Sub-continent: What is in the throes of danger?

By K.N. Pandita

Chinese intrusion in Eastern Ladakh some weeks ago is neither an isolated nor a sporadic event. It is a pre-meditated plan with close relevance to the ominous situation developing in South Asia from the Himalayan heights to the Indo-Pacific region. China’s threatening postures and dubious moves either in the South Sea or in Galwan Valley of Eastern Ladakh, are signs of coercion and hence an indirect threat to peace in the region. At the root of this scenario lies the ambition of China for dominating the Asian Continent militarily and tighten economic stranglehold for smaller Asian-African states. Statements emerging from various official sources in Beijing or the state-controlled media are portentous and menacing. Nibbling at the borders of her neighbours is China’s history. India is facing this menace along 7000 km Himalayan border with China just because of Nehru putting an end to the strategic buffer of Tibet.

Pressure from the international community is growing in China for an investigation into the leakage and global spread of coronavirus from a Wuhan laboratory and China suppressing the news for several weeks. World leaders have begun to concede that President Trump did not guffaw against the WHO; he castigated it on a solid basis. The world could rue about China making deep inroads into the world body and its subsidiaries.

The US is not alone in demanding a balance of economic relations with China. Japan, Australia and India are equally serious. But the withdrawal of production units from China has technical and logistic strings added to it and cannot be implemented without meticulous planning and taking the consequences into account.

Re-focusing attention on India-Pacific region in the light of growing anti-China demonstrations in island states in South East Asia, sporadic movement of Chinese naval ships in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea and Beijing’s recent warnings to Australia against supporting an inquiry into the origin and spread out of the pandemic, all indicate that the Far Eastern strategy of the American policy planners and also of the major democracies of the world might necessitate upgrading of respective strategies.

China is uneasy with the Quad and makes no mistake in assessing that stable democracies will ultimately insist on and work towards just and equitable economic order. The world is taking note of China’s hardened posture towards its small Pacific neighbours. Intermittent show of Chinese warships in the Chinese Sea, Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean and the sinking of a Vietnamese vessel is a loud message that China allows herself the liberty of police manning the Indo-Pacific region.

With CPEC in doldrums partly because of Pakistan’s crumbling economy and partly because of the impact of the pandemic, China seems to have slowed down the pace of its Road and Belt narrative. It will impact the overall strategy of China regarding the Gilgit-Baltistan region where Beijing wants to have a strong military base in Skardu. Islamabad is reported to have agreed to facilitate it. Kargil is not too far away from Askardu and the road link did exist during the days of the Maharajas of J&K. Mehbooba Mufti as the chief minister of J&K State repeatedly demanded re-establishment of road connectivity between Kargil and Skardu.

Knowledgeable sources reported that China has been eyeing a foothold in the Wakhan corridor also close to the Afghan mainland. At the same time, Beijing has been impressing upon Pakistan to formalize the legal status of Gilgit-Baltistan region because the area is disputed by India. That is what made Pakistan Supreme Court recommend annexation of the region to the Pakistan mainland. The Supreme Court took no cognizance of the anti-Pakistan struggle undertaken by the nationalist elements in Gilgit and Baltistan and it is likely to escalate the decade’s old tension between the nationalists and Pakistan authorities.

After India scrapped the special status of Jammu and Kashmir State on 5-6 August owing to increasing sedition activities of separatist in Kashmir and their blatant camaraderie with Pakistani agencies, Pakistan embarked on a virulent anti-Hindu and anti-India propaganda on a large scale. It tried to influence even the UN subsidiaries like the UNHRC. The Chairman of UNHRC Session 42 and the Chairman of the UNHRC both issued statements criticizing India for so-called violation of human rights of the people of Kashmir. They did not say a word about the vast terrorist network spread out by such Pakistan-based terrorist groups as have been designated by the UN itself and are active in Kashmir. India rejected the report as biased and based on false reports. It is to be noted that the US has already withdrawn from the membership of the UN Human Rights Council alleging that it has been politicized and has lost its sanctity.

With Pakistan ganging up with some of the non-Semitic Islamic states like Turkey, Malaysia and Iran, she began criticizing liberal and pragmatic Arab states friendly towards India for not making OIC an effective tool to take some strong anti-India position on Kashmir. They made India only a symbol while actually, they are struggling to remove Saudi Arabia from its pivotal position among the Islamic countries and bring in a new structure that would work against democracy and liberalism in Islam.

