India's relations with Pakistan and China have been deeply troubled for several decades. With Pakistan, this has been the case since its inception, and with China since the 1960's. We have disputed borders with both countries and have been engaged in four hot wars with the former and one with the latter.
These troubled relationships are not of India's making. Indeed, India has left no stone unturned to establish peaceful and harmonious ties with both countries and towards this end has made many concessions.
Some of the notable concessions made to Pakistan by India may be listed as: payment of Rs. 55 crores in January 1948 on account of division of assets even while under attack by the former in Kashmir, non-pursuit of its claims vis-a-vis Pakistan for no- payment of the pre-partition debt of Rs. 300 crores, giving Pakistan 80 percent of the flows of the Indus basin rivers along with over 62 million pound sterling for building canal works under an overly generous Indus Waters Treaty, returning to Pakistan the 5386 square miles of its territory captured in the 1971 conflict without exacting a quid pro quo, obtaining concurrence of Bangladesh for the return of nearly 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war held in India under the joint India-Bangladesh Command, facilitating Pakistan’s re-entry into the Non Alignment Movement (NAM) in 1979 and into the Commonwealth in 1989, unilaterally according Most Favoured Nation (MFN) treatment to Pakistan, and most recently under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government, giving up its opposition to the European Union’s move to allow duty free entry to Pakistani textile manufactures at the cost of its own textile exports.
As with Pakistan, so too with China India's foreign policy has been excessively conciliatory. Some instances of such an approach that readily comes to mind are the adoption of the ‘One China’ policy and extreme caution exercised in developing ties with Taiwan, ardent promotion for the end of China’s isolation and expansion of its links with the third world, refusal to countenance the possibility of securing a permanent seat in the UN Security Council in the 1950's and insistence that the seat should instead first be given to China, renunciation of India's special rights in Tibet along with the recognition that Tibet is an autonomous part of China, the failure to expose China for its hegemonic tendencies and for its breach of innumerable understandings with us, and the timidity shown in expanding the role of the US, Japan, Australia and India ‘Quad’.
Given the extraordinary moves made by India to befriend Pakistan and China, it is prima facie perplexing that relations with both countries are at such a low ebb. While Pakistan seeks to bleed India though a ‘thousand cuts’ and openly uses terror as an instrument of foreign policy against it, China uses its leverages to undermine India's rise through a variety of means like opposition to our joining the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG), pressure on our borders with Tibet by delaying its settlement and making unwarranted intrusions and claims, adoption of a ‘string of pearls’ strategy on our periphery to constrain us, disregarding our legitimate sovereignty concerns by pushing ahead with China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) etc. To make matters even worse, Pakistan and China have been colluding together against us for decades with the former being nothing short of the latter's proxy to keep India in check. In this context, it should not be forgotten that at the core of the Sino-Pak relationship are their military ties and at the core of their military ties is the support provided by China to Pakistan to enable it to emerge as a nuclear armed state.
In devising appropriate policies towards Pakistan and China, it is imperative to understand their respective motivations and why despite all our endeavours they continue to have an adversarial relationship with us.
In so far as Pakistan is concerned, anti-Indianism is a part of its DNA. Having failed to evolve a firmly rooted and unifying sense of identity, Pakistan has found value in anti-Indianism as a glue to hold the country together. This has metamorphosed into a search for parity with India leading it to become a security state with daunting democratic and development deficits. The Pakistani Establishment, with its strong military core, has consistently promoted the demonization of India as a means to perpetuate itself in power, to justify high levels of defence spending to maintain national unity. In these circumstances, no matter what concessions India makes Pakistan will persist with its machinations against it. Indeed, Parvez Musharraf in a speech in Karachi in April 1999 admitted that even if the Kashmir issue was resolved problems with India would persist.
China's approach to India is the product of its past mindset, whereby its norm is a natural dominion over everything under the heavens. Hence its quest for Super Power status. It has already become a regional hegemon unable to countenance multi-polarity in Asia. This, inevitably, places it on a collision course with India with its Pavlovian urge to undermine the latter's rise by all possible means. In these circumstances, China's antagonism to India, though not as deep rooted as that of Pakistan, is nevertheless fundamental and impossible to erase or even mitigate. The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that it disputes our entire border with Tibet and has claims on Arunachal Pradesh. The latter constitutes a part of China's so called "lost territories" like Taiwan or the South China Sea islands which it is committed to recover. Brutally put, until and unless, India does not kowtow to China on all issues of import to it like the CPEC, give up its strategic autonomy, and meekly accept whatever crumbs it is offered in terms of a border settlement, amicable ties with it are not in the realm of possibility.
In view of the foregoing, India's ties with Pakistan and China have a bleak future. Placatory moves are uncalled for and could even be perceived as signs of weakness. India, instead, needs to pursue hard-headed and sustained policies aimed at undermining these countries to the extent possible and deter them from moving against us.
The Modi government is on the right track by pursuing firmer policies vis-a-vis Pakistan and China than those attempted in the past.
With Pakistan, the free hand given to the Army to respond to cross-border infiltration, the surgical strikes, non-resumption of the composite dialogue process, highlighting of human rights violations committed by Pakistan in Baluchistan and elsewhere as well as in the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), the sustained and vigorous projection of Pakistan as a terrorist state, the endeavours to move towards full utilisation of Indus Waters in accordance with our Treaty rights etc. are steps in the right direction. The following additional measures could also be considered:-
1. The campaign to project Pakistan as a terrorist state may be intensified so that international sanctions are imposed on it, which inter alia, lead to suspension of military and economic assistance as well as targeted actions against the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and military officials by way of travel and financial restrictions.
