Pakistan, China and terrorism

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China is left with just one real ally — Pakistan.    © Reuters

Beijing’s support protects Islamabad from global pressure to suppress militants

International calls for Pakistan to take concrete steps against the terrorist groups that operate from its territory have mounted in recent weeks after a Valentine’s Day attack killed 41 Indian paramilitary soldiers and sparked a military crisis on the subcontinent.

Such appeals have been made by the United States, Japan and European powers but one voice has been conspicuous by its absence — China’s.

If anything, Beijing has sought to shield Pakistan from international censure. Most recently, on March 13, China blocked United Nations Security Council action against the ailing founder of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed group, which is already under international terrorism sanctions. The aim was not to protect a terrorist leader reportedly on his deathbed but to frustrate the international pressure that has grown on Islamabad to take credible anti-terror actions.

The U.S., for example, has insisted Pakistan take “sustained, irreversible action against terrorist groups.” Jaish-e-Mohammed, which was quick to claim responsibility for the Valentine’s Day attack, is just one of 22 U.N.-designated terrorist entities that Pakistan hosts.

Pakistan’s civilian leadership routinely denies that the country’s military cultivates terrorist surrogates. But India holds Islamabad responsible for multiple outrages including the Valentine’s Day attack, which coincided with deadly terrorist strikes on Iranian and Afghan troops that Tehran and Kabul also blamed on Pakistan.

In coming to Pakistan’s help at a critical time, China has highlighted the strategic importance it still attaches to its ties with that increasingly fragile and debt-ridden country. In contrast to America’s strong network of allies and partners, China can count on few true strategic allies or reliable security partners. When it joined hands with Washington to impose new international sanctions on North Korea, once its vassal, Beijing implicitly highlighted that it was left with just one real ally — Pakistan.

The China-Pakistan axis has been cemented by “iron brotherhood,” with the two “as close as lips and teeth,” according to Beijing. It calls Pakistan its “all-weather friend.”

China, however, has little in common with Pakistan, beyond the fact that both are dissatisfied with their existing frontiers and claim territory held by neighbors. Their “iron brotherhood” is actually about a shared interest in containing India. That interest has raised the specter for New Delhi of a two-front war in the event military conflict breaks out with either Pakistan or China.

However, the immediate threat India faces is asymmetric warfare, including China’s “salami slicing” strategy of furtive, incremental territorial encroachments in the Himalayas and Pakistan’s use of terrorist proxies. No surprise then, that China seeks to shield Pakistan’s proxy war by Islamist terror against India. Beijing seems untroubled by the seeming contradiction between this approach abroad while, at home, it locks up more than a million Muslims from Xinjiang in the name of cleansing their minds of extremist thoughts.

For years, China has been attracted by Pakistan’s willingness to serve as its economic and military client. China has sold Pakistan weapons its own military has not inducted, as well as prototype nuclear power reactors.

Since at least 2005, Pakistan has allowed Beijing to station thousands of Chinese troops in the Pakistani part of the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir, where control is divided between India (45%), Pakistan (35%) and China (20%). More recently, China has sought to turn Pakistan into its land corridor to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. With Chinese involvement, the northern Arabian Sea is becoming militarized: China has supplied warships to the Pakistani navy, it controls Pakistan’s Gwadar port, and its submarines are on patrol.

For Pakistan, however, China’s close embrace is becoming a tight squeeze financially. Fast-rising debt to Beijing has contributed to Pakistan’s dire financial situation today. With its economy teetering on the brink of default, Pakistan is urgently seeking a $12 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

Pakistan is the largest recipient of Chinese financing under President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative. The Pakistani military has created a special 15,000-troop army division to protect Chinese projects. In addition, thousands of police have been deployed to protect Chinese workers. Yet, underscoring the security costs, attacks on Chinese people in Pakistan have occurred now and then.

Rising financial costs, however, are triggering a pushback against Chinese projects even in friendly Pakistan. The new military-backed Pakistani government that took office last summer under Imran Khan has sought to scrap, scale back or renegotiate some Chinese projects. It downsized the main Chinese railway project by $2 billion, removed a $14 billion dam from Chinese financing, and canceled a 1,320-megawatt coal-based power plant.

