By M D Nalapat
PLA has warned Beijing that diluting stance on Doklam would embolden other countries.
Analysts tracking developments within the China-Pakistan alliance of the two militaries warn that the Pakistan side is seeking to move the relationship “from the strategic to the tactical”. GHQ Rawalpindi’s expectation is that in future, field operations will take place in a coordinated manner, and both sides will participate in actions undertaken on the initiative of any of the partners. The analysts say that the intention of GHQ Rawalpindi is to make the China-Pakistan military alliance “acquire the core characteristic of NATO, which is that a conflict involving one of the parties will inevitably bring in the other”. There has been a deepening rift with the United States—caused by the unwillingness of Washington to sign off on GHQ-ISI plans for destabilisation of Afghanistan and India—that has brought the Pakistan army closer to the PLA, which has adopted a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy towards the several subversive activities of the Pakistan army in its neighbouring states, including Iran, Afghanistan and India. Especially during the final two years of the Barack Obama administration, the Pentagon has repeatedly cautioned GHQ Rawalpindi not to continue with its proxy wars against India and Afghanistan, even while adopting a policy of “wilful blindness” towards activities targeting Iran. Very quietly and without any direct public acknowledgement of the fact, the generals in Islamabad have moved Pakistan into the anti-Shia military alliance led (and funded) by King Salman of Saudi Arabia. While the alliance speaks of countering Iran, in actual fact, it is directed against any effort by the Shias to acquire parity with the Sunnis (including the Wahhabi layer). The judicial coup against Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was caused by the former Premier’s aversion to some of the “special operations” being conducted in Iran, Afghanistan and India by GHQ-ISI. It is expected that his successors will once again adopt the policy urged on the civilian leadership by the military, which is to “see, speak and hear no evil”, i.e., the new leaders should not seek to know about—much less block—ISI special operations cleared by GHQ.
PLA’S NEOCON WING
The neo-conservatives in the United States, including the closet neo-conservatives clustered around Hillary Clinton, favoured the use of force and believed in establishing the dominance of the US across regions through use of the military. Within the PLA, especially during the past nine years, there has developed what may be termed a “neocon” wing that leans towards a resort to force and considers it necessary that China should establish not just primacy as now, but US-style dominance over South, South-East and East Asia, through the use and demonstration of military superiority. While North Korea has succeeded in diverting the attention of Japan in a manner favourable to China, the Pakistan army has fallen behind in ensuring that India gets similarly diverted away from its northern neighbour. Hence, the persistence with which “neocon” elements in the PLA have been encouraged by GHQ Rawalpindi to insist on completion of a “Road to Nowhere” in the Doklam area bordering Sikkim. The only value that such a road would have would be to serve as a jumping off point for a land attack on India in the eastern sector, which is why the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is emphatic that it should not get completed.
Given the efforts of GHQ Rawalpindi to put in place a NATO-style mutual security alliance with Pakistan, it is logical to assume that such a road may get used in future, should India-Pakistan relations deteriorate to the point where a conflict becomes inevitable, and China fall into the mutual alliance trap set for it by GHQ. Placing the responsibility for the initiation of a conflict with India in the hands of the generals in Islamabad would be to give a flamethrower to an arsonist, and would be deadly to Chinese national interest, but this is precisely what the Pak-oriented brass in the PLA is pushing for.
Admittedly, the PLA has found the Pakistan military to be a valuable storehouse of information about US military tactics and equipment. Decades of closeness between the Pentagon and GHQ Rawalpindi has ensured that there still remains a residual pro-Pakistan group within the defence and security establishment in Washington that shares Islamabad’s antipathy towards India. Training with the Pakistan army has been helpful in giving the PLA insights into what they may face, should there be a face-off in future over Taiwan or Korea with the US military, especially the Navy and the Air Force, both wings of which have interacted extensively with their Pakistani counterparts. GHQ Rawalpindi has allowed their Chinese counterparts to gain access to “the entire treasure trove of secrets” that have been accumulated during the years when it was the US and Pakistan that were partners in arms, especially during the eight years when George W. Bush was President and Pervez Musharraf was the supremo in Islamabad. Although he has several times sought to find favour with Beijing, that capital has always seen Musharraf as being too close to the US, especially in view of the fact that practically his entire family has long been residing in that country. The present Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan, General Q.J. Bajwa, enjoys a warm rapport with Beijing, even more than his predecessor Raheel Sharif, who is being urged to soon jump into the political arena as a proxy for the military.
