China, Pakistan's Strategic Kashmir Game

29 June 2015
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Arun Joshi

Jammu: BEIJING'S move at the UN blocking action against Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, one of the masterminds of 26-11, should be read as a small piece in the larger game that China and Pakistan are playing in South Asia, particularly Jammu and Kashmir. By vetoing action against Pakistan on the release of Lakhvi, China has shown with an assertive demonstration that for it Pakistan matters more in its geo-strategic scheme of things in South Asia than even the growth of radical Islam and terrorism in its own backyard Xinjiang. It's not that China is oblivious of dangers of terrorism, but it is playing a bigger game where it probably thinks that radicalism and terrorism would not hurt it. History is replete with the facts that terrorism doesn't know any boundaries. If the terrorists could strike at the geographically and militarily invincible America in September 2001, they would not spare anyone. China knows it but for now sees larger gains through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CEPC); hence its anxiety to please Pakistan. Before and after 26-11 and before and after his arrest, Lakhvi, the top-most man in Lashkar-e-Toiba hierarchy, perhaps second only to the founder of the pan-Islamic terror group's founder Hafiz Sayeed, had been involved in drafting strategies to up the ante in Kashmir. A series of attacks that took place in 2000 and subsequent years in Kashmir, including the suicide attack on the legislative Assembly in October 2001, the massacre of soldiers and their wives and children in Kaluchak near Jammu in May 2002, had his and the LeT stamp all over. This radical group also put in place a new strategy of recruiting the educated youth from well-off families in Kashmir. China has two clear objectives in stalling the move at the UN against Lakhvi. One, it is trying to keep Pakistan in good humour because of its larger objectives of reaching Gwadar port in Baluchistan, Pakistan. The status that CEPC would confer on China as an economic superpower with an easy access to Arabian sea would add to its standing internationally. It has already frayed many nerves by laying its claim on the South China sea, where it is reclaiming the reefs and even challenging the US. This is one part of the story. Secondly, China is co-opting Kashmir in its geo-strategic ambitions. Pakistan has willingly accepted this unspoken suzerainty over Kashmir. A beginning in the recent past was made when China refused regular visas to the residents of Jammu and Kashmir. It would give only stapled visas to the J&K residents. In the case of the North-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, it asserted its claim that the land belonged to China; for J&K, it joined the narrative that this Himalayan state divided between India and Pakistan was a disputed territory. In 2009, then Chinese assistant minister for foreign affairs in charge of Asian affairs, Hu Zhengyue had told journalists in Beijing, 'Kashmir is an issue that has been long-standing left from history. The issue touches the bilateral relations between the relevant countries (India and Pakistan). As a friend, China will be happy if we can play a constructive role in resolving the issue.' What followed next was not surprising. Kashmiri separatists - both factions of the Hurriyat Conference led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq respectively - hailed the statement and urged China to play its role in resolving the K-issue. They made China a party to what they call 'K-dispute.' Before that, they were eager to see the US play the mediatory role in resolving the Kashmir issue. The geo-political game had started changing, but the Indian leadership missed the point. Now it is finding that costs have become dearer. The hints as to what kind of policy China would be adopting vis-à-vis Kashmir were too visible to be ignored. The biggest snub before this Lakhvi episode came when China refused to clarify the Line of Actual Control LAC). The LAC also passes through Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir and this cold desert region has witnessed a series of stand-offs between Chinese and Indian troops, primarily because of the PLA troops' intrusion into the Indian side of the LAC. These intrusions embarrassed New Delhi at critical junctures in the recent years. New Delhi's meek theory that China and India had different perceptions about the LAC that's why there were 'transgressions' (not intrusions) by the PLA troops. This was a poor diplomacy smacking of weaknesses in the foreign policy strategy. Beyond these incidents, Pakistan's narrative is changing. While rejecting Indian objections to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor on the ground that it passes through the 'disputed areas,' Pakistan's Finance Minister Isshfaq Dar told the National Assembly on June 23, ' What disputed territory. Gilgit-Baltistan is part of Pakistan. Azad Kashmir is part of Pakistan.' This audacity and arrogance in tone and tenor comes straightway from Beijing's unqualified support to Pakistan. This has also something to do with the internal situation in Jammu and Kashmir, where the PDP-BJP coalition' government's failure to address the basic issues of governance has widened the space for the radical Islam and promoted the dangerous narratives of the regional, sub-regional and religious divide. This sense of overconfidence was further exhibited by Pakistan at Geneva. Pakistan's mission at Geneva said that: 'Kashmir is an internationally recognised dispute and it should be settled by granting the right to self-determination to the people of the region.' It may be read as a contradiction in Pakistan's stand at home and abroad. That would be a mistake. Now, when Pakistan talks about dispute, it relates only to the part that is with India. The whole of the state of Jammu and Kashmir had acceded to India, including Gilgit Baltistan, and the territory that Pakistan occupies and calls 'Azad Kashmir.' Besides, the areas that it has gifted to China to construct Karokaram highway, known as N-35 in Pakistan, are also part of the undivided J&K, which legally has been acceded to India. The Karakoram highway is being upgraded. Both neighbours have ignored Indian objections. As it is clear now, things would change. China and Pakistan would draw closer to each other. India would be squeezed in Jammu and Kashmir. Given the current geo-strategic games of China and Pakistan, no other conclusion can be drawn.