China is receiving 91% of revenues from Gwadar port until its return to Pakistan in four decades.   © Reuters

China’s predatory practices have come under increasing scrutiny. For example, in return for building Gwadar port, China is receiving, tax-free, 91% of revenues from the port until its return to Pakistan in four decades.

Rising capital equipment imports from China, coupled with high returns for Beijing on its investment, have led to large foreign-exchange outflows, spurring Pakistan’s serious balance-of-payments crisis. Pakistan, seeking new loans to repay old ones, finds itself trapped in a vicious circle.

Yet Pakistan is unlikely to stop being China’s loyal client. Despite Western concern that the tide of Chinese strategic projects is making the country dangerously dependent on China, the relationship brings major benefits for Pakistan, including internationally well-documented covert nuclear and missile assistance from Beijing.

China also provides security assurances and political protection, especially diplomatic cover at the U.N., as has been illustrated by its torpedoing of the U.S.-French-British move to designate the Jaish-e-Mohammed chief as a global terrorist. Western powers failed to persuade China that the threat it cites from Islamist terrorism in its own western region demands that it join hands with them.

However, despite securing billions of dollars in recent emergency loans from China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan cannot do without a large IMF bailout. This will be Pakistan’s 22nd IMF bailout in six decades, and the largest ever. Pakistan’s cycle of dependency on the IMF has paralleled the rise of its military-Islamist complex.

Unless the latest IMF bailout is made contingent upon concrete anti-terror action, it will, as past experience shows, help underpin Pakistan’s collusion with terrorist groups. This is especially so because a new IMF bailout will also support the Sino-Pakistan link, including by freeing up other resources in Pakistan for debt repayments to Beijing.

Democratic powers, especially the U.S., which holds a dominant 17.46% voting share in the IMF, must now insist on setting tough conditions, including making Pakistan take credible, verifiable and irreversible steps against the terrorist groups that its military has long nurtured. Among other things, an honorable U.S. exit from Afghanistan hinges on the success of such treatment.

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.

Use the IMF route to tighten the screws on Pakistan

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The international community should call Pakistan’s fiscal bluff: Pakistan has long employed not just nuclear blackmail but also fiscal blackmail — help us financially or face the perils of the country falling apart.

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Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times

The subcontinent’s military crisis is anything but over. Pakistan’s military generals fear another surprise Indian strike, which explains why much of Pakistan’s airspace is still closed to commercial traffic: Most international overflights remain barred, while domestic flights must stick to a narrow western corridor close to Iran and Afghanistan. Pakistan’s armed forces are on full operational alert, with combat air patrols continuing and the army beefing up deployments along the India frontier.

Yet, emboldened by China’s support, Pakistan is ignoring international calls to take concrete, irrevocable steps against the terrorist groups that operate openly from its territory. Indeed, Pakistan has yet to take the first credible step, which is to declare a policy — embraced by the chief of army staff (COAS) and the chairman joint chiefs of staff committee (CJCSC) — to deny sanctuary and financing to all terrorist groups.

The COAS remains Pakistan’s effective ruler. Imran Khan is not just one of Pakistan’s weakest prime ministers ever but also has shown himself to be the military’s willing puppet. Even while announcing the Indian pilot’s release as a “peace gesture”, Khan denied Pakistan is cultivating terror groups but justified terrorist attacks and suggested Pulwama was an Indian conspiracy.

Against this background, China’s action in again blocking UN action against Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) founder Masood Azhar was aimed at thwarting international pressure on Pakistan to take credible, irreversible anti-terror actions. That China still protects a terrorist who reportedly is on his deathbed undergirds the extent to which it shields Pakistan’s proxy war by terror against India.

It also helps highlight China’s own proxy war against India by employing Pakistan as a surrogate for containment. While reaping an ever-increasing trade surplus with India, China is systematically undermining Indian interests. Yet, since the Wuhan summit, India’s China policy has become more feckless than ever.

It is not a question of whether but when an Indian target will be attacked again by a Pakistan-based terrorist group. If war is to be averted, major powers other than China must tighten the screws on Pakistan. A major source of international leverage is Pakistan’s current desperate need for a $12 billion International Monetary Fund bailout. This will be Pakistan’s 22nd IMF bailout in six decades, and the largest ever. The IMF should bail out debt-ridden Pakistan only in return for concrete anti-terror action.

