China, India, Pakistan: Who’s really pulling the strings in Jammu and Kashmir?

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The threat of a nuclear conflict between Islamabad and New Delhi might have made global headlines, but Beijing is right at the heart of the territorial dispute in the Himalayan region, Brahma Chellaney writes.

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Brahma ChellaneySouth China Morning Post

The media spotlight on India-Pakistan tensions over the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has helped obscure the role of a key third party, China, which occupies one-fifth of this Himalayan region. Kashmir is only a small slice of J&K, whose control is split among China, India and Pakistan.

Sino-Indian border tensions were exemplified by a reported September 11-12 clash between troops from the two countries in the eastern section of J&K, where Beijing’s territorial revisionism has persisted for more than six decades.

Meanwhile, ever since India revoked the statehood and autonomy of its part of J&K in August, Pakistan has stepped up its bellicose rhetoric, with military-backed Prime Minister Imran Khan vowing to “teach India a lesson” and promising a “fight until the end”. Khan has even raised the threat of nuclear war with India.

The power behind Pakistan, however, is China. As Pakistan has sought to grab more J&K territory from India, China has escalated military pressure along the region’s eastern flank with India.

Pakistan and China together hold 55 per cent of J&K but neither grants any autonomy to its portion of the region. Indeed, Beijing has never allowed foreign media into its J&K portion, which it has turned into a vast cantonment. Yet, like Pakistan, it strongly protested against New Delhi’s action in stripping the Indian part of J&K of its special constitutional powers.

J&K is such a volatile tinderbox that the United Nations Security Council has not held a formal or open meeting on the dispute since 1971, when East Pakistan, with Indian military assistance, seceded as Bangladesh.

China in August engineered an informal, closed-door Security Council meeting to discuss India’s J&K action. However, in the face of opposition from the United States, France and several other members at the meeting, China failed to get the lowest level of Security Council action – a joint statement to the media.

Still, the political fallout from China’s machinations resulted in India asking Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to cancel his September 9-10 scheduled visit to New Delhi.

J&K indeed has helped cement a deepening Sino-Pakistan nexus. China and Pakistan have little in common other than a shared interest in containing India. In keeping with the axiom that “my enemy’s enemy is my dear friend”, the two have forged one of the most enduring partnerships in international diplomacy. Wang earlier declared that China and Pakistan were “as close as lips and teeth”. The China-Pakistan axis presents India with the prospect of a two-front war, if India were to enter into conflict with either country.

This alliance was actually founded on the Kashmir issue. Pakistan ceded a sizeable slice of its own J&K to Beijing in March 1963, just months after China humiliated India in a surprise military attack across the Himalayas and captured territory in J&K’s traditionally Buddhist Ladakh region.

Pakistan’s transfer of territory (comprising mainly the Shaksgam Valley) helped foster China’s strategic nexus with what it now calls an “irreplaceable all-weather friend”.

Beijing, meanwhile, is exerting direct military pressure on India in the J&K region, including seeking to nibble at Indian border areas in Ladakh. Chinese military forays into Ladakh have become more persistent and frequent, leading to face-offs or scuffles with Indian troops.

Politically, China has sought to question India’s sovereignty over Indian-administered J&K. In 2010, it began issuing visas on a separate leaf to Indian citizens from there. It also officially shortened the length of the Himalayan border it shares with India by purging the line separating Indian Kashmir from Chinese-held Kashmir.

More importantly, to help tie down India, China has extended major help to Pakistan – from well-documented nuclear and missile assistance to security assurances and political protection, especially diplomatic cover at the UN. Such support allows Pakistan – home to 22 UN-designated terrorist entities – to use state-nurtured terrorists as a force multiplier against India.

Pakistan, in fact, has sought to replicate against India its strategy in Afghanistan, where its brutal proxies – the Taliban and the Haqqani network – have forced the US to seek Pakistani support for a face-saving exit. Pakistan’s success against India, however, has been limited to J&K’s Kashmir Valley, which it has helped turn into a terrorist hotbed, forcing the deployment of a large Indian counter-insurgency force.

