Myths of Kashmir


India is wedged between two nuclear-armed allies that routinely defy fundamental international rules and norms. Until China and Pakistan stop trying to undermine its territorial sovereignty in Jammu and Kashmir, India will have little choice but to take steps to protect itself.



The Indian government’s recent decision to revoke Kashmir’s special semi-autonomous status has raised fears of yet another conflict with Pakistan over the disputed territory. But in order to understand the implications of the events unfolding in Kashmir – a heavily militarized geopolitical tinderbox situated at the crossroads of central Asia – it is essential to dispel the many myths and misunderstandings surrounding it.

The first myth relates to the name itself. While news reports focus on the “Kashmir region,” they often fail to note that Kashmir is only a small slice of the affected territory, called Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), which also includes the sprawling areas of Ladakh and Gilgit-Baltistan.

Moreover, calling J&K a “Muslim-majority” region fails to reflect just how ethnically, culturally, and religiously diverse it is. Indeed, while Kashmir is majority Muslim, Jammu is majority Hindu; and the vast, sparsely populated Ladakh is traditionally Buddhist. Gilgit-Baltistan is also predominantly Muslim – Shia Muslim, to be precise (though Pakistan’s government has for decades been encouraging Sunni Muslims to relocate there and gradually form a majority).

J&K residents who speak the Kashmiri language (Koshur) are concentrated mainly in the Indian-administered, densely populated, predominantly Sunni-Muslim Kashmir Valley, which has become a hotbed of Pakistan-backed jihadists fighting to establish an Islamic emirate. In early 1990, the jihadists launched a rapid and bloody campaign of ethnic cleansing, which drove virtually the entire native Hindu community out of the territory. Since then, the Islamists have been systematically replacing the Valley’s syncretic traditions with Wahhabi/Salafi culture.

Yet another common misunderstanding is that India and Pakistan are the only actors vying for control in J&K. In reality, the region is split among India (which holds 45%), Pakistan (which controls 35%), and China (which occupies 20%).

Only India claims the entire region, as well it should: the princely state of J&K lawfully merged with the country under the 1947 Indian Independence Act, which partitioned British India into independent India and Pakistan. (Thus, the notion that in revoking Kashmir’s special status, India has effectively “annexed” the territory is just another myth.) The Pakistani- and Chinese-held portions of J&K are essentially the spoils of separate wars of aggression waged by Pakistan and China against India in the period from the late 1940s to the early 1960s.

Yet Pakistan and China, both revanchist states, are not only committed to retaining control over the territories they already grabbed; they want to seize even more. Pakistan’s terrorism-driven asymmetric warfare is aimed at securing the Kashmir Valley. (The military conflicts Pakistan initiated against India in 1965 and 1999 failed to deliver territorial gains.) China, for its part, advances its claims to several Indian-administered areas of Ladakh through furtive, incremental, and increasingly frequent territorial incursions.

As the J&K issue has undermined both countries’ relations with India, it has cemented their longstanding  with each other. In 1963, Pakistan ceded a segment of its own territory in the J&K region to China, which had earlier occupied Ladakh’s Switzerland-sized Aksai Chin Plateau. It is the only case of one country giving another a sizable chunk of the territory that it captured in a war with a third country (India, in 1948).

Today, China has thousands of People’s Liberation Army troops stationed in the Pakistani-held part of J&K. So, beyond controlling its own section of J&K, which serves as a vital link between Xinjiang and Tibet, China benefits from an “economic corridor” through Pakistani-held J&K territory to Pakistan’s Chinese-controlled Gwadar port. The corridor connects the overland and maritime routes of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

China and Pakistan have hypocritically protested India’s revocation of J&K’s special status, even though neither country has granted any autonomy to its portion of the region. And, in fact, it was Pakistan’s relentless support for terrorism in the region that drove India to make the change, which will enable its federal government to take greater responsibility for J&K’s security.

J&K’s new structure – with Jammu and Kashmir as a union territory with an elected legislature, and Ladakh as a territory ruled directly by India’s central government – aims specifically to compartmentalize the region’s territorial disputes, and could support India’s ability to counter aggression from China or Pakistan. The change was approved overwhelmingly by India’s parliament.

Overseas critics, however, have condemned the move, including India’s efforts to ensure security during the potentially tumultuous transition. But it is worth noting that India allows media free access to its J&K territory, whereas Pakistan requires foreign journalists to obtain a military-approved “no-objection certificate.” China has never allowed international media into its portion of J&K.

To be sure, it is a difficult time for local people: telecommunications and Internet service have been disrupted, a virtual curfew has been imposed in some areas, and thousands of troops have descended on the region. But these measures are a response to the presence of large numbers of Pakistan-backed terrorists. If Pakistan halts its destabilizing activities, India will have no need to exert such forceful control over J&K.

The fact is that India is wedged between two nuclear-armed allies that routinely defy fundamental international rules and norms, including respect for existing frontiers and territorial sovereignty. Until China, the world’s most powerful autocracy, and Pakistan, a  of jihadist terrorism, change their ways, India will have little choice but to take all necessary steps to protect itself.

Brahma ChellaneyBrahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

© Project Syndicate, 2019.

Changes on the Indo-Pacific’s Geopolitical Chessboard


Today, with the specter of Asian power disequilibrium looming, the China factor has gained greater salience in the equations between and among the major Indo-Pacific powers.


