About Chellaney

Professor, strategic thinker, author and commentator

The China-Pakistan Axis of Evil

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While Pakistan employs terrorist groups as proxies to bleed India, China uses Pakistan as a proxy to box in India. The irony is that, while providing cover for Pakistan’s open collusion with terrorists, China is locking up its “radical” Muslims in gulags.

Axisofevil1Brahma Chellaney, Open magazine

The February 26 Indian airstrike on a terrorist sanctuary in Pakistan’s heartland cannot obscure the resurfacing of India-China tensions following the Valentine’s Day terrorist attack in Pulwama that killed dozens of Indian paramilitary troops. China’s culpability in the attack — and in previous lethal cross-border terrorist strikes, such as on the Pathankot airbase — is apparent from its shielding of Pakistan’s export to terrorism to India. China brazenly provides cover for Pakistan’s collusion with state-reared terrorists.

The message from India’s use of airpower for the first time against a cross-border terrorist safe haven is that it is not afraid to escalate its response to the aerial domain in order to call Pakistan’s nuclear bluff. This could potentially mark a defining moment in India’s counterterrorism efforts against Pakistan’s strategy to inflict death by a thousand cuts.

The airstrike, however, is likely to reinforce Beijing’s determination to bolster Pakistan as a counterweight to India, especially because China incurs no strategic or trade costs for containing India. Beijing is not only propping up the Pakistani state financially and militarily, but also has repeatedly blocked United Nations action against the chief of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist group, which was quick to claim responsibility for the Pulwama massacre.

The paradox is that China, the world’s longest-surviving autocracy, has locked up more than a million Muslims from Xinjiang in the name of cleansing their minds of extremist thoughts, yet is simultaneously protecting Pakistan’s export of deadly Islamist terrorism to India. While Pakistan employs terrorist groups as proxies to bleed India, China uses Pakistan as a proxy to box in India.

The plain fact is that, for China, Pakistan is not just a client state, but a valued instrument to help contain India. So, is it any surprise that since the April 2018 Wuhan summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, Beijing has actually stepped up its use of Pakistan as an India-containment tool, including by accelerating the so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and playing the Kashmir card against New Delhi? In fact, China is steadily encircling India, as several developments underscore — from its new military base in Tajikistan that overlooks the Wakhan Corridor and Pakistan-held Jammu and Kashmir to its increasing encroachments in India’s maritime backyard.

It is extraordinary that China has been able to mount pressure on India from multiple flanks at a time when its own economic and geopolitical fortunes are taking a beating. By China’s own statistics, its economy last year registered the weakest pace of growth in nearly three decades. Add to the picture a new phenomenon — the flight of capital from a country that, between 1994 and 2014, amassed a mounting pile of foreign-exchange reserves by enjoying a surplus in its overall balance of payments.

Now faced with an unstoppable trend of net capital outflows, Xi’s regime has tightened exchange controls and other capital restrictions to prop up the country’s fragile financial system and sagging currency. The regime has used tens of billions of dollars in recent months alone to bolster the yuan’s international value. Not just capital is fleeing China but even wealthy Chinese prefer to live overseas, in a vote of no confidence in the Chinese system.

China’s internal challenges are being compounded by new external factors. Chinese belligerence and propaganda, for example, have spawned a growing international image problem for the country. More significantly, China has come under international pressure on several fronts — from its trade, investment and lending policies to its human-rights abuses. U.S.-led pressure on trade and geopolitical fronts has accentuated Beijing’s dilemmas and fuelled uncertainty in China. As long as the U.S.-China trade war rages, flight of capital will remain a problem for Beijing. Its foreign-exchange reserves have shrunk by about $1 trillion from their peak of just over $4 trillion in mid-2014.

At a time when China’s imperial project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is running into resistance from a growing number of partner countries, Beijing is also confronting a U.S.-led pushback against its telecommunications giant Huawei. Meanwhile, China is alienating other Asian nations by throwing its weight around too aggressively.

This trend is likely to accelerate with the restructured People’s Liberation Army becoming less of an army and more of a power projection force, the majority of whose troops now are not from the army but from the other services. Indeed, the PLA’s shift toward power projection foreshadows a more aggressive Chinese military approach of the kind already witnessed in the Himalayas or the South China Sea, where China has fundamentally changed the status quo in its favour.

More fundamentally, it is China’s open disregard of international rules and its penchant for bullying that explains why it remains a largely friendless power. Leadership in today’s world demands more than just brute might. Beijing lacks any real strategic allies other than Pakistan. When China joined hands with the U.S. at the United Nations to impose new international sanctions on North Korea, once its vassal, it implicitly highlighted that it now has just one real ally — Pakistan.

China today is increasingly oriented to the primacy of the Communist Party, responsible for the past pogroms and witch-hunts and the current excesses. Under Xi, the party has set out to demolish Muslim, Tibetan and Mongol identities, expand China’s frontiers far out into international waters, and turn the country into a digital totalitarian state. Consequently, four decades after it initiated economic reform, China finds itself at a crossroads, with its future trajectory uncertain.

It is against this background that the Xi regime’s increasing use of Pakistan against India stands out. China is working to extend its reach to the Arabian Sea by turning Pakistan into a client-state and keeping India off-balance.

Beijing not only continues to bolster Pakistan’s offensive capabilities, including in weapons of mass destruction (WMD), but also is working in tandem with that country to militarize the northern Arabian Sea. Chinese-supplied warships have already been pressed into service to secure Pakistan’s Chinese-controlled Gwadar port, the flagship project in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which, in turn, is the centrepiece of BRI.

