Brig Anil Gupta
The nation yet again is busy discussing China’s decision to block efforts at the United Nations to ban Jaish chief Masood Azhar for the fourth consecutive time. The discussion appears to be bordering on anger, raised anti-China sentiments and political slugfest highlighting a division on matters of national security. In diplomatic terms the proposal has been put on technical hold. China has thrice earlier put the same proposal on ‘technical hold’ before finally terminating the proposal. There was a renewed hope that after the 2018 BRICS declaration and fact that four out of the five permanent members were backing the proposal this time, China may not put any spoke in the wheel. Jaish’s owning the responsibility of the very recent Pulwama terror attack which had drawn unilateral criticism from international community including Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and UAE had also kindled a ray of hope that China may not like to be seen holding a contrary view to the international community in its pursuit to become a global power.
China defied all hopes and decided to put on hold the proposal for a ban on Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar putting a lid on India’s renewed efforts. The hold can last up to a maximum of nine months, after which China can again use its veto power. India was eagerly awaiting the decision of the UN’s 1267 Al Qaeda Committee because a ban under it would have led to a freeze on Masood Azhar’s assets and a travel and arms ban creating a bid dent in the capability of the terrorist outfit.
While the entire nation is distraught with anger and pained at China’s move, the opposition parties in India under the leadership of Congress are rejoicing the same. The opposition’s response in an election year is not surprising but what is worrisome is to play politics with matters of national security. The nation has to be united in its fight against terror and refrain from mutual pinpricking to score brownies in race to winning the elections. Ever since, Indira Gandhi introduced caste based politics in India, the domestic political discourse has been declining southwards with extreme positions being taken by the opponents but a near unanimity had been maintained in its foreign policy. It is sad that this practice is being eroded now. China’s move has become a full-blown political controversy with the opposition labelling it as a failure of Modi government’s foreign policy with particular reference to China. Congress President unleashed a twitter war by tweeting, “Weak Modi is scared of Xi”. The ruling party lost no time in blaming his great grandfather and first Prime Minister of India for handing over on a platter the UNSC permanent membership to China at the cost of India. It may be noted that Jawahar Lal Nehru had declined the US offer to India in 1953 for a permanent seat in the UNSC and suggested that it be given to China. The point at issue is whether we should be playing politics in matters of national security as well. A dispassionate look at the entire episode would suggest a victory for the India’s foreign policy since for the first time unprecedented number of countries going into “double digits” including the four permanent members of the Committee (with China being the sole exception) were in favour of designating Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. Incidentally, China earlier also during the UPA regime had put a similar proposal on technical hold. However, at that time the opposition stood with the government and did not play politics.
While India’s anger and dismay is justified, the question is why China is repeatedly coming to the rescue of Masood Azhar? Is China against the global effort to combat terror or China’s decision is motivated by some other factors? A nation always decides its options and policies based on its national and strategic interests. China has a very clear strategic vision and its intent and policy has complete convergence as far as her global interests are concerned. It is clear that China is using its soft power to act against India’s interests as Pakistan requested them to, in pursuance of their strategic objectives. China’s strategic interests demand an access to Indian Ocean and an alternative to Sea Lanes of Communications (SLOCs) passing through vulnerable South China Sea. The key to both lies with Pakistan in form of Gwader port which has become a necessity for China for furthering its influence in Asia and Africa as well. Moreover, in consonance with Chanakya’s teaching of “Enemy’s enemy is your best friend”, Pakistan foots the bill and provides China an ideal “proxy” against India. This clarifies to an extent the reason behind China’s behaviour viz a viz Masood Azhar who is a mere pawn in a much bigger game. China is not repeatedly bailing out the dreaded terrorist but is coming to the rescue of its trusted ally Pakistan, which stares at the possibility of being designated a “Terror State.”
There is no doubt that China and India do not enjoy best of neighbourly relations and have an unsettled border dispute with China already in illegal occupation of Indian territory and staking claim for more. Pakistan in any case is an avowed enemy of India and considers it a quintessential threat. Humiliated by the shameful defeat suffered by its army in 1971 resulting in its bifurcation, Pakistan has unleashed a proxy war against India with terror as instrument of its state policy. It therefore forms an ideal partner of China in the region. As long as animosity continues to exist between India and China, Pakistan will remain an important player in China’s security calculus. Moreover, as part of China’s ambitious Belt Road Project, it has made multi- billion dollar investment in Pakistan which India is objecting to. China has repeatedly tried to convince India that China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is not India-centric but is a project of economic cooperation aimed at ushering economic prosperity, peace and stability in the region. India opposes on the issue of “sovereignty” since it runs through the territory of POJK. China at no cost is going to let its investment go waste and for that it needs to keep Pakistan in good humour. China claims that it has no hegemonic designs in the region.Keeping terrorists like Masood Azhar and others under its protection, China ensures peace at its CPEC project (a quid pro quo).
Another possible reason is that China is worried due to India’s vigorous efforts to upgrade and build infrastructure on India-China border. Raising of the mountain strike corps also worries China. It would therefore like Indo-Pak relations to remain in turmoil and hostile so that government of India’s renewed attention towards developing the Indo-China border remains diverted as well as its adverse effect on growing Indian economy.
Interestingly, JeM is already a US banned organisation and China should have no objection to declaring its Chief as a global terrorist. But China has always had a dubious policy as far as terror and support to rogue nations goes. Its support of North Korea and its despot ruler is a case in point. China has tried to justify its stand by stating that the case against Masood Azhar lacks unanimity. It is a vague argument to circumvent adverse international media. As far as BRICS declaration is concerned China’s stand is that its move is not in contradiction to the Chinese policy in the context of BRICS declaration as the member states have not entered into any such agreement. Only banned organisations were discussed during the summit and not individuals as per the Chinese assertion. China considers it is fully justified in putting the proposal on ‘technical hold’ on the plea that it would allow more time to the Committee and its members to examine the entire issue and evolve a consensus.
Indian diplomacy is at test. The world is watching keenly India’s response. It is in the interest of global peace that India and China must narrow their differences, cooperate with each other rather than compete to justify 21st century as the century led by Asia.China also knows that as years pass by it would be difficult to brow down India with its military power and therefore would resort more and more to the use of soft power. China has a tremendously huge trade surplus of $52 billion (2017–18) with India. So, however, we may put it, but we need China more than it needs us. China is our largest trading partner and we are China’s nth trading partner.Can we afford a trade war with China? The issue must be deliberated and analysed in detail before rushing into any emotion based decision.
India should try to iron out its differences with China, particularly the boundary issue. China seems to be in no hurry to resolve the same. China also has to be convinced of the danger terror poses to regional peace and stability as terror does not recognise international boundaries and spreads like cancer. Domestically, China so far has brilliantly dealt with the terrorists to ensure that there isn’t any Islamic terrorism in China. Moreover, the way China is managing its Xinjiang province to curb terrorism is a case study for the others, to take lessons on how to deal with religious fundamentalism.
This is where the skills of Indian diplomacy would be put to severe test. As the two biggest powers of Asia, the two have to ensure that there is more convergence in their strategic interests and their approach to terror has to be in sink. Once, the strategic interests of India and China converge, Pakistan will diminish from the latter’s security calculus.
(The author is a Jammu based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst. The views expressed are entirely personal. He can be contacted at [email protected])