The predominantly Muslim Kashmir Valley makes up just 15 per cent of the area of Indian-administered J&K but is home to more than 50 per cent of its population. The armed jihadists in the Kashmir Valley reject democracy and seek to establish an Islamic emirate. In one of the modern world’s most successful and swiftest ethnic-cleansing operations, the jihadists in 1990 expelled virtually the entire native Hindu community from the valley, but not before abducting and killing nearly 1,000 and gang-raping women.

It was Pakistan’s destabilising role in the Kashmir Valley that spurred India’s recent J&K action. Even if the Indian J&K’s special autonomous status had continued, India would still have faced the Sino-Pakistan pincer movement in that region. Indeed, the special status came to be seen by Pakistan and China as Indian acceptance that the Indian portion of J&K is a disputed territory, thus encouraging the two partners to up the ante against Delhi.

The plain fact is that India is uniquely wedged between two nuclear-armed allies that defy basic international norms. The China-Pakistan axis represents a dangerous combination of an ascendant communist power and an aggressive Islamist neighbour, with both staking claims to swathes of Indian-administered territory.

Pakistan, carved out of India by the British as the first Islamic state of the postcolonial era, has emerged as the fountainhead of Islamic extremism and terrorism – or, as former US defence secretary James Mattis said in his new book, the world’s “most dangerous” country. A secular, democratic India can never allow a caliphate in Kashmir because that would mean a second terrorism-exporting Pakistan on its borders.

Brahma Chellaney is a New Delhi-based geostrategist and the author of nine books. 

© South China Morning Post, 2019.

The Curse of Geography

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Brahma Chellaney, Open Magazine

Soon after visiting Russia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi undertook a US tour, the highlight of which was a spectacular public rally in Houston attended by 59,000 Indian-Americans, US President Donald Trump and a number of members of the US Congress. Now, shortly after Communist China turned 70, Modi is getting ready to host Chinese President Xi Jinping for an informal summit. Before long, Modi will also receive Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

These visits underline the complexity of India’s foreign-policy challenges and the imperative to advance the country’s interests at a time of greater geopolitical flux globally. The flux is being highlighted by several developments, including the US-China trade war, which is setting in motion a gradual “decoupling” of the world’s top two economies; the worsening relations between America’s main allies in East Asia, Japan and South Korea; Hong Kong’s defiant, pro-democracy movement; and the strengthening Sino-Pakistan strategic nexus. 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.

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 and its territorial revisionism against India, Japan, Vietnam and others.

Against this backdrop, Modi’s foreign policy will likely continue to be guided by a non-doctrinaire vision. India, a founder leader of the nonaligned movement, now makes little mention of nonalignment. Shorn of ideology, Indian foreign policy has sought to revitalize the country’s economic and military security, while avoiding having to overtly choose one power over another as a dominant partner. India believes in friendship without dependence.

At the core of India’s foreign-policy and security challenges, however, is the reality that the country is located arguably in the world’s most troubled neighbourhood. India confronts a “tyranny of geography” — that is, serious external threats from virtually all directions. To some extent, it is a self-inflicted tyranny. India’s security concerns in the region partially stem from the failures of its past policies.

The increasingly unstable neighbourhood, however, is not of India’s making. The instability and volatility not only make it more difficult to promote regional cooperation and integration, but also heighten the spillover effects for India, threatening the country’s internal security.

Looking ahead, India can expect no respite in pressure from China, whose October 1 grand parade commemorating 70 years of Communist Party rule was a reminder that it has emerged as the world’s longest-surviving, strongest and largest autocracy. This is a country increasingly oriented to the primacy of the Communist Party. Indeed, attempts to bend reality to the illusions and disinformation that the state propagates risk turning China into a modern-day Potemkin state.

China’s occupation of Tibet in 1950-51 represented the most far-reaching geopolitical development for India’s security in modern history. It gave China borders with India, Bhutan and Nepal for the first time, and opened the path to a Sino-Pakistan strategic axis. The impact has been exacerbated by serial Indian blunders.

