Kashmir, China and Pakistan: What India must do to avert a three-way disaster

Modi cannot allow the theatres of conflict to simmer simultaneously.

 |  5-minute read |   18-04-2017
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A disturbing pattern is emerging on the Indian strategic and security front — a restive Kashmir, a poke-you-in-the-eye Pakistan and a seething China that has, only last week, warned India of “consequences” over the Dalai Lama's visit to Arunachal Pradesh.

The three theatres have seen flashpoints off and on in the past and there is nothing unusual about it. However, what is different is that this time they are experiencing flashpoints at the same time. That’s why it is but disturbing.

One cannot recall when was the last time when all the three theatres had become a melting pot for India simultaneously. This kind of situation hadn’t arisen even during the Kargil war 18 years ago as China chose to stay aloof.

India’s relations with its nuclear-armed contiguous neighbours — Pakistan and China, the only two countries India has fought wars with — have reached their lowest ebb in years.

Let us focus on the three theatres, one by one.

China

China is smarting under its perceived humiliation at the hands of India as the Modi government remained defiant on the Dalai Lama issue despite repeated warnings from Beijing and the Tibetan spiritual leader visited Arunachal Pradesh for as many as 10 days and even visited Tawang. The Indian defiance was like a flea in the ear for the Chinese.

But days after the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, China hasn’t yet come out with its counter. However, that doesn’t mean that it won’t ever. Jingoists may interpret this as a rare case of India taming the dragon, but make no mistake, the Chinese counter will come, though it remains to be seen whether it would be an overt or covert entry.

My assessment is that it will be the latter. After all, China perceives itself as a world superpower that has replaced Soviet Union/Russia as the second most powerful nation. And superpowers are supposed to exercise restraint! Besides, Beijing has its plate full with the rapidly deteriorating North Korean plot and the tinderbox situation in Syria, apart from the usual bugbears like the South China Sea issue and rivalries with Japan.

chnfb_031717083208_0_041717093616.jpg One such high degree deniability policy-level change may be stirring the Northeast insurgency cauldron. Photo: Reuters

In view of the delicate situation China finds itself in, it is difficult to imagine that it would come up with an overt response — if it was an option, it would have come by now.

Instead, a covert option, having a high deniability quotient, may be unleashed by China and it could entail major policy-level changes.

One such high degree deniability policy-level change may be stirring the Northeast insurgency cauldron. Decades ago, China used to be pro-actively involved in the training, arming and funding of Northeast insurgents, but it stopped all that for improving its relations with India.

However, in the last few years, China seems to have gone back on its hands-off-with-Northeast policy, albeit in a tacit manner. Several northeastern states' chief ministers, including Arunachal Pradesh CM, have repeatedly made on-record statements accusing China of aiding and abetting the insurgents.

The one way China can get even with India without shedding a drop of blood of its soldiers is by covertly fanning insurgency in the Northeast. This can be one of the “consequences” that China has repeatedly warned India about. It’s a tangible threat that New Delhi can ignore at its own peril.

Pakistan

The Kulbhushan Jadhav episode has demonstrated, yet again, that Pakistan won’t let go of any opportunity to poke India in the eye. To expect positive vibes and genuine peace overtures from Pakistan is as ridiculous as expecting ghosts to produce babies.

All-round support from China has meant there is a spring in the step of top functionaries of Pakistan’s strategic establishment. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has come as a major shot in the arm for Pakistan and made Pakistan upbeat, perhaps like never before.

downloadembed_010417_041717093748.jpg A member of Pakistan Navy is seen at the Gwadar port in Pakistan's Balochistan Province April 12, 2016. Photo: Reuters

Islamabad is gung-ho with the belief that the CPEC is a game changer of a remedy for all the woes of Pakistan, and that China is indeed Aladdin's magical lamp.

Therefore, buoyed by China's support in every possible manner, Pakistan is adopting a care-two-hoots kind of approach towards India. This can only harden in the coming weeks and months. Recent setbacks to India in Kashmir will only embolden Pakistan further.

Kashmir

The Valley has, once again, turned into a melting pot it was seven summers ago. The dismal 7.14 percent voter turnout in the Srinagar Lok Sabha by-election, which National Conference leader and former chief minister Farooq Abdullah won comfortably, was an embarrassing reality check for India.

Thus far, India’s biggest trump card in Jammu and Kashmir has been its strong and vibrant democracy. With the unprecedented and dismal turnout, India has lost even the democracy card.

Clearly, the central government misjudged and misread the Kashmir situation. It should not have held the Lok Sabha and Assembly by-elections at this point of time and deferred them till the winter, so the situation in the Valley could improve substantially.

video-insta_04151704_041717093438.jpg The Army should have exercised restraint. Photo: Screengrab 

The Indian security forces have displayed avoidable knee-jerk reactions — by tying up a Kashmiri youth to an Army Jeep to keep stone pelters at bay. They may have succeeded in their short-term mission, but with this mindless act, they have alienated the local population further. A first information report by the Jammu and Kashmir police against the Army for using a civilian as a human shield has muddied the waters further, as it conveys that governance in Jammu and Kashmir has touched its nadir.

Terror attacks on security forces in Jammu and Kashmir have become alarmingly more frequent. The stone pelters are back in business, even after demonetisation. The turbulence in Kashmir shows that it is going to be a long and tenuous summer.

India’s increasing tensions with China and Pakistan would inevitably impact Jammu and Kashmir all the more negatively. It’s time for the Narendra Modi government to take corrective measures as early as possible and not allow the three theatres to simmer simultaneously. Time is at a premium.

Also read: How Kashmiris are using phone cameras to tell the world of atrocities by security forces

Writer

Rajeev Sharma Rajeev Sharma @kishkindha

The writer is an independent journalist and a strategic analyst.

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