along with its readiness to supply nuclear reactors as well as a US $ 5 billion deal to supply eight attack submarines to its protégé only indicates how far China has gone down the road supporting a country that promotes terror and indulges in nuclear black market. The BRICS Summit has reaffirmed China’s attitude as much as it tells us of the need to keep emphasising the issue of terrorism knowing that responses will be interest-based, and not principle-based.
India was more successful on the issue of terrorism as an abiding threat to all, in the BRICS-BIMSTEC Outreach Summit that followed the BRICS summit. BIMSTEC offers India a greater opportunity in its Act East policy, counter China's domination, further isolate Pakistan, improve connectivity and growth in India's Northeast. Jayadeva Ranade, a well-known China expert, pointed out that China has been very keen that India join the China-Myanmar-Bangladesh-India corridor as part of its OBOR project. The apprehensions are that since our North East has poor connectivity with the rest of India, Chinese goods will be able to flood the market. Further, there is the possibility of thousands of Chinese illegally settling in the North East, as they have done in Russia, Kazakhstan and elsewhere.
While India has been involved in hectic multilateral activity, including SAARC which was aborted, it is the bilaterals that have yielded better results, both with the US and Russia, as with neighbouring countries in recent months. Maybe this is the better route to take. Relations with China are not likely to show any change in the foreseeable future. We need to gear ourselves for that. China will continue to push against India seeing the India-US equation and India’s Act East policy as adverse. On the other hand, if India were internationally inactive, then China sees little obstacle in its activities in our neighbourhood.
Vikram Sood is Advisor at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Sood is the former head of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) — India’s foreign intelligence agency. ...Read More +
Holger Rogner International Institute for Applied Systems AnalysisRead More +