Through CPEC, China is seeking to turn Pakistan into its land corridor to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. And, as a U.S. Defence Department report in 2016 forewarned, Pakistan — “China’s primary customer for conventional weapons” — is likely to host a Chinese naval hub intended to project power in the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Such a naval base is expected to come up quietly next to the Gwadar port, directly challenging India’s maritime interests.

China, meanwhile, has actively aided Pakistan’s counter-strategy to the Indian military’s supposed “Cold Start” doctrine. Pakistan’s counter is a mobile WMD capability centred on tactical nuclear weapons for use against enemy battle formations. The “Cold Start” doctrine is reportedly the idea of a quick and limited Indian conventional strike in response to a Pakistan-scripted terrorist attack, so as to deny Pakistani generals the ability to raise conflict to a nuclear level.

That doctrine remains notional, with no indication that India has either integrated it into its military strategy or reconfigured force deployments in order to execute it in a contingency. Yet Pakistan, with Chinese support, has fielded tactical nukes, creating a dangerous situation. Let’s be clear: Pakistan’s recklessness has been egged on by China. A full-fledged war on the subcontinent will open opportunities for China against India that Beijing seeks.

Beijing has repeatedly declared that China and Pakistan are “as close as lips and teeth.” It has also called Pakistan its “irreplaceable all-weather friend.” The two countries often boast of their “iron brotherhood.” In 2010, Pakistan’s then-prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, waxed poetic about the relationship, describing it as “taller than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, stronger than steel, and sweeter than honey.”

In truth, China has little in common with aid-dependent Pakistan other than a shared enmity against India. China and Pakistan are revisionist states not content with their existing frontiers. Both lay claim to vast swaths of Indian territory. Their “iron brotherhood” is about a shared interest in containing India. The prospect of a two-front war, should India enter into conflict with either Pakistan or China, certainly advances that interest.

India will never be able to break the China-Pakistan nexus, however hard it might try. Yet successive Indian governments have failed to grasp this strategic reality. Virtually every Indian prime minister has sought to reinvent the foreign-policy wheel rather than learn the essentials of statecraft or heed the lessons of past national mistakes.

In fact, an economically rising India seeking to chart an independent course only gives Beijing a greater incentive to use Pakistan as a surrogate against it. For China, the appeal of propping up Pakistan is heightened by the latter’s willingness to serve as a loyal proxy. In fact, given that Pakistan is an economic basket case dependent on Chinese lending, Beijing treats it as something of a guinea pig. For example, it has sold Pakistan outdated or untested nuclear power reactors (two such AC-1000 reactors are coming up near Karachi). China has also sold weapons systems not deployed by its own military.

Less known is that Pakistan’s descent into a jihadist dungeon has benefited China, as it has provided an ideal pretext for Beijing to advance its strategic interests within that country. For example, China has deployed thousands of troops in Pakistan-held Jammu and Kashmir since the last decade, ostensibly to secure its strategic projects. The Chinese military presence there means that India faces Chinese troops on both flanks of its portion of Jammu and Kashmir, given that China occupies one-fifth of the original princely state of J&K. This presence also explains why India faces a two-front scenario in the event of a war with either country.

More fundamentally, Beijing has pursued a troubling three-pronged policy to build pressure on New Delhi over J&K, where the disputed borders of India, Pakistan and China converge. First, it has enlarged its footprint in Pakistan-occupied J&K through CPEC projects, despite Indian protestations that such projects in a territory India claims as its own violate Indian sovereignty. Second, Beijing has attempted to question India’s sovereignty over Indian J&K by issuing visas on a separate leaf to J&K residents holding Indian passports. And third, it has officially shortened the length of the Himalayan border it shares with India by purging the 1,597-kilometer line separating Indian J&K from Chinese-held J&K.

Add to the picture China’s shielding of Pakistan’s export of terrorism and its indirect encouragement of separatism in India’s J&K. Then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh cautioned in 2010 that “Beijing could be tempted to use India’s ‘soft underbelly,’ Kashmir.”

While building projects in Pakistan-occupied J&K, a UN-designated disputed territory, China denied a visa in 2010 to the Indian Army’s Northern Command General B.S. Jaswal, who was to lead the Indian side in the bilateral defence dialogue in Beijing, on grounds that he commanded “a disputed area, Jammu and Kashmir.”At the same time, Beijing has signalled an interest in cleverly inserting itself as a mediator in the India-Pakistan tensions over Kashmir. This is part of China’s efforts to obscure the fact that it is actually the third party to the J&K dispute.

While playing the Kashmir card against India, China offers Pakistan security assurances and political protection, especially diplomatic cover at the United Nations. For example, China has repeatedly vetoed UN action against Masood Azhar, the Pakistan-based chief of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, which, backed by Pakistani intelligence services, has carried out several major terrorist attacks on Indian targets, including the Pathankot air base in 2016 and the Parliament in 2001. And in 2016, Sartaj Aziz, the then Pakistani prime minister’s foreign-policy adviser, said that China has helped Pakistan to block India’s U.S.-supported bid to gain membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the export-control cartel.

Pakistan has secured other major benefits from China as well. For example, China provided critical assistance in building Pakistan’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, including by reducing the likelihood of U.S. sanctions or Indian retaliation. China still offers covert nuclear and missile assistance, reflected in the more recent transfer of the launcher for the Shaheen-3, Pakistan’s nuclear-capable ballistic missile, which has a range of 2,750 kilometres.