Today, Tibet remains at the centre of the India-China divide, fuelling territorial disputes, diplomatic tensions and riparian feuds. The more India has aligned its Tibet stance with China’s position, including recognizing that sprawling region as part of China, the more Beijing has upped the ante against New Delhi. Tellingly, Beijing began calling Arunachal Pradesh “South Tibet” only after the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2003 formally recognized Tibet as part of China.

As Asia’s geographical hub, China is especially vulnerable to the same geopolitical game it plays against India or Japan — strategic containment. A grand strategy among other powers 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, 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 Abe.

With India’s vulnerability to terrorist attacks linked to its location next to the Afghanistan-Pakistan (“Af-Pak”) belt, the Indian government has little choice but to prepare for a long-term battle against the forces of Islamic extremism and terrorism. In fact, to India’s west, lies “an arc of crises stretching from Jordan to Pakistan”, to quote the title of one of the workshops at the 2008 World Policy Conference at Evian, France. Historically, invaders and plunderers came into the subcontinent from India’s west.

Pakistan’s present nexus with terrorist groups arose under two military dictators: Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who died in a mysterious plane crash in 1988, and Pervez Musharraf, who fled overseas in 2008 under threat of impeachement and was subsequently charged with involvement in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007 — a milestone in Pakistan’s slide into chaos. Pakistan is now a classical example of a praetorian state where the military dominates the core political institutions and processes and calls the shots in strategic policies.

Pakistan’s military generals rarely trust their civilian proxies. Indeed, the army chief and the head of the rogue Inter-Services Intelligence agency accompanied Prime Minister Imran “Taliban” Khan when he visited Washington in July. Khan’s jihad-extolling, warmongering address to the United Nations General Assembly last month showed the depths to which the Pakistani state has sunk. In fact, this newest puppet of the Pakistani military has, in the name of Allah, publicly declared a jihad on India, including on what he calls a “fascist” Modi government.

India since independence has taken a cautious and reactive approach to strategic threats and challenges, despite facing repeated aggressions. Over the past three decades in particular, India’s external security environment has worsened and regional clout eroded. Yet the country has shied away from hard decisions.

An important break from this pattern was the Modi government’s decision in August to rejig the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) — an action that received Parliament’s imprimatur with overwhelming support. J&K’s special powers and privileges were revoked, Ladakh was carved out as a separate entity, and the misogynist Article 35A repealed — all in one fell swoop.

Three decades of a Pakistan-backed Islamist insurrection in the Kashmir Valley forced the government to change the status quo. Pakistan, carved out of India by the British as the first Islamic state of the post-colonial era, has emerged as the fountainhead of Islamic extremism and terrorism – or, as former US defence secretary James Mattis says in his new book, the world’s “most dangerous” country. A secular, democratic India can never allow an Islamic emirate in the Kashmir Valley because that would mean a second terrorism-exporting Pakistan on its borders.

Pakistan and China together hold 55 per cent of J&K but neither grants any autonomy to its portion of the region. Indeed, Beijing has never allowed foreign media into its J&K portion, which it has turned into a vast cantonment. Yet, Pakistan and China have hypocritically protested against New Delhi’s action in stripping the Indian part of J&K of its special constitutional powers.

Even if the Indian J&K’s special autonomous status had continued, India would still have faced the Sino-Pakistan pincer movement in that region. Indeed, the special status came to be seen by Pakistan and China as Indian acceptance that just the Indian portion of J&K is a disputed territory, thus encouraging the two partners to up the ante against New Delhi.

The plain fact is that India is uniquely wedged between two nuclear-armed allies that defy basic international norms. The China-Pakistan axis represents a dangerous combination of an ascendant communist power and an aggressive Islamist neighbour, with both staking claims to swathes of Indian-administered territory.