An international financial squeeze can effectively force Pakistan’s hand. The key to this is the US, which has the IMF clout (underscored by a dominant 17.46% voting share) to put off the impending bailout or tie it to specific conditions. India must seek to persuade the US — and other key IMF members like Japan and Germany, with 6.48% and 5.60% voting shares respectively — to not let go the present opportunity to reform a scofflaw Pakistan.

US President Donald Trump’s administration, far from welcoming Khan’s tokenistic anti-terror measures, has insisted Pakistan take “sustained, irreversible action against terrorist groups.” However, Trump’s zeal to finalize a tentative deal that his administration reached with the Pakistan-created Afghan Taliban in late January offers Pakistan’s generals their trump card.

Through their brutal proxies, the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, these generals have compelled the US to negotiate the terms of its exit from Afghanistan and to seek Pakistan’s help to midwife the deal. However, the US will be able to honourably end the longest war in its history, and get the Taliban to keep up its end of the bargain, only if it makes Pakistan’s generals realize that sponsoring cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan carries major costs. If the generals are to take concrete anti-terror steps, there must first be tangible action on America’s part, including stripping Pakistan of its “Major Non-NATO Ally” status, adding it to its list of state sponsors of terrorism, or at least leveraging the IMF bailout.

Pakistan is trapped in a vicious circle, seeking new loans to repay old ones. Despite recently getting $7.5 billion in cash from Saudi, Emirati and Chinese transfers, it cannot do without a large IMF bailout. Pakistan’s cycle of dependency on IMF has paralleled the rise of its military-mullah-jihadist complex. Foreign aid and lending have helped underpin Pakistan’s collusion with terrorist groups.

Today, an IMF bailout will aid Chinese designs by freeing up other resources in Pakistan for debt repayments to Beijing. It will thus implicitly support China’s debt-trap diplomacy with Pakistan, the largest recipient of Belt and Road financing. Such lending has contributed to Pakistan’s dire financial situation, locking it in debt servitude to China.

Pakistan has long employed not just nuclear blackmail but also fiscal blackmail — help us financially or face the perils of the country falling apart. If Pakistan is unwilling to sever its links with state-nurtured terrorists, it is better for the world to let it fail than to continue propping up its military-mullah-jihadist complex with aid and loans — the equivalent of giving more alcohol to an alcoholic, instead of treating the addiction. The treatment now must centre on making Pakistan take verifiable and unalterable anti-terror steps.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist.

© The Hindustan Times, 2019.

Why the Pakistan-Terrorist Nexus Persists

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Brahma Chellaney, an internationally syndicated column from Project Syndicate

Once again, an attack on India by a Pakistan-based terrorist group has raised the specter of a major confrontation on the Indian subcontinent – and fueled international pressure for Pakistan to take concrete action against the 22 United Nations-designated terrorist entities it hosts. But this time, the pressure is compounded by fury over attacks by Pakistan-based terrorists on the country’s other key neighbors, Iran and Afghanistan. Will Pakistan finally respond convincingly?

Over the years, the footprints of many terrorist attacks in the West have been traced to Pakistan. The United States found al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden ensconced in the high-security garrison town of Abbottabad, in the shadow of the Pakistan Military Academy. Other terrorist leaders captured since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US – including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, al-Qaeda’s third in command, and Abu Zubeida, the network’s operations chief – were also found living in Pakistan’s heartland.

Such revelations have often fueled calls for Pakistan to tackle its transnational terrorism problem. Last year, US President Donald Trump tweeted that, though Pakistan received more than $33 billion in American aid since 2002, it has returned “nothing but lies and deceit,” including providing “safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.” The US – which has long had contingency plans to seize Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, if necessary, to prevent terrorists from getting their hands on them – then suspended security aid.

Recent attacks have reinvigorated demands for Pakistan to take action – amid threats of reprisal. On February 14, a suicide bombing claimed by the group Jaish-e-Mohammed killed 41 Indian paramilitary soldiers in India-administered Kashmir. In the same week, another suicide bombing – this one claimed by a group called Jaish ul-Adl – killed 27 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members and injured 13 others in southeastern Iran, and a Taliban strike killed 32 Afghan troops at a remote base.