Brahma Chellaney, The Japan Times

downloadchessThe Indo-Pacific region’s geopolitical flux is being highlighted by several developments. The escalating U.S.-China trade war is setting in motion a gradual “decoupling” of the world’s top two economies; South Korea’s weaponization of history is increasingly roiling its relations with Japan; Beijing appears to be inexorably moving to crush Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement; and the Sino-Pakistan strategic nexus is deepening. China, meanwhile, still pursues aggression in the South China Sea, as exemplified by its ongoing coercion against Vietnamese oil and gas activities within Vietnam’s own exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Add to the picture surging tensions over two Indo-Pacific hotspots: Taiwan, with the growing animosity between Beijing and Taipei increasing the risks of a shooting war; and the erstwhile kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir, whose control is split among India, Pakistan and China.

If Hong Kong’s mass movement loses to Chinese authoritarianism, the implications will not be limited to that city. Indeed, it could embolden Beijing’s designs against Taiwan.

Another Tiananmen Square triggered by China’s unleashing of brute force would likely have far greater international geopolitical fallout than the 1989 massacre in Beijing. After the Tiananmen Square massacre, Washington did not sustain sanctions against Beijing in the naïve hope that a more prosperous China would liberalize economically and politically. But now a fundamental shift in America’s China policy is in progress.

To be sure, the larger challenges in the Indo-Pacific center on establishing a pluralistic and stable regional order, ensuring respect for existing borders, and safeguarding freedoms of navigation and overflight.

The Indo-Pacific’s geopolitical landscape will be shaped by five key powers: America, China, India, Japan and Russia. Equations within this strategic pentagon will profoundly influence Asian geopolitics in particular. As Asia’s geographical hub, China is especially vulnerable to the same geopolitical game it plays against Japan and India — strategic containment.

A shared grand strategy to manage a muscular China could aim to put discreet checks on the exercise of Chinese power by establishing counterbalancing coalitions around that country’s periphery.

However, U.S. President Donald Trump, with his unilateralist and protectionist priorities, has still to provide strategic heft to his policy of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” — a concept authored by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In fact, the South China Sea, where China’s land reclamation and militarization persist, poses the biggest challenge for Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy. How can the Indo-Pacific be “free and open” when, in its most-important sea corridor, China’s aggression continues?

As the U.S. government said on August 22, China’s coercion against Vietnam and other claimants “undermines regional peace and security,” imposes “economic costs” on them by “blocking their access to an estimated $2.5 trillion in unexploited hydrocarbon resources,” and demonstrates “China’s disregard for the rights of countries to undertake economic activities in their EEZs, under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, which China ratified in 1996.” Vietnam, to its credit, has thus far refused to buckle under Chinese intimidation over an oil exploration project at the Vietnamese-controlled Vanguard Bank in the Spratly Islands.

Although the Vanguard Bank project involves a Russian energy firm, the U.S. has stood out as the only important power to directly criticize China’s coercion against Vietnam. However, U.S. sanctions against Russia and tariffs against China have counterproductively fostered a partnership between the world’s largest nuclear power and second-largest economy.

Russia and China, however, are not natural allies but natural competitors. China’s rise has paralleled Russia’s decline. Today, Chinese expansionism is bringing Central Asia’s ex-Soviet republics under China’s sway and threatening Moscow’s interests in the Russian Far East. Russia, the world’s largest country by area and richest in natural resources, shares a long border with a resource-hungry China, whose population is 10 times larger.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has called Russian President Vladimir Putin his “best and bosom friend.” Yet, beneath the surface, all is not well. Despite booming economic ties, the Russia-China relationship is marred by mutual suspicions and wariness in the political realm. In the Russia-India case, it is the reverse: Bilateral trade has shrunk noticeably but political ties remain genuinely warm.

An open secret in Moscow is that Russia’s main long-term geopolitical challenge centers on China. The marriage of convenience between the bear and the dragon is unlikely to last long, given their history of geopolitical rivalry, including Chinese-initiated military clashes in 1969.

When the rupture happens, it will have as profound an impact globally as the 1960s’ Sino-Soviet rift, which led to the U.S. rapprochement with China. Indeed, the U.S.-China strategic collusion since the 1970s contributed significantly to Soviet imperial overstretch and to the West’s ultimate triumph in the Cold War.

Today, however, the U.S., instead of establishing itself as a natural wedge between Russia and China, has become a bridge uniting them against it.

For India, the China factor has always been central to its strategic ties with Moscow. In 1971, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi skillfully engineered Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan by entering into a friendship treaty with Moscow. The treaty, with a mutual-security assistance clause, helped deter China from opening a second front against India. As the declassified Richard Nixon-Henry Kissinger transcripts attested, this duo sought to egg on China to attack India when Indian forces intervened to end the East Pakistan genocide (in which up to 3 million people were killed and nearly 400,000 women were raped, with almost 10 million fleeing to India).

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Vladivostok from Thursday underscores that Russia, with its strategic capabilities and vantage position in Eurasia, remains a key country for India’s geopolitical interests. Russia shares India’s objective for a stable power balance on a continent that China seeks to dominate. Like Abe, Modi will be in Vladivostok to attend the Eastern Economic Forum but he will also hold his annual summit with Putin. Modi’s visit will yield a military logistics pact with Russia of the kind that India has already concluded with America and France and is negotiating with Japan and Australia.

Today, with the specter of Asian power disequilibrium looming, the China factor has gained greater salience in the equations between and among the major Indo-Pacific powers. If the U.S., Russia, Japan and India were to work together, China would find itself boxed in from virtually all sides, extinguishing the prospect of a Sino-centric Asia.

Strategists both inside and outside the Trump administration have this logic in mind when pushing for rapprochement with Russia. But current American domestic politics will not allow that.

Moreover, Russo-Japanese relations have yet to be normalized, thus constituting a missing link in the strategic pentagon. Abe, however, has sought to court Putin to help rebalance power in Asia, while seeking Russia’s return of the resource-rich Northern Territories (which the Soviet Union seized just after the U.S. dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945).