In this light, a grateful Pakistan has given China exclusive rights to run Gwadar port for the next 40 years — a period in which Beijing will receive, tax free, 91% of the port’s revenues. The port operator, China Overseas Ports Holding Company, will also be exempt from major taxes for more than 20 years. Moreover, Pakistan has established a new 13,000-troop army division to protect CPEC projects. And it has deployed police forces to shield Chinese nationals and construction sites from Baloch insurgents and Islamist gunmen. China’s stationing of its own troops in the Pakistani part of J&K for years, however, betrays its lack of confidence in Pakistani security arrangements — and suggests that China will continue to enlarge its military footprint in Pakistan.

The Chinese strategic penetration of Pakistan, meanwhile, continues to be aided by the U.S. factor, despite President Donald Trump’s suspension of American security aid to that country last year.

Although Trump publicly declared that Pakistan provides the U.S. with “nothing but lies and deceit,” his desperation to get American troops out of Afghanistan has led to Washington cozying up to Pakistan again so as to clinch a final deal with the Pakistan-backed Afghan Taliban. Indeed, the U.S. tentative deal with the Taliban in Qatar in late January was struck with Pakistan’s active support. Pakistan, in effect, is reaping rewards for sponsoring cross-border terrorism, thanks to unflinching Chinese support and the renewed U.S. dependence on the Pakistani military in relation to Afghanistan.

Make no mistake: Despite slowing economic growth, a grinding trade fight with the U.S., and an international pushback against BRI, China has been able to bring India under greater pressure. If anything, it is a reflection of India’s pusillanimity that China continues to contain India without incurring any costs. Far from seeking to impose any costs on China, India is doing the opposite.

For example, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s presence in Wuzhen, China, in late February for the Russia-India-China (RIC) initiative meeting sent the message that New Delhi, for tactical reasons, was willing to whitewash Beijing’s culpability in the Pulwama massacre. RIC is actually a meaningless and worthless initiative for India, and the least New Delhi could have done is to force a postponement of the Wuzhen meeting at a time when the Indian republic was mourning the Pulwama mass murder.

Given that New Delhi is loath to impose any costs, including trade related, why would Beijing cease protecting the Pakistani deep state’s terror campaign against India? In fact, India has allowed China to reap ever-increasing rewards while systematically undermining Indian interests.

Just consider one fact: China’s trade surplus with India, on Modi’s watch, has more than doubled to over $66 billion annually. By comparison, India’s new defence budget unveiled in February totals $42.8 billion, or just 65% of China’s bilateral trade surplus. This underscores the extent to which India is underwriting China’s hostile actions against it.

India should be willing to employ trade as a tool to help reform China’s behaviour. Yet New Delhi continues to ignore calls from Indian industry and consumer groups for protection against the rising tide of Chinese imports that is undermining Indian manufacturing and competitiveness. Thanks to China’s large-scale dumping of manufactured goods, Modi’s “Make in India” initiative has yet to seriously take off.

In fact, Modi has little to show from his personal diplomacy with Xi. For Xi, the Wuhan summit has served as a cover to kill two birds with one stone. While encouraging Modi’s overtures to help instil greater Indian caution and reluctance to openly challenge China, Xi has embarked on a major military build-up along the Himalayan border with India. The build-up includes deploying offensive new weapon systems and advertising live-fire combat exercises. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s status as China’s economic and security client has been firmly cemented and Chinese encroachments in India’s maritime backyard have increased.

As China treats Pakistan more and more as a colonial outpost that has a government on Chinese payroll, the challenge for India from the Sino-Pakistan nexus is mounting. Indeed, just as Pakistan wages an unconventional war by terror against India, China is pursuing its own asymmetric warfare against India, both by economic means and by employing Pakistan as a proxy.

The hype from India’s latest counterterrorism airstrike deep inside Pakistan cannot cloak this reality. Without forward-looking and proactive diplomacy that seeks to systematically combat the China-Pakistan nexus, India will continue to be weighed down by its region. Only through more vigorous defence and foreign policies can India hope to ameliorate its regional-security situation, freeing it to play a larger global role.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including the award-winning “Water, Peace, and War.”

© Open magazine, 2019.

How the terrorist threat from Pakistan can be quelled

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imagesPakistan’s current faceoff with India has come at an awkward time. All three of its main neighbours – India, Iran and Afghanistan – have accused it of complicity in recent terrorist attacks on their soil. The rising regional tensions, highlighted by Indian and Pakistani tit-for-tat aerial incursions, threaten to complicate U.S. President Donald Trump’s effort to finalize a peace deal with Afghanistan’s Pakistan-created Taliban.

The trigger for the current tensions was a Valentine’s Day attack – claimed by a Pakistan-based terrorist group – that killed 41 Indian troops in the Indian part of divided Kashmir, where the contested borders of India, Pakistan and China meet. That same week, 27 members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards were slain, prompting Tehran to threaten retaliation against Pakistan, while all 32 Afghan troops at a remote base were killed in a Taliban strike.

Pakistan remains a major hub of transnational terrorism. The footprints of many international terrorist attacks have been traced to Pakistan, including the 2005 London bombings, the 2008 Mumbai siege and the 2015 San Bernardino, Calif., killings. The principal architects of the 9/11 attacks in the United States were found ensconced in Pakistan, including Osama bin Laden.