Since then, India and Pakistan have engaged in tit-for-tat aerial incursions, and Iran has vowed to retaliate. The US has stressed the “urgency” of Pakistan taking meaningful action against terrorist groups. If Pakistan is moved from the “gray” to “black” list of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) – which recently chastised the country for failing to cut off terrorist financing and demanded concrete action by May – Western sanctions will probably follow.

Pakistan’s position as a mecca of terrorism is now raising concerns among even its main patrons – China, which has long stood with it against India, and Saudi Arabia, its bulwark against Iran – which have lent it no support in its present crisis with India. More than ever, Pakistan finds itself internationally isolated, and risks becoming a global pariah.

Beyond the geostrategic repercussions, this outcome poses a grave threat to Pakistan’s economy, which is teetering on the brink of default. Despite having secured emergency loans from China, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan desperately needs a large International Monetary Fund bailout. And while a $12 billion IMF deal is in the works, the situation will only deteriorate further if the FATF blacklists Pakistan.

To avoid this, Pakistan’s government is signaling its intent to crack down on terrorist groups. But the international community should not get its hopes up. With the military still dominant, the toothless civilian leadership is offering only tentative, reversible measures, suggesting a likely return to business as usual as soon as external pressure has eased.

Pakistan’s all-powerful military establishment – which includes the rogue Inter-Services Intelligence agency – is loath to sever its cozy alliances with terrorist groups. It would prefer to continue nurturing armed jihadists as a force multiplier in its low-intensity asymmetric wars against neighboring countries. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons enable this approach, because they shield its military and state-nurtured terrorist groups from retaliation.

This constraint is reflected in India’s response to the Pakistani military’s long-term strategy of inflicting on India “death by a thousand cuts.” Pakistan’s protracted terrorism-centered asymmetric warfare has, cumulatively, proved costlier for India than any past full-fledged war on the subcontinent, including the 1971 war that resulted in the creation of Bangladesh. But, as India’s patience wears thin, a limited war that calls the Pakistani generals’ nuclear bluff is no longer inconceivable.

But nuclear weapons are not the only factor protecting Pakistan’s generals. Despite Trump’s complaints, the US has yet to strip Pakistan of its “Major Non-NATO Ally” status or to add the country to its list of state sponsors of terrorism. The reason is simple: Pakistan is now a gatekeeper of America’s geopolitical interests in the region.

Not only does the US supply its Afghanistan-based troops largely via Pakistan; it is depending on Pakistani help in finalizing a peace deal with the Taliban. In other words, Pakistan’s generals are now being rewarded for sponsoring terror in Afghanistan through their brutal proxies – the Taliban and the Haqqani Network – which, according to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, have killed as many as 45,000 Afghan security personnel since 2014 alone. The message is clear: sponsoring cross-border terrorism pays.

The battle against international terrorism cannot be won unless the nexus between terrorist groups and Pakistan’s military is severed. A good place to start would be to make the IMF bailout contingent on concrete counter-terrorism action. In the longer term, however, civilian-military relations must be rebalanced: the Pakistani generals’ viselike grip on power must be broken, and the military, intelligence, and nuclear establishment must be subordinated to the civilian government.

The international community has enough leverage to force change in debt-ridden and dysfunctional Pakistan. But, to use it, Trump would need to rethink his Faustian bargain with the Taliban. And, unfortunately, that seems unlikely to happen.

© Project Syndicate, 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.

Shackles of history in the world’s largest democracy

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Brahma Chellaney

History helps shape national perceptions and perspectives and undergirds national security. However, the boundary between historical fact and fiction is more porous than students of history might think. History is not only written by victors but also is used by most nations as a political tool in intrastate or interstate context.

Indeed, many countries create self-serving or sanitized historical narratives. Autocracies have a monopoly on interpreting or rewriting history. China, the fairytale Middle Kingdom, weaves legend with history to foster a chauvinistic Han Chinese culture centered on regaining lost glory.

Democracies are not free from historical revisionism, although their history debates are more nuanced, usually pitting the political right against the left. In Japan, for example, attempts to reform the U.S.-imposed national security, educational and legal systems are portrayed by the left as a potential revival of prewar militarism. South Korea’s historical revisionism, for its part, is still poisoning its relations with Japan.

