India’s options for reducing risk from China-Pak alliance

R.Srikanth

While the internal debate has predictably settled down on questioning the morality of executions in a democratic republic, few questions have been asked about whether Kasab’s execution has increased or decreased India’s options with respect to its long-term adversaries in the region, China and Pakistan.

Hafiz Saeed, leader of terrorist group Lashkar-e-Toiba is being legitimised in the public space in Pakistan, as he makes a foray into Pakistani politics. Given Pakistan’s penchant for denying its hand in anti-India terrorism, it seems like poor strategy to execute Kasab at this time, as he is the only living being that was proof of 26/11. Can Indians afford to be sanguine about the mainstreaming of terrorist groups in Pakistani politics?

The central place of religion in politics is not surprising given that Pakistani Constitution and Republic and even the Army define themselves in terms of religious doctrine. The side effect of religious propaganda in the Pakistani school curriculum over the decades has resulted in religious fundamentalist groups garnering immense public support for right wing political groups. In this environment, terrorist masterminds like Hafiz Saeed are able to seek legitimacy by entering politics and making pretensions of abstaining from terrorism.  Hafiz’s actions of offering prayers for a 26/11 terrorist, but not its victims, says enough about his pretensions of seeking a life of peace.

It does not seem to be in India’s interest to let Pakistan get away with providing validity to groups like Hafiz Saeed’s Lashkar-e-Toiba as a legitimate political party via an election. This will result in the permanent mainstreaming of terrorist groups into Pakistani politics. However, in Pakistan, it is a truism that no matter which political party wins, the Army actually is in control. So, in that sense, not much has changed in Pakistani politics, except for the death of secular and liberal political parties. Frequent headlines in the international print media that portray the Army submitting to the civilian government of the day have always turned out to be false.

Even mainstream political parties such as the PTI and Jamaat-e-Islami are very vocal about their aggressive intent towards India, should they come to power. All these political parties have openly stated their antipathy for friendly relations with India, with constant background refrain of promising more terrorism in India unless India relinquishes Indian territory in Jammy &Kashmir to Pakistan.

Buckling down to Pakistan’s blackmailing tactics to exchange land for peace, whether in Siachen or elsewhere, are unlikely to yield results for India. This is mainly due to the Pakistani Military-Jihad Complex’s (MJC) antipathy to normalising relations with India, combined with their domineering role in Pakistani politics. Since the inception of Pakistan as a state in 1947, the Pakistani Army has always dictated terms to the civilian government in power.

In the early 80s and 90s, Pakistan was financially, politically, and diplomatically supported by the USA, China, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. Such support has waned in the recent years due to frictions between Pakistan and its donors. USA continues to finance Pakistan under strict controls and has downgraded military relations with Pakistan. Saudi Arabia still wields a lot of influence in Pakistan, though it has stopped subsidising Pakistan like it did in the past.

The only country that has made proclamations of everlasting, mutual, enduring relations with Pakistan is China.  This was evident from the fact only a journalist from Pakistan was given the privilege of being allowed to record the proceedings of the CPC. Ignoring the dubious value of the Pakistani presence in such a meeting- the showcasing of China-Pakistan relations- is a reminder that the chance of these two Indian adversaries colluding against India in the long term is a certainty. As long as the MJC wields power in Pakistan and the Communist Party wields power in Beijing, India needs to consider the likelihood of such collusion, a certainty.

Although China’s investments in Pakistan have decreased in scope and involvement over the last couple of decades, not least to the inability of the Pakistani government to secure the lives of Chinese engineers and workers implementing development projects in Pakistan. However, China has followed a strategy of proliferating weapons of mass destruction to states like North Korea and Pakistan, and there is no indication that the CCP has relinquished the use of WMD proliferation as a tool in the toolkit of Chinese foreign policy.

