The cold war in S. Asia

The cold war in S. Asia

Rajeev Sharma
Two years after it swept into office with a road-roller majority, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is faced with the most important foreign policy challenge of repairing bilateral ties with the only two neighbors India has fought wars with: Pakistan and China.
The Modi government had hit the ground running in terms of its foreign policy outreach with not only its near neighbors but also a vast swathe of its near abroad. Pakistan was the first and most important target of Prime Minister Modi’s unconventional diplomacy as he had invited all SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation) countries and Mauritius for his swearing in ceremony on April 26, 2014.
All the invited leaders, including Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, had attended the event, thus putting the India-Pakistan diplomatic relations on a new high. And then before he completed one year in office, Modi had visited China. That was months after Chinese President Xi Jinping had paid a historic visit to India (which started off with a visit to Modi’s native state Gujarat) in September 2015.
The impression generated by these high-decibel events in context of India’s bilateral relations with Pakistan and China was that the Modi government accorded the highest priority to its near abroad — and justifiably so. It looked as if India under the new dispensation of Modi would bring in fresh breathtaking changes in its foreign policy at least with two neighbors who are viewed by the Indian man on the street as inimical powers.
But that honeymoon period seems to be over now. The Modi government’s relations with both Pakistan and China are frigid and, in fact, are at their lowest ebb in years, diplomatically speaking.
It looks like that the Modi government has lost the plot when it comes to having normal relations with Pakistan and China. The two Indian neighbors today are looking at New Delhi much more suspiciously than ever before. Both these powers have their individual concerns with regard to the Modi-led India.
Pakistan, for example, has been apprehensive about the Modi-led India when it comes to the current turmoil in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir where Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a junior partner in the ruling coalition.
In fact, the incendiary situation in Kashmir ever since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on July 8 has given lot of diplomatic ammunition to Pakistan. Suddenly, Pakistan which had found itself on the back foot since the Jan. 2-5 terrorist attack on the Indian airbase of Pathankot has now been emboldened and is now taking on India aggressively at all and available diplomatic and political platforms.
A similar deterioration is visible in India’s relations with China. Multiple red flags have popped up in Sino-India relations in past few months. China’s blocking of Indian efforts to bring to justice at the United Nations the terrorists like Hafiz Saeed and others (implying China’s solid support to Pakistan at the expense of India), China coming in the way of India’s full-fledged membership of the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and now recently the expulsion of three Chinese journalists stationed in India — to name a few.
The biggest flashpoint in the India-Pakistan-China triangle was triggered just a few days ago when Chinese and Pakistan border troops for the first time launched joint patrolling of the border connecting Pakistan’s side of Kashmir with Xinjiang province amid reports that over 100 Uighurs have fled the restive region to join Daesh.
This has rung alarm bells in the Indian security and strategic establishments as the development brings forth in real terms India’s biggest security nightmare of Pakistan and China being in a pincer attack formation against India. Never before Pakistan and China had held such joint border patrols in the Pakistani side of Kashmir.
This is really serious and the Indian government is well aware of the huge security implications of Pakistan and China joining hands in case of a war with India. This brings to the fore the biggest diplomatic challenge yet for the Modi-led India to normalize relations with Pakistan and China.
In many ways the current scenario of the Pakistan-China tango constitutes a strategic and security threat to India. The Modi government cannot be unmindful of the implications of the joint Pakistan-China military posturing.
It will be a huge diplomatic embarrassment for the Modi government if the current geopolitical play of events in the India-Pakistan-China triangle were to continue. Clearly, this is a strategic challenge that the Modi government has to deal with in double quick time. The stakes get even loftier considering the fact all the three Asian powers are declared nuclear weapon states.
It will be in the interest of larger world peace that this trinity doesn’t get locked in a military confrontation. From the perspective of Pakistan and China, the onus lies on India.
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