India, which, like South Korea, fell prey to the ravages of colonialism, has had a static history debate, a reflection of its internal divisions and inefficient, British-style parliamentary democracy. In sharp contrast to South Korea’s or China’s still-continuing tirades against Japan over its colonial rampages in the pre-World War II period, India’s relationship with Britain remains free of historical rancor, in spite of the brutality and impoverishment it suffered under British colonial rule.

Indeed, India embellished or distorted how it won independence in 1947. Indians are still taught in school that their country gained independence by nonviolence.

However, for the first time ever, India’s annual Republic Day parade this year featured veterans of the Japan-supported Indian National Army (INA), which waged an armed struggle against British colonial rule. Four INA veterans in their 90s separately rode a jeep in a parade that, paradoxically, showcased through 22 tableaux the life experiences of the apostle of nonviolence, Mahatma Gandhi.

The juxtaposed roles of the INA and Gandhi at the January 26 parade inadvertently highlighted a central contradiction in India’s historical narrative about independence. The INA veterans’ participation, in fact, helped underscore the Indian republic’s founding myth — that it won independence by nonviolence alone. This belief is deeply etched in the minds of Indians.

To be sure, the Gandhi-led nonviolent independence movement playing a critical role, both in galvanizing grassroots Indian resistance to British rule and in helping to ultimately gain independence. But the decisive factor was the protracted World War II, which reduced to ruins large swaths of Europe and Asia, especially the imperial powers. The war between the Allied and Axis powers killed 80 million, or 4% of the global population.

Despite the U.S.-engineered Allied victory, a devastated Britain was left in no position to hold on to its colonies, including “crown jewel” India. Even colonies where there was no grassroots resistance to British (or other European) rule won independence in the post-World War II period.

The British had dominated India for more than a century through a Machiavellian divide-and-rule strategy. Their exit came only after they had reduced one of the world’s wealthiest economies to one of its poorest. Indeed, they left after they had looted to their heart’s content, siphoning out at least £9.2 trillion (or $44.6 trillion) up to 1938, according to economist Utsa Patnaik’s recent estimate.

Had India, in the immediate aftermath of independence, proactively secured its frontiers, it could have averted both the Kashmir and Himalayan border problems. China was in deep turmoil until October 1949, and India had ample time and space to assert control over the traditional Himalayan borders, including its extraterritorial rights in Tibet. But India’s pernicious founding myth gave rise to a pacifist country that believed it could get peace merely by seeking peace, instead of building the capability to defend peace.

Here’s the paradox: Countless numbers of Indians died due to British colonial excesses. Just in the manmade Bengal famine of 1942-45, six to seven million Indians starved to death (a toll greater than the Holocaust) due to the British war policy under Prime Minister Winston Churchill of diverting resources away from India. Churchill had as much blood on his hands as Adolf Hitler, a fact obscured by the victors’ prevailing narratives.

Moreover, imperial Britain sent Indian soldiers in large numbers to fight its dirty wars elsewhere, including the two world wars, and many died while serving as cannon fodder. The Indian civilian and military fatality toll in World War II was higher than that of Britain, France and the U.S. combined.

Indeed, the present Indian republic was born in blood: As many as a million civilians died in senseless violence and millions more were uprooted in the British-contrived and rushed partition of the subcontinent — the fruition of Britain’s divide-and-rule policy.

Yet the myth of India uniquely charting and securing its independence by nonviolence was propagated by the inheritors of the British Raj, the British-trained “brown sahibs.” Consequently, no objective discourse was encouraged post-1947 on the multiple factors — internal and external — that aided India’s independence.

In truth, the hope of Indian independence was first kindled by Japan’s victory in the 1904-1905 war with Russia — the first time an Asian nation comprehensively defeated a European rival. However, it was the world war that Hitler unleashed through expansionism — with Imperial Japan undertaking military expeditions in the name of freeing Asia from white colonial rule — that acted as the catalyst. An emboldened Gandhi served a “Quit India” notice on the British in 1942.