But it is Pakistan’s neighbours that have borne the brunt of its terrorism. Even Bangladesh, which seceded from Pakistan in 1971, blamed its worst terrorist attack on Pakistan’s shadowy Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.

More than seven decades after it was established as the first Islamic republic of the postcolonial era, Pakistan stares at an uncertain future. Its jihad culture has fostered rising militancy and a serious financial crisis, with the country dependent on bailouts from its patrons, China and Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan’s problems have been compounded by a long-standing nexus between its military and terrorist groups. Nuclear-armed Pakistan is today home to 22 United Nations-designated terrorist entities, several of them reared by its military as proxies. Pakistan’s thriving jihadist groups arose under two military dictators: Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who died in 1988, and Pervez Musharraf, who fled overseas in 2008.

Indeed, at the root of Pakistan’s dysfunction are its skewed civil-military relations: The powerful, meddling military, including its ISI agency, remains immune to civilian oversight. Despite an elected government in place, decisive power rests with the military generals, enabling them to maintain ties with terrorist groups.

The current regional tensions have intensified international pressure on the Pakistani military to dismantle the terrorist complex it supports. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week stressed the “urgency of Pakistan taking meaningful action against terrorist groups operating on its soil.” Similar calls have been made in recent days by the European Union and others.

However, such calls are unlikely to be heeded. For Pakistan’s military, waging an undeclared war against India through terrorist proxies remains a useful, low-cost option to contain a larger, more powerful adversary.

The Valentine’s Day attack – the latest in a string of cross-border strikes by Pakistan-backed terrorists – led India to shed its restraint and carry out its first air strike in 48 years inside Pakistan by bombing a terrorist safe haven. This was the first time a nuclear power carried out an air strike inside another nuclear-armed state.

Virtually calling the Pakistani generals’ nuclear bluff, India sent warplanes that deeply penetrated Pakistani air defences and bombed the terrorist sanctuary with impunity. Caught napping, the generals sought to save face with aerial aggression the next day, triggering a brief skirmish over the frontier in which each side lost a warplane.

The matter is unlikely to end there. India’s patience is wearing thin, and it is unwilling to be further gored.

Indeed, behind the recent U.S. decision to cut and run from Afghanistan is the same factor – Pakistan, which harbours not only Taliban leadership and fighters but also the Haqqani Network, responsible for terrorist attacks on American troops and civilians. As the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan admitted in 2017, “It is very difficult to succeed on the battlefield when your enemy enjoys external support and safe haven.”

The Trump administration’s tentative deal with the Taliban, including an American military exit within 18 months, has come as a shot in the arm for the Pakistani generals. Their long-standing goal to have an Islamist, pro-Pakistan government in Kabul was disrupted when the United States invaded Afghanistan after 9/11 and removed the Taliban from power. But now, the generals hope to realize their goal again.

U.S. negotiators are currently in talks with the Taliban to flesh out the tentative deal. However, U.S. concessions have already emboldened Pakistan’s generals and the Taliban. It may not be a coincidence that the terrorist attacks on Indian and Iranian troops occurred shortly after the tentative U.S.-Taliban deal was unveiled.

Against this background, the crisis in southern Asia will likely rumble on until Pakistan’s military agrees to halt its decades-old use of terrorist proxies to wage asymmetric warfare against neighbouring countries.

The terrorism emanating from Pakistan cannot be stemmed without correcting the country’s civil-military relations. Without civilian control over it, the praetorian military will remain wedded to the export of terrorism, exacting mounting costs for Pakistan, which has already lost American security aid and is now on the grey list of the Paris-based international body combating terrorism financing.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and award-winning author.

© The Globe and Mail, 2019.

India’s options on Pakistan

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Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times, February 28, 2019

terrorismPakistan didn’t wait long to squash India’s Balakot airstrike bravado with its own air incursions. However, the financially strapped country cannot afford a serious escalation of hostilities, not least because India could wreak massive punishment. This explains why Pakistan’s military is at pains to affirm that it is not seeking war.

The mass-murder attack at Pulwama was India’s moment of truth. For too long, India had put up with Pakistan’s cross-border terrorism without imposing any tangible costs. So, when Pulwama happened, it triggered intense anger across the country, not just against Pakistan, but also against the fractious and feckless political class that has reduced India to a soft state.

Peace with Pakistan is a mirage, and the Indian Air Force (IAF) aptly employed its Mirage 2000 aircraft to bomb terrorists there. In a chilling message to Pakistan’s terror masters — the military generals — it demonstrated its ability to deeply penetrate Pakistani air defences and bomb. This represented a major loss of face for the generals. To salvage their image at home, the generals have responded with aerial aggression.

Had the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee quickly responded with punitive airstrikes to the December 2001 Jaish-e-Mohammed attack on Parliament — at a time when much of Pakistan’s F-16 fleet was not airworthy due to a lack of spares — India probably would have been spared the Pakistan-scripted terrorist carnages that have followed. The lost golden opportunity was compounded by nearly 18 years of political dithering on allowing limited uses of air power, such as taking out trans-border terrorist launch pads. India’s belated use of air power to strike a terrorist safe haven has finally sent a clear message — it is not afraid to  call Pakistan’s nuclear bluff.

Balakot represents the first time a nuclear power carried out an airstrike inside another nuclear-armed State. The current conventional military face-off, however, promises to bust Western academic theories about the inevitability of tit-for-tat actions rapidly triggering a serious nuclear crisis. Pakistani generals may be roguish but they are not suicidal. Their delusions of security behind a supposed nuclear shield stand exposed.

