The China And Pakistan Horns Grow (Daniel 7/8)

The China-Pakistan axis gains momentum and could pull India into a war on two fronts

By Harsh V Pant

Published: 17:11 EST, 15 April 2016 | Updated: 17:11 EST, 15 April 2016

The recently expanded Gwadar deep water port in Pakistan, which is part of the socalled China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), is nearing completion.

According to Zhang Baozhong, chairman and CEO of China Overseas Ports Holding Company Ltd, ‘The port cranes are almost ready, and we are thinking that the port will be at full operation by the end of this year.’

The port will process about one million tonne of cargo next year, most of which will be incoming construction materials to be used in projects related to CPEC.

The port city Gwadar, in southwestern Balochistan province, is central to the CPEC. Pakistan’s army chief has accused India of attempting to undermine the $46 billion project with China.

Speaking at a development conference on the impact of CPEC, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif said: ‘I must highlight that India, our immediate neighbour, has openly challenged this development initiative.

‘I would like to make a special reference to Indian intelligence agency RAW that is blatantly involved in destabilising Pakistan. Let me make it clear that we will not allow anyone to create impediments and turbulence in any part of Pakistan.’

China-Pakistan collusion against India has taken new turns recently. Despite the Modi government’s attempts to improve ties with Pakistan and China, both have responded negatively so far.

The writing is clear on the wall and has been for quite some time. The Pakistani military-intelligence complex has no interest in a rapprochement with India; it made it a point to scuttle the growing Sharif-Modi bonhomie.

Last month, Pakistani authorities announced they captured a suspected Indian spy in Balochistan, identified as Kulbhushan Jadhav. The military also aired video footage of Jadhav, saying he was working out of his base in Chabahar in neighbouring Iran.

The Pakistani investigation team, which had visited Pathankot, ended up suggesting that the Pathankot attack in January was in fact staged by Indian agencies.

This was followed by the Pakistani High Commissioner announcing the suspension of Indo-Pakistani peace talks. China then turned the screws tighter and made it a point to scuttle the nascent counter-terror cooperation between Delhi and Beijing.

By insisting that designation of any individual as terrorist by UN is a ‘serious issue’, China last week blocked the UN from banning Jaish-e-Mohammad chief and Pathankot strike mastermind Masood Azhar by the global body.

The January 2 attack at Pathankot was followed by a raid on an Indian consulate in Afghanistan that has also been linked to Jaish-e-Mohammad, whose militants were also behind the 2001 attack on Indian Parliament.

The Sino-Pakistan relationship has now moved beyond the ‘higher than Himalayas and sweeter than honey’ phase. Chinese strategists are openly taking of Pakistan as their nation’s only real ally.

China’s submarine operations in the Indian Ocean and the Sino-Pak naval cooperation are challenging naval supremacy and have the potential to change the regional naval power balance.

China is also busy re-defining territorial status quo in the region. By deciding to construct major civil, energy and military infrastructure projects in the CPEC, which runs through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and the areas of Gilgit and Baltistan, China has accorded de facto ‘legitimacy’ to Pakistan’s illegal occupation of these areas.

China — the world’s third largest weapons exporter — has Pakistan as the top recipient of its arms. By aiding Pakistan to set up its nuclear and ballistic missiles programmes, besides supplying conventional arms, Beijing had made sure that the India-Pakistan military balance is maintained.

China is considered a reliable ally that has always come to Pakistan’s aid when India has seemed on the ascendant — so much so that China has even tacitly supported Pakistan’s strategy of using terror as a policy instrument against India.

With India ascending in the global hierarchy and strengthening its ties with the US, China’s need for Pakistan is likely to grow. This has been evident in China’s polices toward Pakistan on critical issues in South Asia.

A rising India makes Pakistan all the more important in China’s strategy for the subcontinent. It is highly unlikely that China will give up playing the Pakistan card vis-à-vis India anytime soon.

The China-Pakistan partnership serves the interests of both partners by presenting India with a potential two-front theatre in the event of war with either country. And for China, Pakistan is increasingly important to fend off a joint India-US challenge.

South Asia is emerging as an important new front in the balance of power struggle between the US and China as well as India and China, and the region’s importance is only likely to increase in the coming years.

The Modi government needs to recognise that the challenges of a two-front adversarial strategic environment are only likely to intensify in the coming years. New Delhi needs to be prepared to take on this challenge head-on.

Even as India reaches out to China in the next few weeks with the visits of the National Security Advisor and the Defence Minister, it should be clear that Chinese behaviour is unlikely to change in the near future.

The writer is Professor of International Relations, King’s College London

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