New Delhi may have managed reasonably well the international fallout from its J&K action, with only Turkey, Malaysia, Pakistan and China (the new Quad) openly slamming India for the move. India, however, continues to get bad international press, in part because the anti-elite Modi government has failed to grasp the importance of the media in the 21st century. The Prime Minister’s Office does not have even a spokesperson. Distortion of facts thus is allowed to go unchallenged.

Commentaries in the Western press have harped on alleged Indian repression and human-rights abuses in the Kashmir Valley, with some writers claiming to see the rise of an “authoritarian” India under Modi, as if the present Indian government has abridged fundamental rights of Indians or undermined judicial independence and press freedom. Such negative and damaging portrayal is beginning to take its toll on India’s international image. It is past time for the government to wake up to the vital importance of public relations and media handling.

Add to the picture the fact that India has become increasingly polarized and divided. Indians either love or loathe Modi.

A dynamic diplomacy and sound national security management need strong, bipartisan policies. But India’s British-style parliamentary democracy has fostered a fractious polity. Britain’s own Brexit mess highlights that the British-type parliamentary system is rife with serious inefficiencies. In India, building bipartisanship has long been tough but more so now due to greater political polarization and rancour.

Domestic critics, for example, claim that Modi has a presidential (or autocratic) style of governance. The truth, however, is that India since independence has been largely led by prime ministers who have acted more like presidents — from Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter, Indira Gandhi, to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the first Bharatiya Janata Party prime minister who made the country a nuclear-weapons state by overtly conducting nuclear tests. Only weak, fractious governments in India have been different.

MODI’S RETURN TO POWER in a landslide election victory earlier this year reflected the desire of Indians for a dynamic, assertive leadership that reinvents India as a more secure, confident and competitive country. In contrast to his first term, which failed to dispel India’s image as a soft state, Modi’s second term raises hope that India would not recoil from taking hard decisions. His government’s most pressing challenges relate to national security and economic growth.

At a time when the yawning power gap between India and China has widened, New Delhi has to avert a destabilizing military imbalance with Beijing. It also needs to more effectively tackle a scofflaw Pakistan. India must reinvigorate its foreign policy to reverse its waning influence in its own backyard, including in countries long symbiotically tied to it, such as Nepal and Sri Lanka.

More broadly, some see India as a key “swing state” in the emerging geopolitical order. India, however, is already swinging in one direction, thanks to China’s territorial revisionism and muscular foreign policy.

A multi-aligned India under Modi is tilting towards the other major democracies, as the Australia-India-Japan-US Quad grouping underscores. India is now a “major defence partner” of the US, with which it holds more military exercises than with any other country. The US has also emerged as India’s largest arms supplier.

As the Houston rally attested, the Cold War-era India-Russia camaraderie has been replaced by India-US bonhomie. It is highly unusual for an American president to take the stage at a foreign leader’s rally on American soil. But Trump shares with Modi a love for big audiences and theatrics.

Still, India can scarcely depend on an unpredictable Trump administration, whose transactional approach to foreign policy is troubling all US allies and strategic partners. Therefore, India is wisely shoring up its partnerships with all key players. In fact, Indian and American interests diverge in India’s own neighbourhood.

For example, despite last month’s collapse of a tentative US deal with the Afghan Taliban, Trump is courting Pakistan, even though it provides safe havens to the Taliban and is home to 25 United Nations-designated terrorist entities. A Kashmir mediation offer is a red rag to India. Yet Trump has repeatedly offered to mediate that conflict.

Meanwhile, Washington, not content with having emerged as the largest seller of arms to India, is seeking to lock New Delhi as its exclusive arms client by using the threat of sanctions to deter it from buying major Russian weapons, including the S-400 air defence system. Furthermore, US pressure has driven up India’s oil import bill by stopping it from buying crude at concessional rates from Iran or Venezuela. The US seeks to supplant Iran as a major oil supplier to India. But it has been selling India crude at a higher price than Iran.

Washington said recently that it is “highly gratified” by India’s full compliance with US sanctions against Iran. The soaring crude prices after the loss of nearly 6% of global oil output in recent drone strikes in Saudi Arabia, however, has served as a reminder to New Delhi of the costs of halting all Iranian oil imports. To punish New Delhi for abiding by US sanctions, Iran is threatening to replace India with China as the developer of its Chabahar port, a project that is central to an Indian transportation corridor to Afghanistan.