A more fundamental question is whether the current face-off will mark a turning point for India, generating a newfound determination not to be continually gored. Or did India carry out the Balakot airstrike — like the 2016 ground-launched surgical strike — largely to assuage public anger, with the calculation that Pakistan would again not respond in kind? A one-off airstrike, in any event, would be as ineffective in deterring Pakistan as the one-off surgical strike was.

Whatever the number of terrorists killed at Balakot, the fact is that Pakistan’s generals were made to pay no costs. Now emboldened by their own quick military response, they will seek to bleed India further. Tellingly, the 2016 terrorists-targeting surgical strike, while underscoring India’s refusal to impose any costs on the terror masters, was followed by serial Pakistan-orchestrated terrorist attacks from Nagrota to Pulwama.

India must bring Pakistan under sustained and multipronged pressure. For example, how can India expect the international community to diplomatically isolate Pakistan when New Delhi is unwilling to do that itself? Indeed, India’s refusal to treat Pakistan as a terrorist state in its policy, as opposed to its rhetoric, has come back to haunt it.

India shies away from taking even non-military measures to penalise Pakistan. Nitin Gadkari’s empty statements on the Indus Waters Treaty have only generated bad international publicity. Far from seeking to weaponise water or leverage the treaty, India is adhering to the pact’s finer details, including supplying Pakistan design data of three proposed hydropower facilities on the eve of Pulwama.

Oddly, just as India called its 1974 nuclear test “peaceful”, only to endure almost a quarter-century of sanctions until it went overtly nuclear, it labelled its Balakot strike a “non-military” pre-emptive action. Pakistan’s military riposte has helped shatter that pretence. More significantly, India’s failure to quickly rebut Pakistan’s disinformation in the current face-off suggests it has learned little from China’s psychological warfare during the Doklam standoff.

India must face up to the fact that Pakistan has been at war with it for years. Labelling that aggression simply “terrorism” minimises its larger strategic dimensions and obviates the need to formulate a comprehensive strategy in place of the present ad hoc, reactive approach. It is a grinding, largely one-sided unconventional war since the 1980s whose cumulative costs for India outweigh those imposed by any full-fledged war in the past. Unless India is willing to take the battle to Pakistan’s terror masters, the latter will continue employing their terrorist proxies against it.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist.

© The Hindustan Times, 2019.

India’s daunting foreign-policy challenges

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Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review

With the national election approaching, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s focus is squarely on domestic politics. After holding a secure grip on power for nearly five years, the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) faces a tough election fight following defeats in three key state-level polls in December.

Foreign affairs are understandably low on the election agenda. But after the vote, India’s new government — whether led by Modi or not — will have to consider urgently the foreign-policy challenges, above all an ascendant China’s muscular revisionism.

For too long, New Delhi has taken a cautious and reactive approach. But with Beijing spreading its influence deep into India’s backyard, New Delhi needs to reverse its eroding regional clout.

A dynamic diplomacy needs strong, bipartisan policies. With India’s fractious politics, building bipartisanship has long been tough in the world’s largest democracy.

The danger now is that the election will likely see Modi’s government lose its commanding majority in the Parliament’s lower house and be replaced either by a weaker BJP-led administration or an opposition coalition of 20 or more groups supported by the Congress Party. Either way, foreign policy would be crimped.

Pragmatism, zeal and showmanship have been trademarks of Modi’s foreign policy. Early on in his term, he unleashed Modi-mania among Indian diaspora audiences by taking the stage like a rock star at several places, including New York’s storied Madison Square Garden.

A penchant for diplomatic surprises, however, has got him into trouble. For example, during a 2015 visit to Paris, Modi pulled a rabbit out of a hat by announcing an on-the-spot decision to buy 36 French Rafale fighter-jets. In the run-up to the election, the opposition has claimed that, behind that decision, there is a scandal involving inflated pricing and cronyism.

Modi has helped shape a nondoctrinaire foreign-policy vision. India, a founder leader of the nonaligned movement, now makes little mention of nonalignment. Shorn of ideology, Indian foreign policy has sought to revitalize the country’s economic and military security, while avoiding having to overtly choose one power over another as a dominant partner.

However, in practice, closer cooperation with the United States has been Modi’s signature foreign-policy initiative. India is now a “major defense partner” of the U.S., with which it holds more military exercises than with any other country. The U.S. has also emerged as India’s largest arms supplier. The Cold War-era India-Russia camaraderie has been replaced by India-U. S. bonhomie.

India, however, relies on Russian spare parts for its Russian-made military hardware. More importantly, Russia has transferred to India offensive weapons that the U.S. does not export, such as an aircraft carrier. So ties to Moscow remain important.

India is also seeking to shield from U.S. pressures its cooperation with Tehran. Iran remains an important oil supplier to energy-poor India and is the route for a transportation corridor India is building to Afghanistan that bypasses New Delhi’s arch-enemy Pakistan.

Although India has secured provisional waivers from American retaliation, the new U.S. sanctions against Russia and Iran have accentuated India’s challenge in balancing its relationships.

Meanwhile, the recent “agreement in principle” that U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has reached with the Afghan Taliban, including promising an American military pullout within 18 months, is helping to renew the salience of Iran and Russia in India’s Afghanistan policy. If the Pakistan-backed Taliban were to recapture power in Kabul, the relevance of these ties would redouble.