The imperative in the Indo-Pacific today is to build a new strategic equilibrium pivoted on a stable balance of power. A constellation of likeminded states linked by interlocking strategic cooperation has become critical to help build such equilibrium.

Trump may have done little to build broader geostrategic collaboration with other important players in the Indo-Pacific, but his lasting legacy will be the paradigm change in America’s China policy — a shift that enjoys bipartisan support in the U.S.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist.

© The Japan Times, 2019.

On Jammu and Kashmir, India must bear short-term pain for long-term gain


Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is a core issue of national security and secular identity for India. Its changed constitutional status marks a watershed for India. To advance J&K’s greater integration and development, India must bear short-term pain to secure long-term gain.


While the people of Hong Kong are fighting for democracy, the armed jihadists in India’s Kashmir Valley reject democracy and wish to establish a caliphate. They have been replacing the Kashmir Valley’s syncretic traditions with a Wahhabi/Salafi culture.

Brahma Chellaney, Open magazine

Control of the original princely state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is divided among India, Pakistan and China, but only India was maintaining special powers and privileges for its portion, which makes up 45% of the erstwhile kingdom. Take Pakistan, which seeks to redraw borders in blood by grabbing the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley from India: Far from granting autonomy or special status to the parts of J&K it holds (the sprawling Gilgit-Baltistan and the so-called Azad Kashmir), Pakistan has treated them as its colonies, exercising arbitrary control over them, recklessly exploiting their natural resources, and changing their demographic profiles. In fact, Pakistan unlawfully ceded a strategically important slice of the increasingly restive Gilgit-Baltistan to China in 1963.

Today, China occupies 20% of the original state of J&K, including the areas it surreptitiously encroached upon in the 1950s or seized during its 1962 invasion of India as well as the trans-Karakoram tract (comprising mainly the Shaksgam Valley) that Pakistan ceded to it under the 1963 Sino-Pakistani Frontier Agreement. That transfer of territory was a unique case in modern history of one nation gifting another with a sizable slice of the land that it had gained control of earlier in a war with a third country (India).

The action of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in revoking the statehood and special constitutional status of India’s J&K caught most by surprise, although the Bharatiya Janata Party had long espoused such a move. If anything, the Modi government’s legacy-shaping constitutional change in relation to J&K was long in coming. The reason was that the Modi government, in its first term, did not have majority support in the Rajya Sabha.

No sooner had the government cobbled together Rajya Sabha majority support than it acted on J&K to level the field by giving the people there the same rights and responsibilities as all other Indian citizens. Revoking J&K’s special status, carving out Ladakh as a separate union territory, and repealing the misogynist Article 35A (which permitted women to be stripped of their rights in J&K if they married outsiders) were bold moves, executed in one fell swoop. The fact that both houses of Parliament ratified the moves with two-third majorities, with several opposition parties lending support, reflects their popularity across the country.

The timing of the government’s steps was driven not just by domestic factors but also by international considerations. Indeed, U.S. President Donald Trump’s offer to mediate the Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan might have precipitated Modi’s action in stripping J&K of its special status. “If I can help, I would love to be a mediator”, Trump said on July 22 while hosting Pakistan’s military-backed prime minister, Imran Khan, at the Oval Office. Trump of late has been re-hyphenating India with Pakistan and drawing a perverse equivalence between the two countries. This is in keeping with his administration’s new courtship of Pakistan, which has been given a key role in the current U.S. plan to exit the war in Afghanistan.

In fact, the timing of Modi’s action was also influenced by Trump’s looming Faustian bargain with the Pakistan-reared Afghan Taliban. A resurgent Pakistan-Taliban duo controlling Afghanistan would spell greater trouble for India’s J&K, including through increased cross-border entry of armed jihadists. Trump is desperate to end U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan and pull out the majority of American troops before seeking re-election next year. With Imran Khan by his side, Trump begged Pakistan to “extricate us” from Afghanistan.

The irony is that the U.S. is stuck in the longest war in its history because of Pakistan, which, by harbouring the Taliban’s command-and-control base, has effectively undercut the American 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”.

Indeed, it is worth remembering that the U.S. got into the Afghanistan military quagmire because of its reluctance to take the war to the other side of the Durand Line by targeting the Taliban’s sanctuaries and leadership in Pakistan. In modern world history, no counterterrorism campaign has ever succeeded when the militants have enjoyed cross-border state sponsorship and safe havens. Pakistan’s sponsorship of terror against India also explains why the Kashmir Valley remains a terrorist hotbed.

For years, instead of taking out the Taliban’s cross-border bases, the U.S. actively sought “reconciliation”, allowing the militia to gain strength. The protracted search for a bargain with the Taliban also explains why that terrorist militia was never added to the U.S. list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The American approach counterproductively has not only led to an ascendant Taliban expanding its territorial control, but also has emboldened the terrorism-exporting Pakistani military.

Just last year, 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”. But today, the U.S. in coming full circle on both the Taliban and Pakistan.

After suffering its worst ever terrorist attack, the U.S. turned against the Taliban and drove it from power in Kabul in 2001. Now, in search of a face-saving exit from the Afghanistan war, America has embraced the Taliban in high-level deal-making, which risks handing over Afghanistan to the same thuggish group that the U.S. ousted from power. And seeking to appease Pakistan, Washington recently facilitated a $6 billion International Monetary Fund bailout for Pakistan and relaxed its suspension of military aid by clearing $125 million in assistance for Pakistan’s F-16 fleet.

Pakistan — through its brutal proxies, the Taliban and the Haqqani Network — has compelled the U.S. to negotiate the terms of its surrender in Afghanistan and seek Pakistani support for a face-saving exit. This explains why the U.S., while sidelining the elected Afghan government in its deal-making with the Taliban, has openly signalled its readiness to accept Pakistan’s primacy in Afghanistan.

