Foreign Policy Cauldron
DANGER SIGNALS IN S. ASIA
By Poonam I Kaushish
New Delhi, October 12, 2010
Wanted a Perry Mason or Fredrick Forsythe. Sooner the
better. To unravel the latest security situation in India’s
neighborhood. Vitiated by Pakistan’s shocking
bolt-out-of-the-blue demand for a plebiscite in Kashmir under
UN auspicious. And, muddied further by China increasingly
spreading its “super power” tentacles in the region ----
albeit silently and stealthily. What to speak of US’s diktat:
Resolve Kashmir to join the UN’s high table ---Security
Council. Please contact the Government of India, New Delhi.
Before you accuse me of making a mountain out of a molehill,
the harsh truth is that grave dangers lurk not only in our
backyard, but engulf us all around. Take China first, which
astonishingly does not get adequate attention from our
Pakistan-US centric ruling deities and their advisors.
True, on the face of it are relations are presently “good”.
There have been a spate of high level visits this year, the
‘Chindia’ synergy was visible at the Copenhagen Summit on
climate change last year and in global trade issues. But New
Delhi seems to conveniently forget the enmasse pin-pricks and
actions which it can only afford to ignore at its peril.
Notwithstanding, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's remark that
China “is entering into the South Asian region in a concerted
On Kashmir, Beijing has emitted mixed signal vis-à-vis India’s
sovereignty, causing New Delhi much mortification. After
issuing stapled visas to Kashmiris’, invitation to Hurriyat
leaders to visit China, massive infrastructure projects in
road/railway, hydropower plants etc (over $20 billion) in
Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and the northern areas (Gilgit-Baltistan),
expansion of the Karakoram highway linking Tibet with
Pakistan’s Gwadar port, denying visa to the Army GoC-in-C
Northern Command on the plea that his jurisdiction included
J&K. It has now asserted that it considered Kashmir’s northern
parts as parts of Pakistan, underscoring its tilt for
This combined with the reported presence of over 11,000
Chinese troops and missile silos in Gilgit and Baltistan and
Beijing’s plan of selling new nuclear reactors to Islamabad in
clear violation of international guidelines significantly
changes the security environment for India. Implicitly,
Beijing seems to be re-evaluating Kashmir’s strategic value.
Today, China occupies about 43,180 sq km (20%) including Aksai
Chin and Sakshgam Valley ceded by Pakistan in 1963.
Not only that. By getting Islamabad to agree to unfettered
right to the Gwadar naval port China intends creating a
permanent geographical wedge between India and Pakistan,
along-with having access to Western shores. Simultaneously, it
has upstaged India in Afghanistan and bagged rail contracts
which would connect it to ports in Iran and Pakistan as also
Uzbekistan in Central Asia.
More worrisome is China’s "more than normal interest" in the
Indian Ocean region. With the Indian Ocean becoming the most
important waters in the 21st Century, Beijing wants to be a
major player in the Indian Ocean. The Chinese “string of
pearls” around India is finding firmer anchorage fast.
Starting at Hainan, China’s southern-most province with its
submarine bay; it has a listening post at Coco islands,
Hianggyi, Khaukphyu, Mergui and Zadetkyi Kyun port facilities
in Myanmar; Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka Chittagong in
Bangladesh to Pakistan’s Gwadar on the Arabian Sea.
Further, it intends appending this string to the continental
mass of Tibet, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Already a direct highway and waterway links China’s southern
Yunan province to Myanmar’s Yangon port providing direct
access to the Bay of Bengal. In effect, Beijing has surrounded
India around its frontiers, except Bhutan where we remain the
favoured partner. Thus, many believe Beijing poses a serious
challenge in the short and medium term.
Why China alone, look at the Clearly, President Obama seems to
have adopted Democrat predecessor President Clinton’s infamous
‘pat with a slap’ policy. On one hand US talks of its
expanding ties with India as an “affair of the heart" rooted
in common values, shared aspirations. And cajoles New Delhi to
make viable for US companies the stringent Nuclear Liability
Bill which puts the onus on suppliers in the event of a
nuclear mishap. Even as White House describes Obama’s
forthcoming visit as a “defining moment” in Indo-US history.
On the other, the US President has issued a decree: Kashmir
settlement-for-seat at UN Security Council. Camouflaged in
ritual diplomatese to help bring stability to the region.
According to Foreign Ministry sources, Obama personally has
decided to give an US push, albeit discreetly, by announcing
incremental American support for India's candidature during
his India visit next month, depending on New Delhi's
receptiveness on the K word.
An insight into Obama's thinking comes from renowned US
analyst Bob Woodward's new book "Obama's War" in which top US
policy-makers are shown mulling on defusing the Kashmir
situation as part of an exit strategy for the US from the Af-Pak
theatre. "Why can't we have straightforward talks with India
on why a stable Pakistan is crucial?" Obama is reported as
musing at one meeting. "India is moving toward a higher place
in its global posture. A stable Pakistan would help."
Inherent in this, is the idea that settling Kashmir would
mollify Pakistan, where hardliners are using the unresolved
issue as an excuse to breed an army of terrorists aimed at
bleeding India. Reportedly, Obama is backing Pakistan's
deposed military leader Pervez Musharraf solution: The Line of
Control would become the international border, but it would be
a soft, permeable border, allowing Kashmiris on both sides to
move back and forth.
However this is anathema for Pakistan, given that for the
ruling troika seeped in military tradition along-with its
jihadist proxies, the ‘core’ issue of Kashmir is an article of
faith. In fact, the very creation of Pakistan rests on the
foundations of Kashmir. From Bhutto’s “bleeding India with a
1000 cuts,” down Kargil inclusions to Mumbai’s 26/11 deep
distrust and lack of confidence is apparent between the
warring neighbours ravaged by history. Needless to say, both
need to walk an extra mile or else the peace road will end at
There is no gainsaying that even as both India and US need
each other. New Delhi would willy nilly accept American
hegemony than one dominated by Beijing and Washington craves
India’s rising economic clout and cash. But Kashmir and
Pakistan continue to be the cause for Raisina and Capitol
Hills distrust of each other.
Evidently, Washington wants to maintain a kind of “cooperation
vigilance”, on the lines of the Kissinger thesis of the 70’s.
The former Secretary of State argued that the US should “act
as a guarantor of equilibrium” for which it should be prepared
to play a “pivotal balancing role in Asia.” Something which
Beijing adroitly seems to be busy nipping as it expands it
pan-Asian horizons/ /flexes muscles in Asia.
Till date all we have got from Beijing are sweet nothings and
vague promises. The time has come for New Delhi to fashion a
more real politik strategy which is result oriented. Raisina
Hill has to shed deluding itself with misleading platitudes
and misplaced bonhomie, inject realism and place a premium on
substance and leveraged diplomacy to deal with the challenge
of ambitious nations.
Be it Beijing, Washington and Islamabad New Delhi cannot
afford to take any chances with what constitutes India’s
national security and strategic interests and pursue them
doggedly. Remember, international politics is ruthless, there
are no permanent friends or foes only permanent interests with
the winner taking all. As Woodrow Wilson once said: Only a
peace among equals can last. Stop being scared. ------ INFA
(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)