But, despite seeking to exit Afghanistan, the U.S. has become more vital to India’s broader foreign-policy interests, especially in relation to China. Modi has worked to deepen India’s cooperation with the U.S., Japan and the other Indo-Pacific powers that share Indian concerns about China’s territorial and maritime revisionism.

But vexed by the Trump administration’s unpredictability, Modi has also sought to mend ties with China, or at least stop them from deteriorating further. At an “informal” summit ten months ago in Wuhan, Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to “reset” relations.

For Xi, however, Wuhan has served as a cover to kill two birds with one stone. While encouraging Modi’s overtures to help instill greater Indian caution to openly challenge China, Xi has embarked on a major military buildup along the Himalayan border with India. The buildup has included deploying new offensive weapons and advertising live-fire combat exercises. Chinese encroachments in India’s maritime backyard have also increased.

Meanwhile, Chinese exports have flooded India, with Beijing more than doubling its bilateral trade surplus, on Modi’s watch, to over $66 billion a year. This trade surplus is more than 50% larger than India’s defense spending, underscoring how India unwittingly is underwriting China’s hostile politics.

India is holding its election after recent polls in most other countries in southern Asia. Since late 2017, elections have brought pro-China communists to power in Nepal and a military-backed party to office in Pakistan, while voters have booted out a quasi-dictator in the Maldives, elected a new government in Bhutan, and, in Bangladesh, retained a prime minister who has turned the country into one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Recently, Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court forced the country’s president to roll back a coup after he unconstitutionally dismissed the prime minister and called fresh parliamentary polls.

The next Indian government’s most urgent foreign-policy problems relate to the country’s neighborhood, not least a deepening strategic nexus between China and Pakistan — a dangerous combination of an aggressive neighbor and an ascendant superpower. Both these nuclear-armed allies stake claims to swaths of Indian territory.

When Modi took office, many expected him to reinvigorate foreign policy at a time when the yawning power gap between India and China had widened. But, despite considerable Indian efforts, China’s influence in India’s backyard has grown, even in countries long symbiotically tied to India, including Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

However, the most recent developments in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, by bolstering or bringing to power pro-India leaders, have aided Indian interests, even as communist-ruled Nepal has tilted toward China.

Dealing with an aggressive China or complex regional-security challenges demands a decisive leadership that takes a long-term view and does not confound tactics with strategy. But such leadership is unlikely to emerge from the forthcoming election.

To be sure, India has been imbibing greater realism as its quixotic founding philosophy centered on nonviolence assumes a largely rhetorical meaning. Yet India remains intrinsically diffident and reactive. Without proactive diplomacy, India will continue to punch far below its weight.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including “Water: Asia’s New Battleground,” which won the Bernard Schwartz Award.

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2019.

China’s master plan for India

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China’s culpability in the massacre of Indian paramilitary soldiers by a Pakistan-based terrorist group is unmistakable. It openly shields Pakistan’s export of terrorism. While Pakistan’s proxy war keeps India preoccupied in the west, China’s aid to northeast Indian insurgents weighs down India on its eastern flank.

Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times

The Dalai Lama recently told this newspaper that due to Chinese pressure, no Buddhist country, with the sole exception of the nominally Buddhist Japan, is now willing to grant him entry. China’s ability to browbeat smaller countries into submission, however, should not obscure the major new challenges it faces.

The world’s longest-surviving autocracy turns 70 this year, with its future uncertain. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, which left at least 10,000 people dead. After more than a quarter century of phenomenal economic growth, China has entered a new era of uncertainty.

China’s slowing economy, an international geopolitical pushback against its overweening ambitions, new trade disruptions and tariffs, and President Xi Jinping’s centralization of power have all contributed to a jittery mood among its elites. Add to the picture the flight of capital from a country that had amassed a mountain of foreign-exchange reserves by enjoying a surplus in its overall balance of payments. Not only is capital fleeing China but even wealthy Chinese — in an informal vote of no confidence in the Chinese system — are emigrating.

Meanwhile, China has come under international pressure on multiple fronts — from its trade, investment and lending policies to its incarceration in “re-education camps” of more than a million Muslims from Xinjiang, a sprawling territory Mao Zedong annexed in 1949 just before gobbling up the buffer with India, Tibet. China’s free ride, which helped propel its rise, seems to be ending.

Malaysia’s decision to scrap a $20-billion rail project is just the latest example of how Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is running into growing resistance. Even Pakistan, China’s client-state, has downsized, cancelled or eliminated some BRI projects. Meanwhile, a US-led pushback against China’s Huawei conglomerate has broadened from opposition to its participation in next-generation 5G wireless networks to a broader effort to restrict the use of Chinese technology over espionage concerns.

It is China’s open disregard for international rules, however, that explains why it can count on few true strategic allies or reliable security partners. China’s lonely rise could become more pronounced with the newly restructured People’s Liberation Army (PLA) becoming less of an army and more of a power projection force, the majority of whose troops now are not from the army but from the other services, including the navy, air force, rocket force and the cyber warfare-oriented strategic support force.

For China’s neighbours, the PLA’s restructuring foreshadows a more aggressive Chinese military approach of the kind already being witnessed in the South and East China seas and the Himalayas. In fact, the risk is that — just as Mao staged the 1962 invasion of India after his disastrous “Great Leap Forward” created the worst famine in modern world history — Xi’s mounting challenges at home and abroad could prompt him to divert attention through military aggression.

