, 12 October 2016
The implications for India of the growing strategic nexus between China and Pakistan are stark because the two are hostile, non-status-quo powers bent upon seizing additional Indian territory and undermining Indian security in different ways. Indeed, the nexus extends to shielding Pakistani terrorism at the United Nations. This makes China complicit in Pakistan’s proxy war by terror against India.
Pakistan’s value for Beijing as a strategic surrogate to help box in India has risen even as that country has descended into greater jihadist extremism and political disarray. In fact, a dysfunctional, debt-ridden Pakistan gives China greater leeway to strategically penetrate it. Having deployed thousands of Chinese army troops in Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, especially Gilgit-Baltistan, since at least 2010, Beijing is working to turn Pakistan into its land corridor to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean through the so-called “one belt, one road” project.
China’s nexus with Pakistan has been likened by Beijing to the closeness between lips and teeth. Beijing has also been calling Pakistan its “irreplaceable all-weather friend”. The two often boast of their “iron brotherhood”. The relationship has also been described in flowery terms — “taller than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, stronger than steel, and sweeter than honey”.
In reality, a rapidly rising China has little in common with aid-dependent Pakistan, beyond the fact that both are revisionist states not content with their existing frontiers. They do, however, share an interest in containing India, including by unconventional means. This explains why China, seeking to destabilize India, has gone to the extent of shielding Pakistan’s patronage of terrorism.
By repeatedly vetoing UN sanctions on terrorist Masood Azhar, China is culpable in killing of 26 Indian soldiers at Uri and Pathankot by Jaish-e-Mohammed, a covert front organisation for Pakistan’s rogue Inter-Services Intelligence agency. When China on October 8 put a technical hold on the proposed UN sanctions on Azhar, it was its fifth such move since September 2014 blocking action against him.
Previously, China also came in the way of Indian efforts for the UN to proscribe United Jehad Council chief Syed Salahuddin, to censure Pakistan for freeing Lashkar-e-Taiba commander and 26/11 accused Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi on bail, and to probe how UN-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed is able to fund and organise large public rallies in Pakistan.
That Beijing shields Pakistan’s unconventional war against India through terrorist proxies should surprise few, given China’s own use of unconventional instruments in peacetime against India —from dispatching arms to Indian rebel groups, often through the Myanmar corridor, to carrying out intermittent cyber attacks on Indian government, defence and commercial targets. Like Pakistan’s export of terrorism, China employs non-state actors in such missions, designed to keep India off balance or gain asymmetrical advantages.
As China cements Pakistan’s status as its economic and security client, India must do what it can to throw a spanner in the Chinese works. The Chinese military presence in Pakistan-held J&K means that India faces Chinese troops on both flanks of its J&K state. New Delhi cannot stay mum on China’s growing military footprint in a region that India regards as its own territory. The planned $46-billion economic corridor from Xinjiang to Gwadar constitutes China’s new pincer strategy.
India should seek to raise the diplomatic and security costs for China’s activities in Pakistan. After all, no other country in the world faces an axis between two expansionist nuclear-armed neighbours with a proven track record of covert actions in breach of international norms.
Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.