That Pakistan-bypassing corridor shows that India’s relationship with Iran is more than just about oil. US sanctions, however, are aiding China while undermining Indian interests. Under a new accord with Tehran, China will invest $280 billion in Iran’s oil, gas and petrochemical sectors, deploy at least 5,000 troops to protect its projects there, and import oil at discounted prices.

Against this background, India must carefully balance closer cooperation with major players in a way that advances its own economic and security interests. India, for example, relies on Russian spare parts for its Russian-made military hardware. More importantly, Russia has transferred to India offensive weapons that the US does not export, such as an aircraft carrier and a nuclear-powered submarine. So ties to Moscow remain important.

In fact, the China factor has always been central to India’s strategic ties with Moscow. In 1971, 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).

Modi’s recent visit to Vladivostok underscored 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.

Against this background, India will likely continue to chart an independent course. After all, cautious pragmatism drives Modi’s foreign policy. A multi-aligned India pursuing omnidirectional cooperation for mutual benefit with key players will be better positioned to advance its security and economic interests.

Regionally, with the tyranny of geography putting greater pressure on its external and internal security, India needs to develop more innovative approaches to diplomacy and national defence. Only through more vigorous defence and foreign policies can India hope to ameliorate its regional-security situation, freeing it to play a larger global role. Otherwise, it will continue to be weighed down by its region.

To be sure, India has been imbibing greater realism as its quixotic founding philosophy centred on non-violence assumes a largely rhetorical meaning. Yet India remains intrinsically reactive, instead of being proactive. The compulsions of electoral politics make it difficult for those in power to take a long-term view that does not confound tactics with strategy. Yet, without proactive diplomacy and national defence, India will continue to punch far below its weight.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books.

© Open Magazine, 2019.

Trump’s turn at Modi’s Houston rally only obscures U.S.-India rifts

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Donald Trump and Narendra Modi walk the arena floor to greet attendants in the “Howdy Modi” event in Houston on Sep. 22.   © Reuters

Washington’s pressure on New Delhi benefits America’s adversaries

Nikkei Asian Review

When U.S. President Donald Trump last Sunday joined visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public rally in Houston, attended by 59,000 Indian-Americans and a number of U.S. congressmen and senators, it highlighted the growing closeness of the U.S.-India relationship. Trump shares with Modi a love for big audiences and theatrics.

Some saw Trump’s rally attendance as a public-relations coup for Modi. In reality, the Houston rally was a win for Trump: it served as a backdrop to signing one of the largest liquefied natural gas supply deals in U.S. history and making progress toward a trade deal with India, which Trump said would happen “very soon.”

With Trump’s focus on getting reelected next year, the rally also enabled him to connect with wealthy and increasingly influential Indian-Americans, who now number about 4 million, or 1.3% of the total population. They not only matter in some of the swing states for the election, but also are important political donors.

But far from helping to turn the page on old rifts, such as over Pakistan, the booming bilateral trade and investment relationship — symbolized by the rally — has been accompanied by new economic and strategic differences.

Despite his bonhomie with Modi, Trump has been fighting a mini-trade war against India, albeit in the shadow of the much larger U.S.-China trade war. He has raised duties on 14.3% of India’s exports to the U.S. and imposed a restrictive visa policy to squeeze the huge Indian information technology industry.

Indeed, no sooner had Modi’s second term started in May than Trump announced the termination of India’s preferential access to the U.S. market by expelling the country from the Generalized System of Preferences.

Trump has been rightly criticized for his mercurial behavior. But his move toward a trade deal with India, like his trade accords with Japan, South Korea, Canada and Mexico, show that Trump’s negotiating strategy centered on punitive tariffs and drastic threats is yielding returns for America. A trade deal with Beijing, to be sure, remains elusive.