Yet another factor behind the Modi government’s rejigging of J&K’s constitutional status was China, including its strengthening axis with Pakistan. China has increasingly played the J&K card against India in the past decade. In fact, China, which fomented the Naga and Mizo insurgencies, taught its “all weather” client Pakistan how to wage proxy war against India. China still fans flames in India’s northeast. For example, Paresh Barua, the long-time fugitive commander-in-chief of ULFA, has been traced to Ruili, in China’s Yunnan province. Some other Indian insurgent leaders have been ensconced in Myanmar’s Yunnan-bordering region controlled by the China-backed Kachin Independence Army.

In 2010, Beijing honed the J&K card against New Delhi by aggressively adopting a stapled-visa policy for Indian citizens from J&K. To mount pressure, Beijing has tacitly questioned India’s sovereignty over the portion of J&K under Indian control and officially shortened the length of the Himalayan border it shares with India by purging the 1,597-kilometre line separating Indian J&K from Chinese-held J&K.

No surprise then that China took the lead earlier this month to internationalize the J&K issue by successfully calling for a special but informal United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting on the dispute, but only in relation to “the India-Pakistan question”. By brazenly cloaking its own role in the dispute, including unlawful occupation of parts of J&K, China has presented J&K as just an India-Pakistan issue.

The fact is that China’s occupation, which started in the mid-1950s, has effectively gutted the 1948 UNSC resolution, which came after Pakistan seized more than 35% of J&K. The mandated first step in implementing that resolution was Pakistan’s vacation of its occupation. But after China’s change of the J&K territorial map, the first step would mean vacation of both Pakistani- and Chinese-held areas of J&K. That seems impossible, given that Beijing has formally annexed parts of J&K (including Aksai Chin), built the strategic Karakoram Highway to Pakistan through the internationally recognized disputed region, and is now implementing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in a similar manner.

The UNSC’s China-engineered J&K discussion on August 16 may seem inconsequential because an informal, closed-door meeting like this normally has no resolution for consideration. China, despite support from a Britain still hooked to imperial fantasies, failed to get even a joint statement adopted. A joint statement to the press constitutes the lowest level of action by the Security Council.

Undeterred, however, the Chinese ambassador to the UN sought to spin the discussions while briefing the international media. Claiming to present a “summary” of the discussions, the envoy of the world’s largest, strongest and longest-lasting autocracy — which has incarcerated more than a million Muslims and reengineered the demography of all its minority homelands by settling Han Chinese in large numbers — spoke about the “human rights situation” in Indian J&K.

Still, it would be a mistake to believe that China’s UNSC machinations yielded nothing. The fact is that these machinations are only emboldening Pakistan and its terrorist proxies. Pakistan currently hosts 22 UN-listed terrorist entities and at least 133 of the UN-designated global terrorists. China’s scheming also aids separatists in Indian J&K.

In fact, China’s diplomatic success in convening the UNSC meeting — even if it resulted in only talk, no action — sent a jarring signal to India, bringing its J&K policy under international spotlight. The closed-door huddle at the UN headquarters represented the first official UNSC meeting on Kashmir since 1971, when Indian military intervention helped create Bangladesh. Indeed, the Chinese machinations have served as a reminder to India that China’s J&K interference will only increase. This is partly due to the CPEC projects in Pakistan-held J&K, where Chinese military presence is growing, including near Pakistan’s line of control with India.

Make no mistake: China’s strategy is to attack India’s weak points and stymie its rise to the extent possible. Beijing views the Indian portion of J&K as India’s Achilles heel.

Against this background, the J&K constitutional change can help India to more ably counter the Sino-Pakistan nexus centred on Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. For starters, India has separated its J&K-related territorial disputes with Pakistan and China by carving out Ladakh as a new federally administered territory and turning the rest of its J&K from a state into a union territory with a legislature.

Separating Ladakh from J&K was long overdue. In defiance of the grassroots demand for Ladakh to be made a separate entity, this vast frontier region critical to India’s national security was kept for decades under the administrative control of a J&K leadership which was from the Kashmir Valley and often secretly sympathetic to secessionists. The result was that Ladakh — the bulwark against the Chinese military’s march to the southern foothills of the Himalayas — remained neglected and economically backward.

Today, with jihadists increasingly calling the shots in parts of the Kashmir Valley, the constitutional change empowers the central government with greater authority in dealing with the J&K security situation. Three decades of a Pakistan-sponsored Islamist insurrection in the Valley made continuation of the status quo indefensible and unsustainable. After years of bloodshed — a period in which Pakistan sought to exploit the Indian J&K’s special status — a change became imperative.

In fact, Article 370, although designed to reassure J&K’s Muslim-majority population by granting substantial autonomy to the state, came to be seen by Pakistan as Indian acceptance that J&K is a disputed territory. That only encouraged the Pakistani establishment to up the ante. Article 370, by allowing only permanent residents to own land, also encouraged Islamists in the Valley to change, by force, the demography and property holdings by expelling Kashmiri Pandits. This expulsion constituted one of the most successful and swiftest ethnic-cleansing operations in modern world history.

With its diverse ethnic and religious communities, J&K was a microcosm of pluralistic India, before its syncretic culture and traditions came under a sustained Islamist onslaught. Since 1989, with successive governments in New Delhi helpless to arrest the trend, the pluralistic traditions of Kashmir have largely given way to a Wahhabi/Salafi culture. The defanging of Article 370 may not stem the Arabization of the Valley’s Islam but it will certainly help to lift the ambiguity on J&K’s status by integrating it fully with the Indian Union.

