December 1, 2020 SD Pradhan in Chanakya Code, India, TOI

S D Pradhan has served as chairman of India’s Joint Intelligence Committee.

While genesis of Pakistan’s nefarious plan to annex J&K can be traced since the partition and of the Dragon to grab its strategic parts since 1950 when it illegally annexed Tibet, the current plan of simultaneous operations on LAC and LoC are of recent origin. Both the countries were making moves to achieve their objectives. Pakistan was using terrorism to put the Indian security forces under pressure and exploiting OIC to get support in its favour. China had been extending its claim line gradually and acquiring territory through salami tactics.

However, the removal of Article 370 in J&K in August 2019 has unnerved both these nations. Soon after this there were high-level consultation between Pakistan and China resulting in the finalisation of their game-plan in J&K and later in Afghanistan. In J&K, they planned for simultaneous pressure on India that would act as a force multiplier. In this context, the visit of General Xu Qiliang Vice Charman of the powerful Central Military Commission to Pakistan is important. The recent 2 nd Sino-Pak Foreign Ministers’ meeting in August 2020 also reveal their plans. An analysis of the statements made during these meetings seen in the backdrop of current operations of the two countries against India reveals the Sino-Pak machinations.

Soon after the Indian decision to remove Article 370 in J&K, a high-level delegation from China headed by General Xu Qiliang visited Pakistan. His mission was to ensure the protecti on of the Chinese interest in the changing security environment. China saw removal of Article 370 as a step that would help India in strengthening its control over the region, which in turn would enable India to create hurdles in its CPEC and other BRI projects in the region. This visit had followed the snub China and Pakistan got at the UNSC closed-door consultation that ended without any statement or outcome. As that reflected lack of international support, the two countries huddled together to formulate alternative plans.

During his visit, Gen Xu held talks with Pakistan Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and met President Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Khan. He also visited Naval headquarters and naval commands in Karachi to assess the security of the Gwadar port.

While the Pak media stated that a MoU was also signed on the defence cooperation, the Chinese side did not mention it, revealing its secret nature. However, the statement certainly reflected that there was some operational understanding between the two countries for working together to deal with India for safeguarding regional stability. The Chinese spokesperson Senior Col. Ren Guokiang said, "Given the complex security situation in the region, the Chinese side is willing to work together with Pakistan side to implement the consensus between the two heads of the state, strengthen strategic communication, enhance mutual trust and improve defence cooperation so as to work together to safeguard regional stability.” The term “Regional stability” meant pushing back the Indian security forces from the strategic positions in J&K.

Significantly, during the Xu’s visit, Pakistan changed its earlier approach of expressing reservations on the CPEC. In 2018, Imran may have expected a huge financial assistance from China for its support but now the circumstances had changed. This time Pakistan supported it in clear terms, in return for the Chinese support at the UN on the 16 th August 2019 on the Kashmir issue. The Pak media stated that ‘on CPEC, which is a vital part of Belt and Road Initiative, both sides expressed their full confidence and agreed for further enhancing bilateral cooperation in the domains of military collaboration’.

While the plan finalised during this visit remains secret, with hind-sight it can be said that a blueprint for operations to pressurise India simultaneously on LoC and LAC could have been drawn, which was implemented this year. Pakistan escalated the firings along the LoC and began pushing terrorists into India to raise the level of terrorism and to facilitate their infiltration a 200-meter-long tunnel was built that involved use of machine. China moved to occupy strategic points in the Eastern Ladakh by bringing stealthily its troops under the garb of a military exercise in Tibet. The current situation appears to be the outcome of that planning.

An analysis of the statement issued this year in August at the 2 nd Round of China-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ Strategic Dialogue is crucial as that reveals a shift in China’s approach on J&K and Afghanistan. Not only strong words to support Pakistan and to criticise the removal of Article 370 were used but it also indicated the Chinese policy on J&K and Afghanistan in clear terms. While in 2018 after the 1 st China-Pak Foreign Ministers’ meet, there was no mention of the J&K issue, this time it stated, “The Chinese side reiterated that the Kashmir issue is a dispute left over from history between India and Pakistan, which is an objective fact, and that the dispute should be resolved peacefully and properly through the UN Charter, relevant Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements. China opposes any unilateral actions that complicate the situation”.

These words reflected the new approach of China as earlier China had been non-committal on J&K. The J&K issue was not mentioned even during Imran Khan’s 2018 visit.

In return, China got assurance for Pakistan’s support to “China on affairs concerning China’s core interests and issues of major concern, such as those related to Taiwan, Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong”. This is the known Pak policy on these issues but for China this had become important in view of growing criticism globally over Dragon’s brutal approach.

Pakistan reiterated its commitment for CPEC that was expressed during the Xu’s visit. However, more forceful words were used this time. The Joint Statement mentioned, “Both sides underscored that China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has entered the new phase of high-quality development, and has played and will continue to play an important role in supporting Pakistan to overcome the impact of COVID-19 and achieve greater development”. For China this mention was necessary to send out a message at a time when serious doubts are expressed about the viability of this project and also of other BRI projects.

On Afghanistan, while retaining the reference to ‘Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process’, this time it also emphasised ‘the importance of an inclusive, broad-based, and comprehensive negotiated agreement for a future political settlement in Afghanistan’. It appears that China is also staking claim in the peace process to ensure its influence over different factions participating in the dialogue process. China had on the 27th July this year convened a joint virtual meeting of Foreign Ministers of the four countries-China, Nepal, Afghanistan and Iran. The meeting had fourfold agenda-steps to contain pandemic, avoid politicisation and stigmatisation of Covid 19 and to support WHO, boost economic recovery and more importantly resumption of BRI infrastructure projects in the region. While the common agenda of the Sino-Pak axis in Afghanistan is to keep India out of that country, this also projected the China intent to emerge as the leader of this group.

Given the convergence of interests of the two countries, the relationship would continue to deepen. China would be providing financial assistance and would exploit Pakistan as a subservient partner. The joint operations in future could assume a more serious dimension as far as Kashmir is concerned. The declaration of Gilgit-Baltistan as the fifth province of Pakistan could have been at the behest of China. The timing would suggest this. In view of the foregoing, pragmatism demands that India should consider both as parts of one adversary for making realistic assessments and formulate strategy to deal with them.

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