With U.S. policies backfiring to foster a partnership between the world’s largest nuclear power, Russia, and second-largest economy, China, the strengthening American ties with democratic India assume greater importance for Washington. The latest U.S. national security strategy report says America welcomes “India’s emergence as a leading global power and stronger strategic and defense partner.”

India meshes well with Trump’s export plan to create large numbers of well-paid American jobs. As Trump told the Houston rally, “we are working to expand American exports to India — one of the world’s fastest-growing markets.”

India is also pivotal to Trump’s policy of a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” a concept authored by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

These imperatives and the powerful symbolism of the Houston rally, however, cannot obscure the challenges. Trump’s unilateralism and transactional foreign policy reflect a belief that the U.S. can pursue hard-edged negotiations with friends without imperiling broader strategic ties or undermining efforts to balance China.

For example, not content with having emerged as the largest seller of arms to India, Washington is seeking to lock that country as its exclusive arms client by using the threat of sanctions to deter it from buying major Russian weapons, including the S-400 air defense system.

The paradox is that the U.S. regards India as the fulcrum of its Indo-Pacific strategy, yet the two countries’ security interests diverge in India’s own neighborhood. The farther one gets from India, the more congruent U.S. and Indian interests become. But closer home to India, the two sides’ interests are divergent. Iran is just one example.

U.S. sanctions’ pressure has driven up India’s oil import bill by stopping it from buying crude from next-door Iran. Seeking to supplant Iran as a major supplier, the U.S. has ramped up oil exports to energy-poor India by 400% in the past 12 months. But it has been selling crude at a higher price than Iran.

A transportation corridor to Afghanistan that India is building via Iran, bypassing Pakistan, shows that New Delhi’s relationship with Tehran is more than just about oil. U.S. policy, however, is pushing India out of Iran while letting China fill that space.

The Afghanistan-Pakistan belt is another example. Despite the recent collapse of a tentative U.S. deal with the Afghan Taliban, Trump is courting India’s archenemy, Pakistan, even though it provides safe havens to the Taliban and is home to 22 U.N.-designated terrorist entities.

A Kashmir mediation offer was a red rag to India, yet Trump, seeking to win Pakistan’s cooperation in Afghanistan, offered to mediate that conflict.

The looming trade deal, limited to some sectors, is unlikely to help fully lift U.S. pressure on India, whose economy is already slowing. Indeed, lumping the world’s largest democracy with America’s main strategic competitor, Trump is pushing to terminate India’s and China’s developing-nation status at the World Trade Organization.

India has been a U.S. foreign policy bright spot. There is strong bipartisan support in Washington for a closer partnership. At the Houston rally, Trump claimed India has “never had a better friend” than him in the White House.

Yet Trump’s transactional approach, which prioritizes short-term gains for the U.S. even at the expense of long-term returns, could be reinforcing Indian skepticism about American reliability.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author of nine books, including the award-winning “Water: Asia’s New Battleground.”

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2019.

How America’s Af-Pak policy has imposed enduring security costs on India

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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani meets Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi.

Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times

When US President Donald Trump joins Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 50,000-strong public rally in Houston, it will showcase the strength of the US-India relationship. But the powerful symbolism of the event should not blind us to the divergent US and Indian interests in India’s neighbourhood, especially the Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) region. Indeed, before the rally, Trump will likely get the India trade deal that he has sought.

The spectacular collapse of the deal the chief US negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, concluded with the Afghan Taliban is unlikely to compel the United States to adopt a long-term approach to the Af-Pak region so that it ceases to be the global hotbed of terrorism. Even if Trump had signed off on the deal, it would not have brought peace to war-ravaged Afghanistan. Indeed, it would have only triggered a new war between Afghan nationalists and Pakistan’s proxies.

Successive US presidents’ short-range approach to the Af-Pak region has fostered Afghanistan’s destabilization and cemented the Pakistan military’s grip on decisive power within the country. It has also meant enduring security costs for India.