While the Subhas Chandra Bose-led INA could not mount a formidable threat to a British colonial military overflowing with Indian recruits, the Bombay mutiny and other Indian troop revolts of 1946 triggered by INA prisoners’ trials undermined Britain’s confidence in sustaining the Raj, hastening its exit. Yet, independent India treated INA soldiers shabbily, with many abandoned into penury.

Against this background, the rehabilitation of Bose and the INA has long been overdue in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done well to initiate the process, however low key, to give Bose and the INA their due, including recently renaming one Andaman island after Bose and two other Andaman islands to honor INA’s sacrifices. Modi even wore the INA cap to address a recent public meeting in the Andaman archipelago on the 75th anniversary of Bose’s hoisting of the Indian tricolor flag there — the only territory that the INA managed to liberate from British rule.

Today, a rules-based international order premised on nonviolence remains a worthy aspirational goal. But Indian romancing of nonviolence as a supposedly effective political instrument has crimped national-security policy since independence. The country long hewed to pacifism (with the first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, publicly bewailing in 1962 that China had “returned evil for good” by militarily invading India) and frowned on materialism (even after China surpassed India’s GDP in 1984-85).

Such has been the burden of the quixotic national philosophy centered on nonviolence that India has borne enduring costs, including an absence of a strategic culture, despite the country’s location in the world’s most-troubled neighborhood. As the late American analyst George Tanham pointed out, the lack of a culture to pursue a clear strategic vision and policy hobbles India’s ambition to be a great power.

Recognizing unsung heroes is an essential step that India has initiated, however belatedly, toward rebalancing its historical narrative. As George Orwell famously said, “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

© The Japan Times, 2019.

Trump’s Gift to the Taliban

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The just-announced “agreement in principle” between the US and the Taliban should be called what it is: a Faustian bargain that will lead to still more violence in the region, and perhaps in the West. By abandoning Afghanistan, the Trump administration is repeating one of the worst foreign-policy mistakes of the past few decades.

Brahma Chellaney, a Project Syndicate column

talibanimageAfter the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan and removed the Taliban from power, thereby eliminating a key nexus of international terrorism. But now, a war-weary US, with a president seeking to cut and run, has reached a tentative deal largely on the Taliban’s terms. The extremist militia that once harbored al-Qaeda and now carries out the world’s deadliest terrorist attacks has secured not just the promise of a US military exit within 18 months, but also a pathway to power in Kabul.

History is repeating itself. The US is once again abandoning war-ravaged Afghanistan, just as it did three decades ago following a successful covert operation by the CIA to force the Soviets out of the country. The US, desperate to end its longest-ever war, appears to have forgotten a key lesson of that earlier abandonment: it turned Afghanistan into a citadel of transnational terrorism, leading to civil war and eventually bloodshed in the West.

The accord reached between the Taliban and the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, reads like a wholesale capitulation on the part of the Trump administration. In 2014, the US signed a security pact with the Afghan government that granted the Americans access to nine military bases at least until 2024. But the US has now agreed to withdraw all of its forces in exchange for a mere promise from a terrorist militia that it will deny other terrorist networks a foothold on Afghan territory. Never mind that the Islamic State is already operational in Afghanistan and poses a challenge to the Taliban itself.

Though the agreement has been dubbed a “peace” deal, it will almost certainly lead to even more Islamist violence, not least against Afghanistan’s women. The Taliban are determined to re-impose the medieval practices they enforced during their harsh rule from 1996 to 2001. Whatever gains Afghanistan has made in terms of women’s and civil rights may soon be reversed.

Make no mistake: the Taliban are brutal and indiscriminate in their use of violence, and they refuse even to recognize the country’s legitimate government, which will make fleshing out the new “framework” accord exceedingly difficult. A number of key issues must be spelled out unambiguously, including when the ceasefire between the Taliban and US-backed Afghan forces will take effect. And even then, it is highly doubtful that the Taliban will agree to a power-sharing arrangement with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government.

In fact, having been emboldened by a series of US concessions over the past six years, the Taliban have escalated their terrorist attacks and made significant battlefield gains against Afghan forces. So, if anything, they will see the new agreement as an implicit validation of their impending victory. They know that time is on their side, and that most Americans favor a US exit. That means they will probably play hardball when negotiating the details of a final deal.