EAGER FOR CONFLICT
GHQ Rawalpindi has convinced many within the PLA leadership that India is “firmly in the US camp” and should therefore be regarded as a rival, if not yet a foe. Hence, the PLA calculation that a strong stand against India’s actions in Doklam would signal to the region that it is China, and not India, that holds the aces. This, it is expected, will lead to a falling of the dominoes such that the other countries in South Asia will move into as close a relationship with China as Pakistan already has. The PLA has warned the leadership in Beijing that diluting their stance now on Doklam would have an immediate impact on all the countries with which Beijing has territorial claims, and embolden them to follow “the India example, rather than the Philippines example”. That country has refrained from emphasising its victory over China in the International Tribunal over the South China Sea matter, and under President Rodrigo Duterte has become as close to Beijing as Pakistan is, echoing the views of the Chinese side in international fora, most recently during the ASEAN meeting. Success through military or diplomatic means in getting India to reverse its insistence (that the rights of Bhutan should be given priority) would serve as a lesson to all other countries in South and Southeast Asia that it would be futile to seek to challenge China. Just as the US neocons were eager for conflict, so are those of a similar mindset in the PLA. However, it remains to be seen if President Xi Jinping will put at risk friendly relations with India to indulge the risk-takers in the Central Military Commission at Beijing. The Chinese leadership is aware that India presents a huge market for Chinese infrastructure, energy and telecom companies. The latter, especially, require access to the Indian market in order to take on the likes of Apple and Google in future, as they are intending to do. Even a short war would entail the invocation of the Enemy Property Act against Chinese assets in India, most likely leading to their confiscation. That would be a very steep price to pay for the privilege of building a few hundred metres more of motorable road in the Chumbi wilderness. However, from the viewpoint of GHQ Rawalpindi, their interest (as indeed, those of Japan, South Korea, the EU and the US, all of which are competing with China in the Indian market) lies in a conflict between Delhi and Beijing that could sour commercial and other ties between the two most consequential capitals of Asia for over a generation.
GHQ POISONING RELATIONS
Because of the adoption by the Chinese side of several of the Pakistan army perceptions about India, a series of Chinese actions have taken place that have had a harmful effect on Sino-Indian relations. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a case in point. By initiating such a road within Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), Beijing is implicitly legitimising Pakistan as the country to which Kashmir belongs, else how can an officially named “China-Pakistan” corridor pass through PoK? The Chinese side, if it had any sense of the mood in Delhi now that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in charge, could at the least have called the segment within PoK the “Kashmir link road” and begun the actual CPEC at the Pakistan border, rather than at the Kashmir border. Similarly, the Belt and Road Initiative conference that took place in May in Beijing in effect became a CPEC conference, with even the Pakistan army nominees in charge of PoK attending. Had an official Indian representative attended side by side with PoK officials, that would have given legitimacy to Pakistan’s illegal occupation of that territory. Similarly, the repeated blocking of India’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group has convinced many in Delhi that Beijing does not regard India as an equal, despite its words and statements to the contrary. GHQ Rawalpindi is moving ahead in its mission of poisoning relations between Delhi and Beijing for at least a generation more, by ensuring that the PLA launch a war against Indian forces. Such a war would quickly expand into the skies and the seas. The US, Japan and Australia could then expand their naval Freedom of Navigation patrols in the South China sea, and this time, they would be joined by India. An attack on India would finally ensure that the block placed by the Lutyens Zone over the Modi government signing the three Defense Foundation Agreements with the US gets broken. The lesson of such a war, that China is now back in the era of Mao and is ready and willing to use force whenever a situation arises, would bring ASEAN closer to India and the US, thereby de facto forming an Asian NATO that would commit its members to collective action, should any of them get attacked by a power outside the alliance. In other words, the effect would be the reverse of what GHQ and the PLA neocons are forecasting.
IGNORE BAD ADVICE
China would lose both security as well as a lucrative market, should the PLA accept the advice of its Pakistani partners and launch an attack on Indian positions at Doklam. A better path for both India and China would be for India to participate in the Belt & Road Initiative (once the mislabelling of the road in Kashmir as part of the China-Pakistan corridor gets corrected) and for China to sponsor India’s entry into the NSG. A clear undertaking can be given by both sides that neither will, in future, cross established boundaries, and that across the Line of Actual Control, there will be a standstill situation until the border gets permanently demarcated. That probing patrols across the lines will cease. The Chinese side can announce a review of the Doklam road project pending discussions with Bhutan and India. Completing that road is hardly worth a conflict between two countries that have much to gain from peace and much more to lose through war. Prime Minister Modi has shown that he is the strongest PM India has had since Jawaharlal Nehru. The latter transformed India, and Modi is expected to do the same in the years ahead. As for Xi Jinping, he is the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. It is likely that he will remain popular even after five more years as Chinese Communist Party General Secretary and become Chairman of the CCP in 2022, the way Mao was during his lifetime. Two such strong leaders are very capable of performing a task much more difficult than going to war, which is keeping the peace between the two most populous countries on the planet. Hopefully, the September BRICS summit at Xiamen will witness a meeting of minds between Xi and Modi that keeps the peace and ensures that the focus be on development, rather than war. The snares and games of GHQ Rawalpindi are as toxic to China as to India, and must fail.