Sino-Pak ties & regional situation

Recent events in the region outline the imperative need to revisit the regional equation in the South Asia region and in particular the significant role of Sino-Pak relations in this context. It is of some importance for the planners of our Foreign Policy not to ignore this cornerstone of our relations. A measure of introspection here may not be out of place.

With the benefit of hindsight, one can safely surmise that matters took a serious turn in 1998 after India took the precipitate step of exploding a nuclear weapon. This had posed a direct and serious threat to the security of Pakistan, obliging it to follow suit not long afterwards. Bilateral threatening posturing aside, India also started to remove the veil from its hegemonic ambitions. India’s defense Minister, George Fernandez, it may be recalled, had gone so far as to declare that India’s nuclear programme was not merely to counter Pakistan but was actually meant to neutralize the power of China.

India has drawn considerable comfort from the thaw in the disputed Sino-Indian border region. Off and on, Indian government spokesmen have made somewhat bizarre attempts to draw a parallel between the Sino-India border problem and the Jammu and Kashmir dispute with Pakistan. This is hardly a rational approach since the two have little in common. The India-China border dispute is an issue purely of territorial adjustment. The Jammu and Kashmir dispute, on the other hand, relates basically to the denial of fundamental human rights, including the inalienable right of self-determination, of some ten million people – rights that were solemnly pledged to them by the governments of India and Pakistan as well as the international community as represented by the United Nations. Someone ought to point out that, while it may be possible to ‘freeze’ a disputed tract of territory, how can the fundamental rights of some ten million people be frozen?

Meanwhile, events have moved apace. The United States-India nuclear deal, for what it is worth, has brought about what can be seen as a fundamental change in the already precarious strategic balance in the region. The sentiments expressed at the signing ceremony are revealing. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was at his most effusive, when he declared, “We have made history today”. He went on to add that the nuclear deal “makes me confident that there is no limit to Indo-US partnership”. The formal conclusion of what the two leaders hailed as an “historic” deal can be seen as the bedrock of a “new strategic partnership”. This is evidently the start of a new honeymoon! The question that presents itself begging for an answer is: Who is destined to be at the receiving end? An evident corollary of the aforementioned nuclear deal is that – in so far as the sole superpower is concerned – India would henceforth be detached from the South Asian nuclear equation, thereby catapulting it on to the international stage as a nascent regional power. The undeclared objective, of course, is the “containment” of China. This, then, would appear to be the principal objective of the much-vaunted “new strategic partnership”. But there has to be a quid pro quo. In return, India has apparently agreed to shed the fig leaf of the “Panchshila” philosophy – or the five principles of peaceful co-existence in its relations with China.

By concluding this agreement, India has done no more – or no less – than to expose a lack of confidence in its own ability to stand on its own two feet. Borrowing a crutch from a big power by sacrificing its own freedom of maneuver has never yet benefited any country. India’s experience will be no different. On their part, the American planners appear to have developed a linear vision in their approach to developments in the international arena. Over-obsession with the need to prop up India as a bulwark against China will not stand the test of time in the ultimate analysis. China-Pakistan relations have long been a consistent factor of stability in this otherwise volatile region. India’s virtual policy somersault as a result of its new-found “strategic partnership” with the United States is bound to have a destabilizing effect on this part of Asia. This development should logically add to the importance of China-Pakistan friendship as a positive factor in the interest of peace and stability of the region. Should Pakistan allow this partnership to be jeopardized, e.g. due to the goading of the United States, it could upset the already precarious balance that (happily?) exists today. Another U-turn may well turn out to be one too many!

Considering that India has a history of broken pledges, its smaller neighbours cannot but feel threatened by India’s posturing after adherence to the concept of strategic partnership with the United States. In particular, India may now be tempted to flex its muscles and feel free to experiment with the umbrella of the Doctrine of Preemption, as enunciated by former US President George W. Bush. Omens do not look at all reassuring. No wonder the region is bracing for a longish period of angst and tension. Needless to add, Pakistan has a major stake in the stability of South Asia. Its leaders would do well to study the portents very carefully before formulating policy.

While on this subject, it may be added that SAARC as a factor of stability and progress in the region has hardly lived up to its promise. The indecent haste with which decisions were taken about its expansion to encompass areas beyond the geographical frontiers of South Asia is bound to have a profound negative impact on its future progress. History has shown that such groupings give utmost priority to taking tangible measure to strengthen their moorings before venturing into the uncharted territory of expansion. SAARC has opted to put the relevant history on its head. By taking this course, it may well be inviting trouble. China-Pakistan relations represent the one constant in the regional equation that ensures equilibrium. Given this constant, other variables would automatically fall in place. It is imperative, therefore, to ensure that this is not disturbed.

Sino-Pak ties & regional situation

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