How the Af-Pak situation directly impinges on Indian security has been apparent since the 1980s, when US President Ronald Reagan’s administration used Islam as an ideological tool to spur jihad against the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan. Portions of the US Central Intelligence Agency’s multibillion-dollar military aid to the anti-Soviet guerrillas (out of whom Al Qaeda evolved) were siphoned off by the conduit, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), to ignite an Islamist insurrection in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The Islamists demographically transformed the Kashmir Valley by expelling virtually all Kashmiri Pandits but not before kidnapping and murdering hundreds of them, including gouging out their victims’ eyes and gang-raping women.

Simply put, it was America’s Af-Pak policy — centred on rewards to Pakistan — that helped bring terrorism to India, including a vicious jihad culture to the Kashmir Valley, shattering the peace there irrevocably. To undermine India’s internal security, the ISI just copied the CIA’s playbook against the Soviets in Afghanistan. America’s relationship with the Pakistan army and ISI, despite the ups and down over the years, remains cosy, emboldening their death-by-a-thousand-cuts strategy against India. Against this background, nothing can be more galling for New Delhi than the perverse equivalence Trump draws between India and Pakistan.

The now-scuttled US deal with the Taliban was proof that America not only negotiates with terrorists but also is willing to get in bed with the killers of US soldiers. Trump’s plan to host Taliban thugs and felicitate them as “peace makers” at Camp David — a mountain getaway that is considered the crown jewel of the American presidency — was redolent of a 1985 White House ceremony where Reagan gestured towards several Afghan mujahedeen in attendance and declared, “These gentlemen are the moral equivalent of America’s founding fathers”.

Like their procreator, Pakistan, the Taliban use terrorism as their main leverage, carrying out the world’s deadliest attacks. Pakistan’s investment in terrorism has been paying rich dividends to it and its proxies. The Taliban have forced the Americans to seek Pakistani support for a face-saving exit from Afghanistan. The dividends are also apparent from the renewed US courtship of Pakistan.

The US, meanwhile, has increasingly turned its global war on terrorism — launched in 2001 — into a geopolitical tool. The result is greater jihadism and terrorism.

Last week, to mark the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the US added more individuals and groups to its terrorism lists, including Noor Wali, the new head of the Pakistani Taliban. This outfit is the nemesis of the Pakistan military but poses no threat to the Afghanistan-based US forces, whose battlefield foe is the Afghan Taliban. Yet conspicuously missing from the US terrorism lists is the Afghan Taliban or any ISI or other Pakistani military official. By contrast, the US has imposed terrorism sanctions on Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and individuals with ties to it.

Three successive Pakistani Taliban chiefs have been assassinated in US strikes, with each wanton killing designed to win Pakistan’s cooperation in Afghanistan. But America, despite all its talk of counterterrorism cooperation with India, will not kill any of the India-wanted, Pakistan-based terrorists that are also on the US terrorism lists. The $10 million US bounty on Hafiz Saeed since 2012, for example, is all for show.

In Afghanistan, a war-weary US is justifiably seeking to cut its losses. Ending the longest war in US history is integral to rolling back America’s “imperial overstretch” — a Trump goal. But to prevent the Taliban from recapturing power in Kabul, the US will have to keep a residual force. It can draw down its forces without making concessions to the Taliban and their master, Pakistan. Its endless search for a Faustian bargain with the Taliban is engendering growing bloodshed in Afghanistan and imposing ever greater costs on Af-Pak’s neighbours.

For too long, India has taken a cautious and reactive approach to regional security issues. If it is not to be weighed down by the Af-Pak region, it must take a long-term view and become proactive. It should capitalize on the remarkable goodwill it enjoys in Afghanistan, where it is the favourite of the patriots in their fight against Pakistan’s proxies. Without putting boots on the ground, India must play a much bigger role in Afghanistan, including to safeguard the multibillion-dollar assistance it has provided that country and to checkmate Pakistan. Afghanistan is critical to India’s vital interests.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist.

© The Hindustan Times, 2019.

Myths of Kashmir

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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.

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BRAHMA CHELLANEYProject Syndicate

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.