Contest on two fronts

Balochistan and Kashmir have become key strategic points in Sino-Pak ties, upsetting India’s traditional engagement with the two countries.

Written by C. Raja Mohan | Published:August 19, 2016 12:03 am
Narendra Modi, balochistan issue, India china relation, Modi foreign policy, Modi Pakistan policy, Indo China war, 1962 border war, NSG, Kashmir terror, Balochistan issue, pakistan, kashmir issue, narendra modi pakistan, balochistan, modi balochistan, pm modi balochistan remark, jammu and kashmir, pm modi balochistan, India news Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Red Fort on the 70th Independence Day in New Delhi. (Express Photo by Renuka Puri)

What’s up with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policies towards Pakistan and China? The initial hopes for a significant transformation in India’s two most difficult relationships, under Modi, have soured badly. Two years ago, Modi reached out to Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif and China’s Xi Jinping. He had invited Sharif to the inauguration of his administration in May 2014. And, in an effort to regenerate momentum in the bilateral relationship, when it had stalled over Kashmir and terrorism, Modi landed at Sharif’s residence near Lahore at short notice, last December. In September 2014, Modi walked with Xi on the banks of the Sabarmati and pushed hard against Delhi’s reluctant bureaucracy to promote economic relations with Beijing.

Yet, Pakistan seems unwilling to reciprocate the PM’s goodwill and China is reluctant to accommodate India’s core interests. If Modi took political risks to advance ties with Pakistan and China, two years ago, he may now be moving the other way to secure India’s interests. Modi’s call to expose Pakistan’s atrocities in Balochistan, his public arguments with China on India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and and Delhi’s opposition to China’s economic corridor in Pakistan appear to be part of a shifting strategy towards Islamabad and Beijing. This change is rooted in the recognition that you can’t clap with one hand. Modi’s bet on a positive transformation of ties with Pakistan and China had inevitably run into the structural problems that beset India’s engagement with both the countries. These problems come together in Kashmir and Balochistan.

China, which occupies swathes of territory in Jammu and Kashmir that India claims, has ended its past neutrality in Delhi’s disputes with Islamabad over the province. The China-Pakistan Economic corridor runs through Gilgit Baltistan and connects with the sea in Balochistan. The prospect of a Chinese military base in Balochistan links India’s problems with Beijing in the Himalayas with the challenge of PLA’s rising maritime profile in the Indian Ocean. Throw in a fresh bout of turmoil in Srinagar into the mix, you have the explosive cocktail that is blowing up the traditional frameworks of India’s engagement with Pakistan and China.

India’s current China policy was set on course when the then prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, visited Beijing in 1988 to normalise relations with China that were in deep chill since the 1962 border war. Since then, India has worked to stabilise the border, deepened economic cooperation, and enhanced support for Beijing in the global arena.

As China became more powerful, Delhi found Beijing’s empathy rather hard to get on issues of importance to India — limiting the trade deficit, support in getting membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group or putting Pakistan in the dock for sponsoring terrorism. Unlike his predecessors, Modi is not willing to buy the Chinese argument that these differences are “minor” and should not be allowed to come in the way of strengthening the “strategic partnership”. In the past, Indian leaders were unwilling to express differences with China in public and hesitant to question in private those policies of Beijing that hurt Delhi.

Modi, however, is not willing to pretend all is well with Beijing. While Delhi may have, in the recent past, signaled that it could live with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Modi is openly objecting to it. The PM also refuses to take Beijing’s “no” for an answer on NSG and on Pakistan-based terror.

With Pakistan too, Modi is trying to break out of the framework that emerged at the turn of the 1990s. Pakistan, emboldened by the impunity that its newly-acquired nuclear weapons gave it, launched a prolonged terror campaign in Kashmir and backed it with instruments for political intervention in the state. Under pressure, Delhi put Kashmir back on the negotiating table in the 1990s. During the mid-2000s, it negotiated, in good faith, a settlement on Kashmir. India also offered substantive economic cooperation. None of this seemed to bring a fundamental shift in Pakistan’s position. Delhi discovered that the initiative was always with Pakistan, which could ramp up terror whenever it wanted and pull back from carefully-negotiated agreements for cooperation when it chose. If all governments since the early 1990s believed that there was no option but to patiently engage Pakistan, Modi appears to be willing to explore alternatives.