In addition to representing a major victory for the Taliban, the accord is also a win for Pakistan, which harbors the militia’s leadership and provides cross-border sanctuaries for its fighters. Just last year, Trump cut US security assistance to Pakistan, tweeting, “they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help.”

It is worth remembering that when Trump took office, he promised to reverse the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan by “winning again.” But just two years later, he has apparently decided that it is the extremists who will be winning again.

Far from breaking with former US President Barack Obama’s failed approach, as he promised, Trump has now fulfilled his predecessor’s quest for a deal with the Taliban. Having also recently announced a military drawdown in Syria, Trump has made it clear that the US will readily throw its Kurdish and Afghan allies under the bus in order to extricate itself from foreign entanglements of its own making.

To be sure, America’s Faustian bargain with the Taliban has been in the making for years, which explains why the group is conspicuously absent from the US Department of State’s annual list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, despite having killed more civilians in the past year alone than any other outfit. To facilitate talks with the Taliban, Obama allowed the militia to establish a de facto diplomatic mission in Qatar’s capital, Doha, in 2013. And a year later, he traded five senior Taliban leaders for a US Army sergeant (who was later charged with desertion).

Moreover, to lay the groundwork for a deal, the US war planners have long refrained from targeting the Taliban’s command-and-control base in Pakistan, thereby effectively undercutting their own military mission in Afghanistan. As the top US 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 US has come full circle. The Taliban, like al-Qaeda, evolved from the violent jihadist groups that the CIA trained in Pakistan to wage war against the Soviets in the 1980s. After suffering the worst terrorist attack in modern world history, the US turned against the Taliban, driving their leaders out of Afghanistan.

But now, in search of a face-saving exit from the Afghan quagmire, America is implicitly preparing to hand the country back to the same thuggish group that it removed from power 17 years ago. Sadly, once American troops leave Afghan soil, the ability of the US to influence events there, or to prevent a new terrorist attack on the US homeland, will be severely limited.

© Project Syndicate, 2019.

China’s lonely rise: After decades of heady growth, Beijing is suddenly facing resistance at home and abroad

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Xi Jinping’s word may be law, but faced with difficult choices on China’s new challenges, he now finds himself under pressure

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Members of the Chinese People’s Armed Police stand guard in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Giulia Marchi / Bloomberg

By Brahma Chellaney, The National, January 25, 2019

As the People’s Republic of China prepares to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its founding later this year, the limits of its Communist Party-led model are becoming apparent. And more than ever, the world’s longest-surviving and most-powerful autocracy faces difficult choices at home and abroad.

By China’s own statistics, its economy is registering its most sluggish growth in nearly three decades. The world’s second-largest economy grew by 6.6 per cent in 2018, the lowest rate since 1990, when the fallout from the massacre of as many as 10,000 people in a tank and machine-gun assault on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square a year earlier kept growth to a humble 3.9 per cent.

At a time when China appears to have entered a new era of uncertainty after more than a quarter century of phenomenal growth, it is perhaps fitting that this year marks the 30th anniversary of that massacre.

The uncertainty is evident in a new phenomenon – the flight of capital from a country that, between 1994 and 2014, amassed towering piles of foreign-exchange reserves by enjoying a surplus in its overall balance of payments.

But now, faced with an unstoppable trend of net capital outflows, President Xi Jinping’s government 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.

It is not just capital that’s fleeing China, as more and more Chinese choose to live overseas. In an informal vote of no confidence in the Chinese system, more than a third of surveyed millionaires in China said they were “currently considering” migrating to another country. An earlier report found that almost two-thirds of rich Chinese were either emigrating or have plans to do so.

Today, China’s mounting internal challenges are being compounded by new external factors. Chinese belligerence and propaganda, for instance, have spawned a growing image problem for the country internationally, which is apparent even in regions where China has invested heavily, from Africa to Southeast Asia.

More significantly, Beijing has come under international pressure on several fronts – from its trade, investment and lending policies to its human rights record, including its incarceration of more than a million Muslims from Xinjiang, a sprawling territory Mao Zedong annexed in 1949. Perhaps China’s free ride, which helped propel its rise, is coming to an end.

In modern-day “re-education” prisons, China is accused of forcing Uighurs and other Muslim groups to forsake Islamic practices and become secular citizens.