India has managed reasonably well the international fallout from its J&K action. But India now must brace up to its internal-security and regional challenges. The militant stronghold of the Kashmir Valley makes up just 15% of the area of the J&K state, to be dissolved on October 31. But it is home to 55% of the state’s population. The current government restrictions on movement and communications directly impinge on constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties. Yet, given the high risk of a deterioration of the security situation, these restrictions can be eased only in a graduated manner.

Let’s be clear: While the people of Hong Kong are fighting for democracy, the armed jihadists in the Kashmir Valley reject democracy and wish to establish a caliphate. Pakistan was carved out of India in 1947 as the first Islamic state of the post-colonial era, only to emerge as the fountainhead of Islamic extremism and terrorism. India can never allow an Islamic emirate in Kashmir.

In this current situation, authorities must lift or re-impose restrictions in the Valley’s troubled districts as part of a decentralized, calibrated strategy that seeks to build peace at the local level in each borough through reward and punishment.

India’s bigger challenge relates to the deepening Sino-Pakistan nexus. This nexus increasingly keeps the Indian armed forces and police on their mettle. India is the world’s only country wedged between two nuclear-armed allies that defy even basic international rules and norms.

With China’s protection, Pakistan will continue to use armed jihadists as a force multiplier against India. China provides Pakistan security assurances and political protection, especially diplomatic cover at the UN. Covert nuclear and missile assistance from Beijing also continues. So, Pakistan cannot afford to stop being China’s loyal client, especially since that relationship — however lopsided — aims to tie down India.

India needs to tackle head on Pakistan’s protracted proxy war by seeking to impose costs on the Pakistani military generals (the terror masters), rather than on their expendable terrorist proxies. India’s 2016 ground-launched surgical strike after the Uri terrorist attack and the more recent Balakot raid in February targeted only the terrorist surrogates, leaving the generals unscathed to continue their death-by-a-thousand-cuts strategy against India.

The power behind Pakistan, however, is China, against which India is reluctant to even speak up. In fact, Beijing is using the profits from its spiralling trade surplus with India to expand its military capability and advance its aggressive ambitions without firing a shot. India is effectively funding its own containment. China already dominates India’s telecom sector but New Delhi, instead of banning Huawei from its 5G trials, is still searching for a middle ground.

No surprise then that Indian policy is emboldening Beijing to up the ante through both Pakistan and direct border provocations. China has also been engaged in other diplomatic needling, including calling the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh “southern Tibet” since 2006. Although J&K is split among three countries (with only India claiming the whole of it), New Delhi, by refusing to speak up, has allowed Beijing to cleverly present itself at the UN and elsewhere as a sort of a neutral party interested in lowering tensions between two of its “friends”, India and Pakistan.

The Wuhan spirit did not survive even a week after the April 2018 Wuhan summit. Yet, despite China’s latest provocations, Chinese President Xi Jinping will be in India in October for a second Wuhan-like informal summit, which could be held in Varanasi.

Before that summit, China intends to take India round and round the mulberry bush in yet another round of border talks. The fruitless border negotiations are being held ad infinitum since 1981, when Indira Gandhi was the prime minister, with Beijing dangling a new carrot every few years but refusing to abandon its revanchist claims on Indian-governed territories. Beijing’s newest carrot has been meretriciously labelled “early harvest” proposal by a gullible Indian media, although the proposal remains completely shrouded in mystery. The proposal will likely turn out to be little more than another ride for India on the Chinese merry-go-round.

New Delhi, instead of lending a helping hand to Beijing’s strategy of engagement as a façade for containing India, must start imposing economic and diplomatic costs on China in a calibrated manner, including by taking a leaf out of Trump’s trade-war playbook. China’s predatory trade practices are systematically undermining Indian manufacturing and competitiveness, with the result that Modi’s “Make in India” initiative has yet to seriously take off.

Economically, the least New Delhi can do is to erect roadblocks on China’s inroads into key Indian sectors. Politically, India needs to strengthen its hand by exercising countervailing leverage. If India continues to ignore China’s provocations, including the recent UNSC machinations, it will be negotiating from a position of weakness when Modi hosts Xi in October or when next month National Security Adviser Ajit Doval meets his Chinese counterpart in the border talks.

More fundamentally, J&K is a core issue of secular identity and national security for India. While India’s J&K is open to foreign media, the Pakistani- and Chinese-controlled portions are not. To report from Gilgit-Baltistan or “Azad” Kashmir, Pakistan requires foreign journalists to seek military permission in the form of a No-Objection Certificate (NOC). The open access India grants to international media, however, has resulted in biased coverage by journalists focusing only on security measures, stone-pelting rowdies and hospitalized rioters. The negative coverage carries wider implications. For example, an adverse report on J&K released by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) in June 2018 relied mainly on such distorted media coverage.

The changed constitutional status of J&K is a watershed for India. In the short run, the security situation in the Kashmir Valley could worsen, resulting in India coming under greater pressure from domestic and foreign critics and human-rights groups. But over the longer term, J&K’s greater integration and development are likely to contribute to the normalization of the situation in the Valley. India must stay the course unflinchingly, bearing short-term pain to secure long-term gain.

© Open, 2019.

A Marriage of Convenience


The partnership between the world’s largest autocracy (China) and the Mecca of jihadist terrorism (Pakistan) has been cemented on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), 55% of which the two together occupy. As revanchist states, Pakistan and China are still seeking to grab more of J&K.


With Pakistan the springboard for China’s containment of India, J&K helps cement that axis.

Brahma Chellaney, The Times of India, August 22, 2019

Like a typical school bully, China doesn’t have a lot of friends. Having joined with the US to impose international sanctions on its former vassal, North Korea, China has just one real ally left — an increasingly fragile and debt-ridden Pakistan. China, however, has little in common with Pakistan, beyond the fact that both are revanchist states not content with their existing borders. Despite China’s brutal repression of its Muslims, Pakistan remains Beijing’s tail-wagging client. The marriage of convenience between the world’s largest autocracy and the fountainhead of jihadist terrorism is founded on a shared strategy to contain India.

