Tuesday, August 31, 2010


The surprise is not that the Chinese have done what they have but that, despite ample evidence available in the public domain, we have again been caught napping.

Reports that 11,000 Chinese troops have been deployed in Pakistan-controlled Gilgit-Baltistan area of Kashmir, and the denying of visa by China to the Northern Army Commander who commands troops operating in the state, are not disconnected developments. On the contrary, they are evidently calibrated overt steps that China is beginning to take in furtherance of its overall strategy of projecting its power and protecting its interests in an expanding area of influence.

We should have seen this and more coming, if not earlier, at least when China completed the strategic railway link to Lhasa. With the link enabling quick deployment and maintenance of a large number of troops against India, China has shown increasing aggressiveness about its claims on Arunachal Pradesh and is now revealing its hugely ambitious plans to tap the enormous hydro-electric potential of the Brahmaputra, particularly at the Great Bend before it enters India.

Of greater significance -- and worry for India -- is the 435-mile railway line that China plans to build to Pakistan through Gilgit-Baltistan. That will give China direct access to the Arabian Sea. In Myanmar, a similar railway line and a massive oil and gas pipeline will give China access to the Bay of Bengal. Unlike India, China does not make such huge investments to win friends and then depend on their goodwill. It does so to promote and protect its growing economic interests on its own strength and, increasingly, project its military power in an ever widening arc.

After humiliating India in 1962, China, in utter disregard to India's sensitivities, made Pakistan cede to it the 5800 square kilometer Chaksgam tract in return for support to check and contain India. Now that it is readying to exploit a portion of J&K occupied by Pakistan in pursuit of strategic objectives that are beyond the famous 'string of pearls' around India, it is only logical that it will treat the part with Pakistan as integral to it, and by extension, the part held by India as under dispute.

This is a price any smart nation will willingly pay to a host nation, particularly when the country being adversely affected is a potential adversary, and a toothless one at that. That's probably why, as B Raman tells us, China suddenly started issuing stapled visas to residents of Indian J&K but not to those of POK. The writing should have been seen on the wall then and steps initiated to develop a long-term political and military counter-strategy. Unfortunately, the import of development was, like always, ignored and the matter forgotten after the Foreign Office made a few feeble noises and closed the file, as it were, to be surprised yet again.

PK Singh is of the view that these developments, seen in the light of how China has been hardening its stance towards India in the recent past, indicate that it "is in no mood to accommodate a rising India." R Hariharan believes that the distinct shift in China's policy on J&K has also something to do with the trouble being created by Uighurs in its Xinjiang province and the increased Taliban threat after the Americans leave Afghanistan. Raghavan, pained by China "throwing overboard the heritage of noble tenets and and traditions honed over 5000 years," believes like a true, pacifist Indian that China is doing "greatest harm to itself", while recognising that India's mild but pained response will be "totally lost on the powers-that-be in Bejing."

Former Chief of India's RAW, Vikram Sood, underlines the historical and future importance of Gilgit-Baltistan for China and, after a fine analysis, comes to the the disturbing conclusion that "China is making its presence felt in the sub continent as the next power to reckon with." It goes without saying that if China is 'entering' the sub-continent proper, it is with a definite 'India Plan' in mind. It is also only logical that Pakistan's generals will not host it as a welcome guest and friend in their territory in the manner that they are doing, unless they can extract from it something of great import to them in their ongoing war with India.

Sood is of the opinion that Chinese troops are in Gilgit-Baltistan because Pakistan has sought their support to contain simmering revolt in the area. I find that hard to believe. Which self-respecting nation will invite foreign troops only to quell minor internal rebellion, and that too in an isolated, sparsely populated area in such difficult terrain? To my mind, if Pakistan has already 'given' the area to China by permitting it to deploy as many as 11,000 troops to start with, this cannot be the real reason.

Since Gilgit-Baltistan is going to become the critical funnel through which strategic rail, road and possibly oil and gas links to China will pass in future, it is more in China's interest than Pakistan's to ensure that the area is protected from internal and external attacks. If a hot war breaks out between India and Pakistan in future, India's first strategic objective will probably be to capture at least part of Gilgit-Baltistan so that the bridge between Pakistan and China is broken. If Chinese troops are deployed there, no matter under what pretext, India will think a hundred times before taking them on out of fear of it escalating into a war against China too, with predictable results considering the our limited military power. In fact, China may not even need such a pretext to launch an offensive from Gilgit-Baltistan to do a much worse 'Kargil'.

What this means is that Pakistan has, in one deft stroke, completely secured Gilgit-Baltistan without committing a single additional soldier or gun. This will give its ambitious and aggressive generals that many more military options, China looming large as a directly involved party to keep India pinned down, to wrest at least a part of Kashmir and then get India to make humiliating concessions on the negotiating table.

Some sort of a deal on these lines may well have already been worked out by Pakistan and China. A country of India's size and potential cannot give to any nation the kind of concession and facilities Pakistan has given, is giving and will give to China in pursuit of national security objectives laid down by its military. India and the US may be cosying up. But let us not be under any illusion, like only weaklings are, that the latter will come to India's direct aid if a war does break out.

Kiyani said something very important a few months back. While acknowledging that the threat from India had receded somewhat, he said what interested him was India's military capacity, not its intention. Capacity take decades to build; intention can change overnight once you have the capacity.

China has already built sufficient capacity to walk into India again when it want to. Pakistan has built enough capacity to deter India from fighting a hot war even as it wages an asymmetric one against it. The two together are now creating a combined capacity of a different order altogether.
If we still let things drift, what is a headache now will become nightmare.
Readers may also like to read:
1. Focused China powers ahead of shackled India
2. China and India:winning wars vs defending the country
3. China and India: competition of civilsations
6. Myanmar lost to China: India's encirclement complete
7. Diplomacy cannot counter China's challenge
8. China gets dangerous, but nothing can move India