Undeterred by the international pushback, however, Xi’s regime is still blending economic aggression, debt-trap diplomacy, territorial and maritime revisionism, influence operations and Orwellian tactics to advance unbridled ambitions. Chinese influence operations range from legitimate activities like lobbying to more covert or corrupting actions such as seeking to meddle in the domestic politics of democracies and sway their policy-relevant discourse.

As Indian national elections approach, China has stepped up its influence operations in India. China has been emboldened by its remarkable success in Nepal, which has tilted toward Beijing, despite an open border underscoring its symbiotic relationship with India. On the first anniversary of Nepal’s communist government this weekend, it is important to remember that China played no mean role in the communists’ democratic ascension to power there.

India, with its fragmented polity and fractious political divides, has become an important target of China’s efforts to buy access and influence and sway politics. These efforts have been aided by New Delhi’s feckless approach to Beijing, especially since the Wuhan summit.

Moreover, by more than doubling its trade surplus with India to over $66 billion a year on the BJP government’s watch, Beijing has acquired deeper pockets for influence operations, which aim to help instil greater Indian caution and reluctance to openly challenge China. At a time when India is engrossed in electoral politics, including increasingly petty and bitter feuding, Beijing’s conduct is underlining its master plan for this country: It wants a weak and unwieldy Indian government to emerge from the elections.

China’s culpability in the Pulwama massacre of Indian jawans is unmistakable. In keeping with its master plan, Beijing brazenly shields Pakistan’s export of terrorism, including blocking UN action against Pakistan-based terrorists like Masood Azhar. Indeed, China has long used militants to attack India’s weak points, including by originally training Naga and Mizo guerrillas and currently consorting with several northeast Indian insurgent leaders, some of them ensconced in Yunnan or Myanmar. So, while Pakistan’s proxy war keeps India preoccupied in the west, China’s proxy war weighs down India on its eastern flank.

If India is to safeguard its interests and expand its global footprint, its next government would need a more clearheaded and self-assured foreign policy, including for addressing the insidious China challenge.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist.

© The Hindustan Times, 2019.

India’s security interests at risk from U.S. readiness to capitulate to Taliban

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Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times

This year is Afghanistan’s 40th year in a row as an active war zone. Betrayal, violence and surrender have defined Afghanistan’s history for long, especially as the playground for outside powers. The US-Taliban “agreement in principle” fits with that narrative. By promising a terrorist militia a total American military pullout within 18 months and a pathway to power in Kabul, the US, in essence, is negotiating the terms of its surrender.

It is worth remembering how the US got into a military quagmire. The US invasion in October 2001 ousted the Taliban from power in Kabul for harbouring the Al Qaeda planners of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. However, the key Al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Abu Zubaida and Ramzi Binalshibh, were later found holed up inside Pakistan. Yet, paradoxically, the US, while raining bombs in Afghanistan, rewarded Pakistan, as President Donald Trump said last year, with more than $33 billion in aid since 2002.

The quagmire resulted from the US reluctance to take the war to the other side of the Durand Line by targeting the Taliban’s command-and-control bases in Pakistan. In modern world history, no counterterrorism campaign has ever succeeded when the militants have enjoyed cross-border state sponsorship and safe havens. This also explains why terrorists remain active in the Kashmir Valley.

Rather than take out the Taliban’s cross-border sanctuaries, the US actively sought “reconciliation” for years, allowing the militia to gain strength and terrorize Afghans. The protracted search for a Faustian bargain with the Taliban also explains why that ruthless militia was never added to the US list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. This approach counterproductively led to an ascendant Taliban expanding its territorial control and killing government forces in growing numbers.

Now, desperate to exit, Trump has sought to accomplish what his predecessor, Barack Obama, set out to do but failed — to cut a deal with the Taliban. It was with the aim of facilitating direct talks with the Taliban that Obama allowed the militia to establish a de facto diplomatic mission in Doha, Qatar, in 2013. Then, to meet a Taliban precondition, five hardened Taliban militants (two of them accused of carrying out massacres of Tajiks and Hazaras) were freed from Guantánamo Bay. The five were described by the late US senator, John McCain, as the “hardest of hard core”.

Instead of the promised Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process, the Trump administration clinched the tentative deal with the Taliban without prior consultations with Kabul and then sought to sell it to a sceptical Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. In doing so, it has unwittingly aided the Taliban effort to delegitimize an elected government. Given that Ghani was blindsided by the “framework” accord, it is no surprise that Washington did not care to take India, its “major defence partner”, into confidence either.

Let’s be clear: The Taliban do not represent most Pashtuns, let alone a majority of Afghans. Many in their ranks are Pakistanis recruited and trained by Pakistan’s rogue Inter-Services Intelligence, just as ISI teams up with Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed against India. The US-Taliban deal nullifies then US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis’ promise that “we’re not going to surrender civilization to people who cannot win at the ballot box”.

Indeed, the deal represents not only a shot in the arm for the resurgent Taliban but also a major diplomatic win for its sponsor, Pakistan, which facilitated the accord. Contrary to speculation that US reliance on Pakistan is on the decline, the interim deal, and the imperative to finalize and implement it, underscore the US dependence on the Pakistani army and ISI. In effect, Pakistan is being rewarded for sponsoring cross-border terrorism.

All this holds important implications for India, which, as Mattis said in October, “has been generous over many years with Afghanistan”, earning “a degree of affection from the Afghan people”. Once US troops return home, America will have little ability — especially if it does not leave behind a residual counterterrorism force — to influence events in the Afghanistan-Pakistan belt. If the Taliban were to again capture power in Kabul with Pakistan’s assistance, the benefits for Afghans from the more than $3 billion in assistance that India has given since 2002 would melt away.