In the latest example, China engineered an informal, closed-door UN Security Council (UNSC) meeting on Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and then, despite the absence of a joint statement, presented to the media a phony summary of the discussions. Few would be surprised by Beijing’s conduct or by its attempt to aid Pakistan’s effort to internationalize the Kashmir issue, including by obscuring China’s own status as the third party in the J&K dispute. China occupies one-fifth of the original princely state J&K, including the areas it seized up to 1962 and the trans-Karakoram tract ceded to it by Pakistan in 1963.

China’s UNSC machinations highlight the fact that the longstanding Sino-Pakistan nexus has been cemented on the issue of J&K, where the borders of India, Xinjiang, Tibet, Pakistan and Afghanistan converge. The Chinese-built Karakoram Highway, since it opened in 1978, has epitomized this nexus. The highway passes through J&K’s Pakistan-held Gilgit-Baltistan region, just like the axis’ new symbol — China’s so-called economic corridor to Pakistan.

Not content with stationing thousands of its own troops in Pakistani-occupied J&K, ostensibly to protect its strategic projects, China is working to enlarge its military footprint in Pakistan. China’s “economic corridor” seeks to turn Pakistan into its land corridor to the Indian Ocean, with Jiwani (located near Gwadar and just 170 kilometres from Iran’s India-aided Chabahar port) likely to become a Chinese naval hub. China is already militarizing northern Arabian Sea: It has secured naval turnaround facilities at Karachi and 40-year exclusive rights to run Gwadar port; its submarines are on patrol; and it has supplied new warships to Pakistan.

Slowly but surely, Pakistan is becoming China’s colonial outpost, primarily aimed at checkmating India. After the Pulwama massacre of Indian paramilitary soldiers, Beijing came to Pakistan’s help by shielding it from international calls to take concrete anti-terrorist steps. For a decade, China vetoed UN action against Pakistan-based terrorist Masood Azhar, until it could no longer sustain its obstruction. But China still blocks India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, asserting that — as happened in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization — India’s entry must be counterbalanced with Pakistan’s admission.

Indeed, China has long played the Kashmir card against India. For example, in 2010, it started the practice of issuing stapled visas to Indian citizens from J&K and denied a visa to the Indian Army’s Northern Command chief for a bilateral defence dialogue on grounds that he commanded “a disputed area, J&K”. It also officially shortened the length of the border it shares with India by purging the line separating Indian J&K from Chinese-held J&K. The then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, warned that, “Beijing could be tempted to use India’s ‘soft underbelly’, Kashmir”.

Although J&K is divided among three countries, only India was maintaining special powers and privileges for its portion. Even if India had maintained J&K’s special constitutional status, the Sino-Pakistan J&K pincer movement would have continued. This is why China shields Pakistan’s proxy war by terror against India, even though it has locked up more than a million Muslims in the name of cleansing their minds of extremist thoughts. In fact, like Pakistan, China wages asymmetric warfare against India. This is in the form of a “salami slicing” strategy of furtive, incremental territorial encroachments in Ladakh and elsewhere.

Turning Ladakh into a union territory will likely advance India’s effort to counter China’s hostile manoeuvrings, including increasing military forays and incursions. The J&K constitutional change also compartmentalizes India’s territorial disputes with Pakistan and China centred in that region, although India today faces Chinese troops on both flanks of its portion of J&K because of Chinese military presence in the Pakistan-held areas.

India, however, needs to recognize the difference between being cautious and being meek: The former helps avert problems, while the latter invites more pressure. China has the temerity to talk about human rights in Indian J&K and chastise India for unilateralism, while India stays mum on the Tibet repression, Xinjiang gulag policy and Hong Kong excesses. Indeed, Beijing has sought to masquerade as a neutral party because India is loath to remind the world that China, in unlawful occupation of parts of J&K, is directly involved in the dispute. India has shunned even indirect criticism, such as reminding Beijing that those living in glass houses should not throw stones.

Worse still, New Delhi has allowed China to reap a growing trade surplus with India that has more than doubled in the past five years and now dwarfs India’s total defence spending. This, in effect, means Beijing is able to have its cake and eat it too. India must subtly change tack, or else the fire-breathing dragon will be emboldened to step up hostile acts.

The writer is a geostrategist.

© The Times of India, 2019.

Data in the digital era is power and wealth



Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times

Data is the oil of today’s digital age, in which every individual, through Internet activity, leaves a footprint of personal information, which is controlled by others. In fact, just like oil in the past century, data is now the most valuable resource in the world — an engine of growth and change. Akin to uranium, data is a game changer. But like oil or uranium, data must be processed to create something of value.

How data is processed and stored carries major implications for national and international security. Hacking and theft of critical data is central to cyber-espionage.

The global “data economy” is dominated by a few tech titans like Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft. These giants vacuum up vast troves of data that help build a digital profile of every individual, including the person’s preferences, foibles and secrets. Their data collection can reveal as much about a person as government surveillance, if not more.

Today’s “data brokers” are financially incentivized to collect and monetize personal data of people all over the world. The collected data, however, is used not just for business purposes. Nor does it stay in the private sector alone. Thanks to Edward Snowden and other revelations, we know that the US government employs several tools to acquire data from the Internet giants. And through its National Security Agency it directly accesses the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and others.

America’s massive databases arm it with an Orwellian capacity to track digital footprints and personal information of individuals, both Americans and those overseas, including decision-makers. In fact, the 2015 US Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act has essentially legalized all forms of government and corporate spying. This serves as a reminder that the Internet, although a major boon that we cannot live without, facilitates surveillance.