The Soviet Communist Party that ran gulags was consigned to the dustbin of history. But now the Chinese Communist Party has set up its own gulags that are more high-tech and indiscriminate and have Islam as their target. The network of concentration camps is designed to dismantle Muslim identities and change the outlook of entire communities – a grim mission of unparalleled scale.

Yet, even as international criticism has mounted, the West still seems reluctant to hold Beijing accountable for its harsh treatment of ethnic minorities, deciding against, for instance, introducing sanctions.

China, meanwhile, is confronting growing US-led pressure on the trade and geopolitical fronts, accentuating Beijing’s dilemmas and fuelling uncertainty at home. As long as the US-China trade war rages, flight of capital will remain a problem for Beijing, whose 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, is running into resistance from a growing number of partner countries, Beijing is also confronting an international pushback against its telecommunications giant Huawei. In fact, the pushback has broadened from opposition to Huawei’s participation in next-generation 5G wireless networks to a broader effort in Europe, North America and Australia to restrict the use of Chinese technology because of concerns that it is being used for espionage.

The arrest of the Huawei founder’s daughter in Canada, at the behest of Washington, rattled China’s elites, making them angry but also fearful that any one of them could meet a similar fate while travelling to the West. With Meng Wanzhou’s detention, the US signalled that it has more powerful non-tariff weapons than China, which has long used such tools to punish countries as diverse as Japan, Mongolia, South Korea and the Philippines.

Ms Meng was held for an alleged violation of America’s Iran-related sanctions, but even Western onlookers saw her arrest as an example of US high-handedness. Instead of galvanising support against the American move, China responded in typical fashion that, as an American analyst put it, is the “mark of a thuggish state” – by jailing two Canadians.

Indeed, it is Beijing’s open disregard for international rules that explains why it can count on few true strategic allies or reliable security partners. Contrast this with the strong network the US maintains, including close collaboration with many of China’s neighbours. Beijing has alienated almost every significant power in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

China’s lonely rise could become more pronounced with the newly 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 away from being a defensive force foreshadows a more aggressive Chinese military approach of the kind already witnessed in the South China Sea, where China has fundamentally changed the status quo in its favour.

The Dalai Lama recently said that, due to Chinese pressure, no Buddhist country, with the sole exception of the nominally Buddhist Japan, is now willing to grant him entry as the exiled leader of Tibetan Buddhism. However, whenever Chinese pressure forces smaller nations to cave in on any issue, it only fuels greater resentment against Beijing.

Against this backdrop, where is China heading? It has come a long way since the Tiananmen Massacre, with its citizens now more prosperous, mobile and digitally connected. Its economy, in purchasing power parity terms, is already the world’s largest.

However, its political system remains as repressive as ever, with Mr Xi centralising power in a way China has not seen since Mao. Under his leadership, the party has set out to systematically quash Muslim, Tibetan and Mongol identities, expand China’s frontiers far out into international waters, and turn the country into a digital totalitarian state.

Yet, one should not overlook what a difference less than a year has made. Few in China dared to criticize Mr Xi when he ended the decades-old, Party-led collective leadership system and abolished a two-term limit on the presidency –actions that theoretically allow him to rule for life.

But, in the new international environment in which China finds itself today, he is facing domestic criticism – however muted — for building a cult of personality around his one-man rule and for inviting an international pushback by overemphasising China’s strength and power.

Mr Xi’s word may be law but, faced with difficult choices on China’s new challenges, he now finds himself under pressure. His primary focus will probably remain ensuring stability at home. Without stability, neither he nor the Party can hope to survive in power.

To calm the economic turbulence, China’s central bank has substantially increased domestic credit to help boost consumption and investment at home. In the medium-term, the US-led tariff pressures are likely to accelerate China’s shift from low-end manufacturing to higher value-added industries like electronics, robotics and artificial intelligence.

The geopolitical pushback, for its part, could force Xi to return to the “hide your capacities, bide your time” strategy of Deng Xiaoping. But such a return can scarcely obscure China’s ambitious goals that Mr Xi has laid bare. Even if Beijing starts soft-pedalling its ambitions, it is likely to adopt a “two steps forward, one step back” strategy to keep progressing toward its goals.

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

© The National, 2019.