This is where China and Pakistan gain from their illegal occupation of Indian territory in J&K. Pakistani occupation of PoK and China’s occupation of CoK, has resulted in a physical border and land route connecting China and Pakistan. As long as this land route connects China and Pakistan, China’s capability to proliferate weapons of mass destruction to Pakistan via such a route remains in place. Proliferating such weapons by Air or Sea is a lot harder as the global commons is monitored. Thus, it is in India’s long-term interests to ensure that Chinese capability for such proliferation is neutered. Once a capability is neutered, China’s intentions towards India in that region do not matter if India regains control over all of J&K. Intentions of any geopolitical entitiy can change on a whim with no effort, but geopolitical capability needs to be gained and maintained.

Why is the completion of the accession of J&K to India necessary? Why does Indian government spend an enormous amount of revenue generated from other Indian states to sustain J&K? For one, there is a parliamentary resolution in effect today that declares India’s sovereignty over all of Jammu & Kashmir.  India retaining control would mean that India would have a border with Afghanishtan, establishing direct Indian transit into Central Asia. India has been denied land transit rights into Afghanistan and will continue to be denied such rights for the foreseeable future. Also, as explained earlier, such reclamation of control over J&K would ensure breaking a land route between two of India’s most bloody-minded and hostile adversaries, China and Pakistan. Seems prudent for India to proactively gain leverage over them in order to control events in the future that may be orchestrated by the collusion of these two hostile nations.  It should be noted that a political union of the two sides of the LoC in J&K is a logical first step towards Indian control over all of J&K.

What are India’s options with respect to Pakistan, especially given China’s significant capabilties today, to change the nature of India-Pakistan relations via WMD proliferation? India taking the initiative on foisting aggression on Pakistan is not an option, as this is exactly what the Pakistani MJC has been trying to do for a long time. Recall the 26/11 was orchestrated when the Pakistani Army was trying to prove to its American allies that maintaining a large army presence in the Indo-Pak border is essential, in order to avoid going after the Taliban in North West Pakistan.  The Army’s gambit would have worked had the Indian government reacted to 26/11 by escalating hostile intentions, thereby providing the Pakistani Army with a solid excuse to not cooperate in Waziristan.

If India escalates the situation on the ground, Pakistani army’s best option is to respond by claiming that various red lines have been crossed. Once this is done, what will follow is a drumbeat of “India-Pak nuclear flashpoint” from motivated third parties, mostly arms-control wonks. Such a falling out of events has never worked in India’s favor in the past. A more important reason to avoid a war with Pakistan is the effect it will have on the gap between India and China in terms of economic and military power. The already wide gap is likely to increase further, which is unwise given that there is no guarantee India can recover from such a setback post war with Pakistan. However, even if overt war is ruled out with Pakistan, the sub-conventional proxy war options that Pakistan avails is also available to India- it is a different matter that Indian political leadership seems to have failed to avail itself of such options.

Let us take a look at Pakistan today. Pakistan government’s choice to radicalise their population with religious dogma, hatred and violence in school textbooks has created multiple generations of Pakistanis that would fit the label of religious radicals or fundamentalists- people who are not averse to using violent means as a tool to further their religious-political goals. The end result seems to be that Pakistanis are increasingly vulnerable to terrorist bombings in their own country, and State of Pakistan is increasingly unable to exert control over its own territories.  This should seemingly increase India’s options, but it has not done so yet.

The Pakistani government effectively controls 3 out of 4 states in the country. The army dare not challenge militant tribes in the Northwest Frontier province that challenge the Pakistani army on the ground. Any election in Pakistan is likely to usher in a religious-minded political party in power- these parties have openly stated their concurrence with the goals of Al Qaeda in Pakistan. If such a religious party comes to power as a result of elections in Pakistan, it will legitimise anti-India terrorist groups in Pakistan, which means an increase in anti-India violence emanating from Pakistan, as it has happened in the past. When dealing with Pakistani MJC/Government it is prudent to watch what they are doing rather than what they are saying, as explained by Mr Vikram Sood.

If suggestions that Saltoro/Siachen be transformed into a “Peace Park” are taken seriously by the Indian government, then it would imply that the Indian Government has learnt no lessons from the Kargil War or has forgotten those lessons already.

R. Srikanth is a Senior Researcher at the Cyber-Strategy Studies Team at the Takshashila Institution and a GCPP alumnus.

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