It is paradoxical that those in India who raised a hullabaloo about how the digital-identity Aadhaar system threatens privacy are mute on the larger and more fundamental issue — the monopolistic control of the most powerful tech companies on the data of all, including Indians. It is as if they believe that Aadhaar, aimed at turning parts of India’s data economy into public infrastructure for doling out subsidies and deterring fake identities, is more dangerous than the expansive data vaults of the global tech giants.

There has little debate in India on the government’s Personal Data Protection Bill, which seeks to take data back from the global behemoths by granting Indians protection rights and mandating local storage. Not surprisingly, the bill has come under withering attack from the giants and the US government, which is wielding the threat of a Section 301 investigation against India on this and other trade-related issues.

A handful of companies’ data hegemony is raising security concerns not just in India. Many Americans, concerned about unchecked privacy intrusions, are calling for guardrails to protect data. Europe’s 2018 General Data Protection Regulation enforces tough data-privacy rules. Google has faced huge fines in Europe for abusing its data power. France recently imposed a 3% tax on digital transactions, and Italy is following suit. If India and other countries emulated their example, billions of dollars could shift from US tech companies to local economies.

Let’s face it: The Internet is not a competitive, free-market place but an oligopoly, with Google dominating search, Apple and Google controlling mobile, Facebook ruling the social media and Amazon dominating e-commerce. Worse still, these behemoths are relatively opaque when it comes to their data-collection and retention policies. Their data collection is no less intrusive than government surveillance.

Against this background, India’s data bill, carrying European-style protections and penalties for data-privacy breaches, is a step in the right direction. After India’s Supreme Court held that privacy is a fundamental right, the Srikrishna Committee helped draft this bill. Unfortunately, the government, while introducing and getting passed a record 28 bills in Parliament’s recently concluded session, held back the long-pending data bill to consider changes that could satisfy the US. The bill’s dilution could seriously hobble its purpose.

By opposing India’s move to localize data storage, the tech giants wish to remain unfettered to collect and utilize data opaquely. Their message to India is “trust us”. But as Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify”. A few extraordinarily powerful corporations, with oligopolistic control of sensitive data and US government backing, should not be allowed to influence the provisions of Indian legislation.

Requiring multinational corporations to respect privacy and to store data locally is not about limiting their ability to make money. It is about shielding data through legislative protections that compel these firms to correct their practices. India must seek to loosen their grip over data by mandating greater transparency and imposing limitations on the processing and sharing of personal and sensitive data.

Make no mistake: Like European colonialism in the past three centuries, data imperialism could have serious and lasting consequences.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist.

© The Hindustan Times, 2019.

On nuclear protection, Japan gets a wake-up call from Trump


Brahma Chellaney, The Globe and Mail


North Korea test-fires a new short-range ballistic missile in this photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

North Korea has test-fired a slew of short-range ballistic missiles in recent weeks, including three new systems, indicating that it has been busy boosting its sub-regional capabilities since its leader Kim Jong-un met with U.S. President Donald Trump at the Korean demilitarized zone in June. Yet Mr. Trump has openly condoned the North Korean tests, largely because the new missiles threaten not the United States but Japan and South Korea.

Indeed, Mr. Trump has clearly indicated that his administration will put up with North Korea’s sub-regionally confined nuclear arsenal (as Washington has done with Pakistan’s) as long as Mr. Kim does not pursue long-range capability that threatens the United States. Not surprisingly, this American stand unnerves Japan, which is central to U.S. military deployments in Asia but feels increasingly vulnerable to growing Chinese and North Korean missile capabilities.

Mr. Trump’s position not only emboldens Mr. Kim but also gives him virtually a free hand in developing and testing short-range missiles that can potentially deliver nuclear warheads.

Mr. Trump has gone to the extent of making allowances for North Korea’s firing of such missiles by accepting Pyongyang’s explanation that the tests are in reaction to the continuing joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea. Mr. Trump has called the two-week exercises “ridiculous and expensive.”

Others in Mr. Trump’s administration have also shrugged off North Korea’s short-range missile tests. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statements, for example, have highlighted a U.S. willingness to put up with the test of any North Korean missile whose range is far short of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

After North Korea in early May conducted what was its first missile test in a year and a half, Mr. Pompeo said on ABC’s This Week that “at no point was there ever any international boundary crossed.” Referring to the agreement reached at the first Trump-Kim summit in Singapore in June, 2018, Mr. Pompeo candidly told Fox News Sunday, “The moratorium was focused, very focused, on intercontinental missile systems, the ones that threaten the United States, for sure.”

Japan has said that North Korea’s missile firings have violated United Nations Security Council resolutions that ban Pyongyang from developing and testing ballistic missile technologies. According to Mr. Trump, there “may be a United Nations violation,” but the missile “tests are not a violation of our signed Singapore agreement, nor was there [any] discussion of short-range missiles when we shook hands.”

This position, in effect, means that the Trump administration is ready to sacrifice the security interests of the United States’ regional allies as long as Mr. Kim does not test any capability that threatens American security.

All three of the new missile systems test-fired by Pyongyang symbolize significant technological advances. They are all solid-fuelled and road-mobile systems, making it easier to hide and launch them by surprise. By contrast, North Korea’s older, liquid-fuelled missiles are detectable during the pre-launch fuelling stage. At least one of the new missile systems can possibly be manoeuvred during flight, making its interception more difficult for a missile-defence system.

Japan’s security nightmare has been that, as China continues to expand its already-formidable nuclear and conventional military capabilities, the United States will let North Korea retain the short- and medium-range portion of its nuclear arsenal. With self-interest driving U.S. policy, that nightmare appears to be coming true.