2. Confidence Building Measures (CBM) like grant of MFN status to Pakistan must be terminated, not only to hurt Pakistan but to carry conviction with the international community about the depth of our concerns on its export of terrorism.
3. An Act of Parliament may be passed declaring Pakistan a terrorist state, and placing restrictions on our grant of any special facilities to it like the MFN, reducing the size and level of our diplomatic presence in that country etc.
4. While speeding up the maximisation of use in India of the Indus Waters Treaty, notice should be served on Pakistan for renegotiation of the Treaty under which we get only 20 percent of the waters while having 40 percent of the catchment area.
5. Pakistan’s fault lines must be ruthlessly exploited in Baluchistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Towards this end we should carry out a relentless campaign against the human rights violations perpetrated by Pakistan in these areas. We should also evolve a considered refugee policy in keeping with our traditions under which we should provide asylum to all who wish to flee from Pakistani tyranny.
6. We should highlight the atrocities being committed by Pakistan in the areas of Jammu & Kashmir under its illegal occupation and reach out to the Kashmiris residing there.
7. We should not hesitate to resort to covert strikes to take out terrorist elements and their supporters in Pakistan.
8. Contingency plans for surgical strikes should be developed expeditiously so that following another 26/11, which is always a possibility, these can be undertaken within a matter of hours.
The Modi government's firmness in dealing with China is reflected in its exemplary handling of the Doklam crisis and its principled and steadfast opposition to the CPEC. Nevertheless, much more needs to be done. The following are some specific moves that could be considered as a part of a get tough policy vis-a-vis China:-
1. Relentless pressure should be maintained for an early settlement of the boundary dispute, and in particular, on the need to evolve a common understanding on the alignment of the Line of Actual Control.
2. Appropriate counters to Chinese pinpricks such as border intrusions, stapled visas, arming of Pakistan, Peoples Liberation Army’s (PLA) presence in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, opposition to India’s quest for membership of the NSG, and blockage in the UN of the listing of Masood Azhar as an international terrorist should be evolved and exercised.
3. The intensification of our ties with the US and military exercises with it on land, air and sea, as well as with other regional players like Japan, Australia etc. must not only be continued but strengthened as a hedging strategy. Additionally, we should encourage these countries to conduct air and land exercises with our forces in J & K and Arunachal Pradesh. The Quad should be invigorated with regular meetings held at a higher level for an all-encompassing dialogue on security, economics, environment and connectivity related issues. Ties with countries on China's periphery that feel similarly threatened by it, like Vietnam, South Korea, Philippines, Indonesia etc., should be assiduously invigorated, including by provision of military assistance.
4. Much as the PM did in his interaction with the Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) parliamentarians recently in Delhi, we need to expose the hegemonic and grasping nature of China in juxtaposition to India's cooperative and non-threatening outlook. This should become a regular feature in all our interactions in the region, and extend also to the other harsh truths about China, like its genocide in Tibet and Sinkiang, the environmental degradation that it has wrought and the plans it has on the use of waters to the detriment of the lower riparians.
5. We should also consider playing the Tibet and Sinkiang cards through the prism of human rights. Disaffected elements who seek asylum may be accorded the same. In order to play the Tibet card, it is imperative to maintain close links with the local Tibetan community, to make known our empathy for them, to gradually distance ourselves from our recognition of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) as a part of China, to prepare for the post Dalai Lama situation, and to ensure that the Karmapa is critical of China's moves against Tibetans.
6. Expression of sympathy for the Uighurs who have been victimized by China in much the same manner as the Tibetans is not only a suitable riposte to its role in Kashmir and CPEC, but it would also immeasurably improve India’s standing in the Muslim community at home and abroad. It will also shatter Pakistan’s efforts to project itself as the champion of Islam the world over.
7. Finally, our economic and commercial links with China need to be reconfigured. These currently work in China's favour and are detrimental to our interests at multiple levels. At the most superficial level, our enormous $50 billion trade deficit with China is a drain on our balance of payments situation and is of major benefit to China. Indeed, in just one year it effectively finances the CPEC! The situation is, however, much more insidious. Cheap imports from China are destroying our industries in many areas ranging from active pharmaceutical ingredients to telecom. They are also resulting in an unhealthy dependency on China. In order to reverse this dangerous trend and wean ourselves away from the opiate of cheap Chinese imports, we need to ensure the success of the ‘Make in India’ campaign. This would most effectively be accomplished by the revival of our traditional pride in swadeshi together with a policy designed to speedily create a much more friendly industrial environment which enables our manufacturers to compete with the best in the world in terms of quality and price. Creation of such an environment will demand adoption of policies which promote innovation, technology transfer, lower input costs, and required infrastructural necessities. These remedial steps should be accompanied by the curbing of Chinese imports through a variety of measures where possible like countervailing duties, non-tariff barriers etc. China's investments and projects in sensitive sectors should also be eschewed.
The contention that such a tough approach towards Pakistan and China will provoke retaliation does not hold good as they are already doing their worst. Furthermore, there are limits on how far China would wish to engage in adventurism vis-a-vis India given the fact that this would set it back by decades in its quest for parity with the US which is its overriding long term objective.
In conclusion, it goes without saying that the proposed more muscular approach towards Pakistan and China must be accompanied by a series of measures designed to rapidly upgrade our comprehensive national power.
(Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the VIF)