In the background of these developments in which China and Pakistan have been working in tandem, India demanded Pakistan to vacate its illegal occupation of Gilgit-Baltistan areas. This was a message essentially for China. Indian media gave big hype to India’s intention of retrieving the part of the original State of Jammu and Kashmir illegally occupied by Pakistan in 1947.

Pakistani media played up the threat and the opposition parties in Pakistan questioned the rationality of Pakistan army and intelligence agencies abetting insurgency in Kashmir but negligent about the impending threat of India planning to recover the lost territory in PoK and GB. GHQ felt rattled and the show boy Prime Minister, to save his skin, went on crying wolf. “We will give India a befitting reply if she makes any adventure of attacking Pakistan” became the refrain of Imran Khan’s lifeless vitriolic. China and Pakistan both had a reason to feel frustrated on being informed by respective intelligence sources that Indian military brass was working on some plan.

Raising and legitimizing the jihadist legions as the frontline of its defence strategy against India, relentlessly facilitating infiltration into Kashmir of armed jihadists, massively brainwashing ordinary Kashmiris and propagating through electronic media barrages of anti-India hatred among them on the religious count and the Kashmir separatists and ambivalent Kashmiri Muslim leadership not missing any opportunity of subversion, and the tailpiece of Gupkar Memorandum, forced the NDA government to meet the situation according to its merits. The roots of the State Reorganization Act of 2019 have to be searched in this emerging scenario.

When China thrice vetoed Security Council’s attempt of designating Masu’d Azhar, the Chief of the Pakistani terrorist organization called Jaish-e-Muhammad, it was clear to New Delhi that China was lending outright support to Pakistani terrorists carrying out subversion in Kashmir.

For India’s military strategists, the time had come to act in the light of Indian Parliament’s unanimous resolution of 1994 to liberate the part of the original State of Jammu and Kashmir from the illegal occupation of Pakistan since 1947. Pakistan had turned down the Security Council’s two important resolutions (1948 and 1949) on J&K which left India free to follow a course of its choice. Thus was born the idea of exploiting the strategic importance of Gilgit and Baltistan in the new scheme of Inner Asian strategy.

Interests of China and Pakistan converge on Gilgit – Baltistan. India could make a pincer attack from Gurez area to reach Gilgit border cutting off Pakistan’s link via Neelam Valley, and get positioned her troops at some meeting point with Gilgit-Wakhan border. India would like to have short connectivity with Afghanistan and the vast region of Central Asia and beyond the Aral Sea.

Alarmed by India’s plan of retaking the territory illegally occupied by Pakistan and also the nearly 5000 sq km of Shaksgam region in Chilas ceded by Pakistan to China, the two adversaries jointly planned the double-pronged strategy of PLA making an incursion into the Eastern Ladakh and Pakistani Rangers – the border security force—intensifying firing and shelling Indian posts along the LoC including civilian habitats. As the situation showed signs of becoming grim in Ladakh standoff, Pakistan called a crucial meeting of her Corps Commanders presided over by the army chief and attended among others by the three services chiefs and the ISI chief. Dawn of 17th June reported, “Services chiefs on Tuesday expressed satisfaction over the preparedness of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to counter India’s sinister designs after receiving a rarely combined briefing on occupied Kashmir and other regional issues at the headquarters of the premier intelligence agency.” The paper went on to say, “Military leadership expresses satisfaction over the agency’s preparedness to counter India’s sinister designs. The ISI has, meanwhile, been giving briefings to political and military leadership. Prime Minister Imran Khan has twice been to the ISI headquarters — on April 23 and June 3 — for intelligence briefings on the security threats. These briefings have assumed special significance because they have taken place amid escalating tensions with arch-rival India.” The paper disclosed that the Pakistani foreign minister was scheduled to visit Beijing in a couple of days obviously to brief the Chinese on the ground situation. Immediately following this important meeting of Pakistani military brass, tension along the LoC in J&K has escalated with Pakistani Rangers opening more fronts for pounding Indian posts and then to receive a befitting reply.

Thus we see that Ladakh standoff has implications far beyond the shadow of the Himalayas. There is little sense in PM Modi repeating India’s philosophy of resolving bilateral issues through peaceful dialogue. It is not a bilateral issue that India is confronting. What is in the throes of danger is not just the Indian nation but the very concept of democracy, freedom and human dignity. Therefore, for India it is of utmost importance to make a departure from the traditional policy of running after elusive peace. Our security narrative must change and we must accept the eternal truth that power flows through the barrel of the gun.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, India).

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