Despite growing US strategic cooperation with India, Washington, by its unilateralist actions, is paradoxically increasing the salience of Iran and Russia in India’s Afghanistan policy. India will have to do whatever is necessary to shield its vital interests in Afghanistan, or else developments there would adversely impinge on Indian security, including in the Kashmir Valley.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

© The Hindustan Times, 2019.

India’s Pakistan policy adrift

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Brahma Chellaney, DailyO

incpakConsider two developments in recent days that speak volumes about India’s Pakistan policy: Just as the United States moved to unilaterally withdraw from a major arms-control pact (the Intermediate-Range Forces, or INF, Treaty), “incredible India” — as it calls itself in international tourism-promotion ads — welcomed an inspection team from a terrorist state to scrutinize Indian hydropower projects that are being built under the terms of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT).

And, as if to mock the Indian foreign secretary’s formal protest over his call to separatist Umar Farooq four days earlier, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mohammad Qureshi on Saturday telephoned another secessionist leader in Kashmir Valley, Ali Shah Geelani. Qureshi and Pakistan’s all-powerful military generals think they can get away by provoking India.

In the absence of a clearheaded Pakistan policy backed by political resolve, India continues to send confusing and contradictory signals, encouraging Pakistan’s continuing roguish conduct.

India’s welcoming of the three-member Pakistani inspection team, led by that country’s Indus commissioner, illustrated how its incoherent approach to Pakistan has spawned even appeasement.

In 1960, in the naïve hope that water largesse would yield peace, India entered into the IWT by giving away the Indus system’s largest rivers as gifts to Pakistan. Since then, the congenitally hostile Pakistan, while drawing the full benefits from the treaty, has waged overt or covert aggression almost continuously — and is now using the IWT itself as a stick to beat India with, including by contriving water disputes and internationalizing them.

Whereas the U.S. has ditched the INF Treaty over an alleged Russian violation of its terms, India clings to the IWT’s finer details, even though Pakistan is waging proxy war by terror against it. Like the IWT, the INF Treaty is of indefinite duration.

Pakistan’s use of state-reared terrorist groups to inflict upon India death by a thousand cuts can be invoked by New Delhi as constituting reasonable grounds for Indian withdrawal from the IWT. The International Court of Justice has upheld the principle that a treaty, including one of indefinite duration, may be dissolved by reason of a fundamental change of circumstances

Still, India not only adheres to the IWT’s finer details, it even goes beyond. For example, under IWT’s Article VIII, the Permanent Indus Commission (PIC) is to meet once a year. Its next meeting was due in March 2019. But, thanks to India’s zealousness, the PIC met much earlier in August 2018, just five months after its previous meeting.

It was at that meeting that India agreed to advance Pakistan’s inspection tour to October 2018. The last such tour occurred in 2014 and the next one, in keeping with the IWT provision for a tour “once every five years”, was due by the end of 2019. The local bodies’ elections in Jammu and Kashmir forced the October tour to be deferred to January-end.

Before returning home on February 1, the Pakistani team examined three Indian hydropower projects currently under construction — the Pakal Dul, which will generate up to 1,000 megawatts of electricity, Ratle (850 megawatts), and Lower Kalnai (48 megawatts). The team also visited the already operational 900-megawatt Baglihar, a project that Pakistan tried earlier to stop by invoking the IWT’s dispute-settlement provisions. But the international neutral expert that was appointed to resolve the dispute ultimately ruled in India’s favour.

Pakistan, however, could seek international intercession again by using the information its inspection team collected last week to mount technical objections to the Indian projects under construction. Indeed, even before the team visited India, Pakistani officials publicly raised objections to the spillway or freeboard of these projects.

Pakistan’s interest lies in sustaining a unique treaty that incorporates water generosity to the lower riparian on a scale unmatched by any other pact in the world. That interest arms India with significant leverage to link the IWT’s future to Pakistan’s observance of basic international norms.

Yet, India is letting go the opportunity to reframe the terms of the Indus engagement.

India’s pusillanimity is apparent from yet another development last week. After the Indian foreign secretary summoned the Pakistani high commissioner to lodge a protest over Qureshi’s call to Umar Farooq, the Pakistani foreign office the next day summoned the Indian high commissioner in Islamabad in reprisal. This raises the question as to why India does not downgrade its diplomatic relations with Pakistan. Why maintain full diplomatic ties with a country that New Delhi branded “Terroristan” in 2017?

There is no reason for India to keep diplomatic relations with a terrorist state at the high commissioner level. Downsizing diplomatic missions and doing away with high commissioners should be part of an Indian strategy to employ peaceful tools, including diplomatic, economic and riparian pressures, to reform Pakistan’s behaviour.

Sadly, India is all talk when it comes to imposing costs on the next-door terrorist state. Indian policymakers do not seem to realize that words not backed by action carry major costs. They not only affect India’s credibility but also undermine its deterrent posture by emboldening the enemy.

Isn’t it telling that Pakistan continues to gore India although it is much smaller in economic, military and demographic terms? Such aggression is the bitter fruit of India’s present approach, which essentially has remained the same under successive governments. However, it is still not late to reverse course.

India ought to talk less and act more. To tame a rogue neighbour, India must emphasize deeds, not words. For starters, it must discard the fiction that it can have normal diplomatic relations with a sponsor of terrorism.

Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research.