China’s Partnership with Pakistan: Bigger Window to India for Conventional Operations
Enough has been said and written about the ‘Surgical Strike’ by India on the night of 28th September 2016 as a response to an attack on an Indian Army camp in Uri (J&K) on 18th September 16. But there are certain aspects that require greater analysis. It needs no elaboration that this attack, so close to Line of Control on an army establishment, must not be seen as an equivalent of those in Gurdaspur and Pathankot, despite misplaced comparisons that were drawn in some sections of the press.
The recent attack in Uri has been part of Pakistan’s long drawn strategy of proxy war against India and not just a terrorist attack by Pakistan trained non-state players as it was made out to be believed. In fact, it must be seen in synergy with heightened unrest in the Kashmir Valley at that time. To that an extent it can even be said that the Uri attack could well have been carried out by Pakistan’s Special Forces; therefore India’s forceful calibrated response has been excellent as also very timely.
We have been hearing this often enough- that Pakistan having lost its Conventional capability edge with India has been banking heavily on its nuclear arsenal, more specifically the Tactical Nuclear weapons (TNW) to ward off any aggression by its powerful Indian neighbour. Such rhetoric by Pakistan has been more pronounced in recent times.
This calculation by the Pakistani establishment, essentially gives two indicative impressions-firstly, that Pakistan has indeed a very low nuclear threshold for conventional battle. Secondly, it has plans to carry on with its strategy of ‘thousand cuts’ even to the extent of providing a ‘Nuclear Umbrella’ should India lowers its threshold of tolerance in the Proxy war by Pakistan.
However, it can now be said with a greater degree of confidence that both of these calculations even if worked out by Pakistan, have been blown out of proportion under the present circumstances. Pakistan’s vehement denial of India’s surgical strike on expected lines gave the very first indication that it has no desire to escalate the situation on the borders with India given the provocation that was provided.
In any case it had the ‘strategic assets’ in the form of Pakistan trained terrorists to respond as and when required. It took its own time to finally respond – with violations of ceasefire with greater volume of trans-LC firing as also more determined efforts by terrorists to cross over to J&K with a view to destabilise the situation there. But given India’s well prepared response and subsequent higher degree of alertness, neither efforts by Pakistan has succeeded in their favour. There is an uneasy calm that prevails but there appears to be no likelihood of any further escalation.
One has also not heard of those fanciful TNW assertions. In fact the recent news from across regarding developing fissures in power struggle between civil-military establishment has been heard with mixed reactions. There have also been more and more anti-army sentiments giving rise to speculations of history repeating itself. It is expected that this turmoil in the ‘Deep’ state called Pakistan is likely to remain for a while but one now needs to look at the China factor that is gaining prominence with the Pakistan establishment and that too with greater assertiveness.
The first Chinese factor relates to the $46 billion investment in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that is being touted as the ‘Game Changer’ for Pakistan’s economy. Let us also not forget that 200 kilometres of this corridor passes through illegally occupied territory of J&K by Pakistan. Here the Pakistan army has very proactively come forward to not only provide the much needed all round security cover but even the issues connected to development and successful completion of the project itself. Given the clout of Pakistan’s army and all powerful ISI, it could just be a matter of time to know the outcome of such a competition?
The second major aspect of Chinese involvement with Pakistan is its ‘veto power’ support to Maulan Masood Azhar, the Chief of Jaish e Mohammad terrorists outfit operating against India, that too at a time when Pakistan is being considered an epicentre of international terrorism and China is working its way up the ladder of a leading a new world order.
The tacit support of China to Pakistan has been a known position for a long time but the present support indicates its patronage to Pakistan directly for terrorists’ activities against India. At the same time it has also made Pakistan a partner in sharing responsibility for the security of its western borders in the shadow of Uighurs and Tibetan problems by conducting joint patrolling activities.
In a recent article in The Sunday Guardian, Dr Monika Chansoria has clearly brought out that China’s Kashmir policy is taking a definite shape and that China sponsored development projects in Gilgit-Baltistan render the region’s strategic calculus unstable[i]. These increasing stakes of China in Pakistan, particularly in the illegally occupied territory of J&K, should be cause of worry for the Indian establishment.
There are clear indications that China has slowly crept into and become the third party in the bilateral issue of the J&K problem between India-Pakistan. Hu Shishang, Director of the Chinese government run Institute South and South East Asian and Oceanic Studies, when asked if China would talk to India about concerns that the CPEC is passing through Kashmir areas that India claims to be its own, said Beijing has no problems discussing the differences[ii]
In the light of clarity of these views it can be concluded that in any future conflict between India-Pakistan, the China factor could be emerging as the core of the issue that can no longer be ignored. It also appears that with increasing Chinese geo-economics and geo-security stakes in Pakistan, the nuclear threshold of Pakistan is also likely to be governed by Chinese interests.
It is due to these evolving security dynamics of the region that one is likely to think, that the window opportunity for conventional operations by India against Pakistan seems to have enlarged, pushing up Pakistan’s nuclear threshold. Apparently China seems to have become an insurer for security of Pakistan in order to safeguard its own long term strategic assets and interests.
Is it therefore not a typical case of China killing two birds with one stone? Proliferate its own strategic interests through a weak neighbour by patronising him and at the same time keep the stronger one at bay to ensure secure environment for its own power projection and greater regional influence.
[i] Dr Monika Chansoria, ’China’s Kashmir policy taking definite shape’, The Sunday Guardian, November, 13, 2016, p12.WWW.SUNDAYGUARDIANLIVE.COM
[ii] Saibal Dasgupta,’Gwadar not a challenge to India: Experts’, TNN report in The Times of India, November14, 2016, p-16.