China Watch

The China factor in Pakistan: Options before India

Among China’s major reasons for blocking moves to blacklist Azhar at the UN is the growing realization in Beijing that, if it condemns and blacklists the man as a terrorist, it would  have a ripple effect on China-Pakistan relations, particularly on the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Project, writes Pema Tseten Lachungpa for South Asia Monitor
Mar 12, 2019
After the Pulwama attack in which 40 Indian security personnel were killed when a local radicalized Kashmiri youth drove an IED packed vehicle into a police bus, the terrorism story and Pakistan again came into the public discourse because the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which claimed responsibility for the attack, is a terror group which has its base in Pakistan. Its primary motive lies in separating Kashmir from India and merging it with Pakistan.
 
However, within this scenario, New Delhi has failed to look at the other side, at  China. The JeM is responsible not only for the Pulwama attack but also  for many such attacks, including the 2001 attack on Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) legislative assembly, 2001 Indian Parliament attack, 2016 Pathankot attack and the  2016 Uri attack.
 
India mounted a diplomatic offensive to isolate Pakistan in the international community for its support to terror groups and cross-border terrorism through coercive diplomacy, describing Pakistan as host to the “Ivy League of Terrorism” at the United Nations, withdrawing most favoured nation status and so on. Despite such measures, terror attacks have not diminished. Now, the question is, why are there rising incidents of attacks by groups like JeM and can India find a solution to this problem?
 
One reason that groups like JeM operate from Pakistan and attack India is the China factor. Beijing has continuously put on hold any proposals at the United Nations to blacklist JeM and its chief, Masood Azhar. China’s attitude has periodically fragmented India’s approach in dealing with terrorism. While dissecting China’s diplomatic support for Pakistan-based terror groups there are multi-faceted factors at play which directly or indirectly have constrained New Delhi’s posture viz-a viz Pakistan and in dealing with the issue of terrorism.
 
Among China’s major reasons for blocking moves to blacklist Azhar at the UN is the growing realization in Beijing that, if it condemns and blacklists the man as a terrorist, it would  have a ripple effect on China-Pakistan relations, particularly on the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Project.
 
Beijing believes that by condemning them, anti-Indian militant groups like the JeM might turn against the Pakistani state, endangering their massive investments and development projects. Given Beijing’s staunchly anti-Islamic policies against the Uighurs, there might be a rise in terror incidents, particularly when groups like Al Qaeda and East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) oppose Beijing on this.
 
The second underlying factor in Beijing’s support for Pakistan-based Azhar could be the long persistent India-China rivalry. India and China have been competing in the field of economic, security and geopolitical interests within and outside the region. In this respect, both countries look for options in maximizing their interest, thereby placing impediments to the rise of the rival. Therefore, Beijing has used the option of supporting JeM as leverage in achieving their objective.
 
Moreover, given the deteriorating security situation on India’s western sector, there are greater chances for China in its offensive game play in the other sector, in the north and eastern sections of India.
 
In Jammu and Kashmir, fatalities have remained above the critical high intensity threshold, with more than 475 terrorist killed and more than 1700 terror attacks between 2015 and 2018. In the event of such attacks, the right usage of coercive diplomacy and diplomatic manoeuvering, the justification to revenge such attacks can be achieved viz-a viz Pakistan. However, in the long run, this sort of strategy can backfire, like recently when the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), despite condemning the Pulwama attack, adopted a resolution on J&K condemning atrocities and human right violations by Indian security forces in the state.
 
Keeping the rise of cross-border terror activity in J&K, the need is to bring China into the game has been closely examined within India’s national security framework. The coopting of China in solving cross-border terror attacks will not only ease incidents of terror, but will also strengthen bilateral relations between India and China.
 
How New Delhi could start the initiative is a question that needs significant thought. Among India’s options to get Beijing to change its course of action could be the Taiwan card. Although India has formally recognized People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the legitimate government of mainland China, New Delhi has sought a gradual development of better commercial, cultural and scientific cooperation with Taiwan albeit while ruling out the possibility of establishing formal diplomatic relations. Indeed, Taiwan views India’s rise as a counter balance to the PRC’s dominance in the region. India can always claim that just like China regards Taiwan as a breakaway territory and is opposed to any attempted diplomatic relations, similarly Beijing should apply the principal of non-interference and sovereignty in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
 
The second best option could be to join China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, which Beijing always wanted. India has rejected the idea of joining the OBOR as the CPEC traverses Pakistan Occupied Kashmi r- a territory claimed by India.
 
It is because Beijing is not respecting the sovereignty of countries involved that New Delhi did not join the initiative. If India joins OBOR, there are chances that China may acquiesce to New Delhi’s wishes in taking a tough stand on cross-border terrorism. It could also bring in a whole new dimension to the bilateral partnership by contributing to the economic development, connectivity and integration of the entire region.
 
The third factor could be in the form of providing covert support to the Uighur Muslim movement in the Xinjiang autonomous region in China. Uighurs, a Turkic minority ethnic group who make up the largest group in the region, have faced series of state-sponsored tension and discrimination from the Han Chinese either through promoting Chinese cultural unity or punishing expressions of Uighur identity. Such action has led to separatist terrorism movement. However, in recent years, Beijing has initiated many new policies in curtailing such movements, despite little success.
 
The Indian national security community can take the option of supporting such movements, just like Beijing had done in 1980s, when they provided covert support in the form of training and weapons to insurgent groups in northeastern India. However, the chance of success is low, as India has never done such activities in the past. Also, the ripple effects are very dangerous, considering India growing position in the international arena.
 
India is now at crossroads, to devise an impactful strategy and acting to solve the knotty issue. The options suggested could provide a solution to the problem of countering cross-border terrorism between India and Pakistan. However, the options are not guaranteed to get a positive outcome since there might be counter offensive. Trying this option on Beijing won’t be a safe ride particularly when China is very good at playing the ‘offensive game’ through all available resources at its disposal. Despite this dilemma, these options can bring some form of tangible results to the India-Pakistan cross-border terrorism rhetoric, particularly under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s "New India", driven as it is by pragmatic and offensive strategies in the national security discourse.
 
(The author is a PhD Scholar, International Relations Department, Sikkim University. He can be contacted at pematseten5@gmail.com)

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