A North Korean sub-regionally confined nuclear capability will only deepen Japanese reliance on security arrangements with the United States. Japan, like Canada, has long remained ensconced under the protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella. But given the Trump administration’s “America First” approach and its constant refrain that U.S. allies must do more for the alliance, will the United States use nuclear weapons to defend Japan against an attack by China or North Korea?

For the U.S., its nuclear-umbrella protection serves more as a potent symbol of American security commitment and as a nonproliferation tool to prevent Japan and other allies from considering their own nuclear weapons. In a military contingency, the United States is more likely to employ conventional weapons to defend Japan, which pays Washington billions of dollars yearly for the basing of American troops on Japanese territory in the most generous host-nation support by any of America’s 27 allies.

However, the threat to Japan from North Korea’s nuclear-weapons capability comes not only from a potential nuclear strike but also from nuclear blackmail and coercion. Pyongyang could employ the tacit threat of use of nuclear weapons to coerce Tokyo to make economic or political concessions.

The main lesson for Japan from Mr. Trump’s focus on addressing only U.S. security interests is to directly engage Pyongyang by leveraging its own economic power to build better relations with North Korea. And to shore up its security, Tokyo could also consider mutual-defence arrangements with other powers.

Pacifism remains deeply embedded in Japanese society, in part because of the painful legacy of Japan’s prewar militarism. But the key issue at stake today is not whether Japan should remain pacifist, (Japan is the world’s first constitutionally pacifist nation) but whether it can afford to stay passive in a rapidly changing security environment. And with the United States stepping back, peace in East Asia demands a proactive Japan.

© The Globe and Mail, 2019.

India’s real test begins now after the bold J&K move



Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times

A final deal between the US and the Pakistan-reared Afghan Taliban appears imminent, with the Taliban saying major differences have been resolved. Pakistan’s key role in this process, and in the implementation of the deal that emerges, has emboldened it to downgrade diplomatic relations and suspend bilateral trade with India — actions that India itself should have taken long ago against its terrorism-exporting neighbour.

In fact, Trump’s looming Faustian bargain with the Taliban was an important factor behind India’s change of the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). A resurgent Pakistan-Taliban duo controlling Afghanistan would spell greater trouble for J&K, including through increased cross-border entry of armed jihadists.

J&K’s reorganization effectively compartmentalizes India’s territorial disputes with Pakistan and China centred in that region. China’s protestation that India’s inclusion of Chinese-held Ladakhi areas in the new Ladakh union territory “hurts Chinese sovereignty” underscores that there will be no let up in Chinese incursions. In recent years, China — which occupies the Switzerland-size Aksai Chin Plateau and lays claim to several other Ladakh areas — has stepped up its military forays and incursions into Ladakh’s Demchok, Chumar, Pangong Tso, Spanggur Gap and Trig Heights.

The immediate trigger for rejigging J&K’s constitutional status was Trump’s Af-Pak gambit. Trump has beseeched Pakistan to “extricate us” from Afghanistan. The paradox is that the US is stuck in the longest war in its history because of Pakistan, which harbours the Taliban’s command-and-control base. Yet Trump, after accusing Pakistan of “lies and deceit”, is now appeasing it, including by slightly reopening the military-aid spigot and offering twice to mediate the Kashmir conflict, even though such an offer is a red rag to the Indian bull.

It is against this background that, to level the field, J&K’s special powers and privileges were revoked, Ladakh was carved out as a separate entity, and the misogynist Article 35A was repealed — all in one fell swoop. For India, three decades of a Pakistan-backed Islamist insurrection in the Kashmir Valley made the status quo no longer sustainable. Armed jihadists today call the shots in the Kashmir Valley, from where the virtually entire indigenous minority — the Kashmiri Pandits — were driven out in one of modern history’s most successful and swiftest ethnic-cleansing operations.

Even if India had maintained J&K’s special constitutional status, Pakistan would have continued its low-intensity asymmetric warfare. After all, Pakistan is a revisionist state that seeks to redraw borders in blood. Yet Pakistan, far from granting autonomy or special status to the two parts of J&K it holds (the sprawling Gilgit-Baltistan and the so-called Azad Kashmir), has treated them as its colonies, recklessly exploiting their mineral and water wealth and transforming their ethnic and linguistic identities through demographic change.

Today, nothing is encouraging Pakistan more than Trump’s turning to it to “help us out” in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s brutal proxies have compelled the US to negotiate the terms of its Afghanistan surrender and seek Pakistani support for a face-saving exit. Just days after the US reached a tentative deal with the Taliban in late January, a suicide bombing claimed by a Pakistan-based terrorist group killed 41 Indian paramilitary soldiers.

Now, with a final deal in the offing and the elected Afghan government sidelined, a scofflaw Pakistan has sought to turn the tables on India by ironically lecturing it on international law and expelling the Indian envoy, even as India still treats Pakistan as a terrorist state only in rhetoric, not in actual policy terms. It will not be long before Pakistan’s roguish military also ups the ante against India, either directly or via its non-uniformed soldiers — the terrorist proxies.

India, through the J&K constitutional change, has pre-emptively sought to safeguard its security before America hands Afghanistan back to the same terrorist militia it removed from power in 2001. But India has a history of losing the advantage after a potentially game-changing move. After Balakot, Pakistan was quick to neutralize India’s advantage with a daring aerial blitz that crossed a red line by targeting Indian military sites. Yet Pakistan escaped scot-free.

India’s real test begins now after the bold, legacy-shaping J&K action. Indeed, the government needs to tackle head on the protracted proxy war of a renegade neighbour that, far from becoming diplomatically isolated as sought by India, has been emboldened by Trump’s gambit.

Does India have the political will to impose costs in a manner to make them increasingly unbearable for Pakistan?

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist.

© The Hindustan Times, 2019.