Many in Delhi, who have negotiated with Islamabad and Beijing over the years, think any Indian attempt to change the terms of engagement with Pakistan and China is risky. They would add that the risk increases exponentially if India decides to probe both the fronts simultaneously. But that is precisely what Modi appears to be doing — seeking more space with both China and Pakistan at the same time. The idea of a contest on two fronts — with China and Pakistan — has long been a strategic nightmare for India. But some in Delhi insist these two fronts are no longer separate and that India has no option but to come to terms with their fusion — most notably in Kashmir and Balochistan.

The writer is a director, Carnegie India, New Delhi and contributing editor on foreign affairs for ‘The Indian Express’

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    Vidhu
    Aug 20, 2016 at 7:05 am
    Need was there to open chapters of POK and Balochistan. To keep both enemies guessing. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;This leaves free space to bring normalcy in Shrinagar.
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    Arindam Chakrabarty
    Aug 19, 2016 at 6:45 am
    India is presently facing predicament of likely conflicts on two fronts and will have to look to Gita for moral guidence and chankya niti for strategic thinking.lt;br/gt;That India will have to one day face war with stan is inevitable and there is no eascape from,this is not at Indias desire but stan will foist it willy nilly.lt;br/gt;Modi is realist and knows that this a question of when and not whether.lt;br/gt;Security of the nation is primary requirement ,because development is possible only when we survive as a nation,hence preparation of heavily arming the security apparatus and strengething the defenses of the country is essential and therefore budgetery allocation for defense must be increased as per the requirement even if it is athe cost of development,even otherwise as a percentage of GDP Indias defense budgetery allocation is low as compared to the defense budgets of China and stan.lt;br/gt;Secondly the country also needs to identify the internal traitors and fifth columnsist and weed them out.
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      sahebrao
      Aug 20, 2016 at 4:52 am
      OK pm modiji doing...well for foreign strategieslt;br/gt;But why he is not bothered for problems lnside India....the heinous atrocities on dalit across most of the corners of the nation,he seems to be purposely neglecting the issues of all other religion peoples....not taking care of all communities.... this is against the spirit of principles of the Indian consution....they will get a lesson in coming time....jaibharat
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        Ayesha Kabir
        Aug 23, 2016 at 5:36 am
        Very astute observations, from an Indian point of view.
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          Mathews
          Aug 19, 2016 at 2:12 am
          We have a China-Pak combined threat. India, for long ,blinked eyes. Modiji too tried diplomatic routes. Now it is high time we look straight. we must ally with the West or other Asian countries economically and militarily.
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            Balagopal
            Aug 19, 2016 at 1:53 pm
            PM Modi is a futuristic thinker and makes bold strategic moves in relations with stan and China. Unfortunately his team consisting of people like Arun Jaitley are congressmen who thinks in a different way. India needs a big internal clean up to emerge as an economic power in Asia and beyond. That is what China did and is the envy of the western nations. Den Xiao Peng in the 80s was able to change the course of China's history by cutting ties with the old Maoist ploicies. Of course, China is a one party state and he could ruthlessly enforce changes with Peoples Liberation Army. Unfortunately India's political parties are yet to develop leaders with great vision, strategic thinking and determination to move forward without being beholden to the past which is full of failed policies.
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              debabrata
              Aug 19, 2016 at 10:17 am
              We should hit China at its weakest spot....we should push for democratic reforms in China and build world opinion in that direction. Communist China exploits its potion to generate its export surplus..which it pumps into building military might. It is Communist China that is the threat and we should lend support to the democratic aspirations of the Chinese people.
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                debabrata
                Aug 19, 2016 at 7:47 am
                The real problem is Communist China....stan is like a prosute who is willing to sell her self for any one who pays. China wants things to appear nice so it can build up strength...Deng' s philosophy. China shall never accomodate any of India's concerns as long as they do not serve China' s interest. Its time to break this calm and put obstacles on China's path. The best option would be to slowly choke China's trade routes and strangulate its export economy. We should expose China and push for systematic blocade.
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