uring past six decades and more of the history of Kashmir issue, China, by and large, maintained somewhat dubious neutrality, and left stakeholders guessing how she looked at this festering South Asian sore. Despite her close, and more often clandestine relationship with Pakistan, of which late Z.A. Bhutto and the then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were principal architects, China did not openly take sides in Kashmir dispute, and at best, confined to pontification, which was not really hurtful either. Long simmering unrest in Tibet and sledgehammer policy of the erstwhile Soviet Union partially deterred her from taking overtly partisan view of Kashmir issue. Even during China’s incursions into our northeastern border in 1971, Kashmir issue did not figure prominently in the entire spectrum of Sino-Indian hostilities.
But now Beijing’s South Asian think-tank seems to have reversed or at least modified its traditional policy of feigned neutrality. It might seek to bring Kashmir into focus. Beijing’s re-think appears to be induced by dwindling credibility of American claim to real superpowerdom. Resurgence and volte-face of Taliban in Afghanistan and increasing casualties of combined forces in Af-Pak war zone have emboldened Beijing to claim crucial position of an arbiter of South Asian logjams.
Evidently, in its perception of regional strategy has undergone some change, which necessitates policy readjustment. This is apart from known history of big power rivalries. Sequence of events shaping in the region predicts calculated move towards some bizarre purpose.
At a time when, under US pressure, and visible threat to the power base of traditional feudal-military ruling elite, Pakistan has intensified military operations in the Mahsud stronghold of South Waziristan, China suddenly increased patrolling and surveillance activity along our North-Eastern border. Additionally, Beijing’s renewed controversy over Arunachal Pradesh to the extent of protesting against Prime Minister’s official visit to the State. Is this all meant to assure Islamabad that Indian troops would be pinned down on eastern border to relieve Pakistan of pressure from Indian military build-up along Indo-Pak border. Is it to boost her morale?
China let her border forces, deployed along Ladakh-Tibet border. make clandestine and provocative forays into Indian territory in Ladakh sector, airdrop some leaflets proffering claim to vast border tracts in Ladakh, and then her soldiers avoiding detection by Indian border post, sneaking into our territory and besmearing stones and rocks with red colour and some Chinese slogans. What could be the motive behind the low-key hostile tactics?
Then there came the news of Chinese embassy issuing visa to Kashmiris on a separate sheet of paper attached to the passport of the applicant. This is something unusual though not unique and indirectly conveys a message that China regards Kashmir a disputed territory, and hence not an integral part of the Indian Union. Kashmir separatists are likely to draw some comfort from that.
These antics sparked the presumption that in China’s view she must play more active role in regional strategy in South Asian region. In the process China could take new position on one of the ticklish issues eluding an amicable solution, viz. Kashmir.
China’s invitation to Mirwaiz Umar Farooq of the Hurriyat has to be seen in the backdrop of this perception. To think that all these moves of Beijing are in retaliation to New Delhi’s “provocative” stance like allowing Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal or the Prime Minister himself visiting the state, is to tell only the half truth.
Even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, China was nursing the ambition of bossism in Asian continent. In post-Soviet era, China seriously concentrated on that ambition. 1971 border attack on India was a calculated move to pin down India and convey a message to the world that it was China and not India that had to be reckoned with.
China expanded her economy fast. Authoritarian regimes have an edge over the slow moving monster called democracy in getting things done fast. This was America’s new experience with a political arrangement to which it would not see eye to eye. Two factors contributed to America refining her relations with China after the exit of Russia from the regional scene. First is America’s interaction with fast growing and productive Chinese economy that has created a large commercial constituency for the latter in American civil society. The second is deepening of crisis in Afghanistan-Pakistan region and the roguish stance of Iran in which China has been playing very calculated role.
In the context of geo-strategic role of two major countries of Asia, namely China and India, the crucial question is how deftly they handle the Islamic World, particularly in the light of the fact that Islamic countries hold the key to major sources of energy in the region. Both China and India are energy hungry, both are fast developing economies and both are the most populated countries of the world.
China has adopted two-pronged diplomacy in her dealings with the Muslim world. The first is that of befriending Pakistan, and building strategic cooperation with her to the discomfiture of India. These entail military, economic, technological and political support to the extent of raising her to the level of nuclear power in South Asia, and helping her attain parity with her adversarial neighbour. In pursuing this policy China not only severely impedes India’s military and economic growth but also helps western countries, particularly the United States, in tarnishing the image of India in the context of Kashmir issue. Knowing well that the west is in no mood of showing any relent in castigating India on some aspects of Kashmir question, China finds no need for any overt commitment to the agenda of Kashmir separatists.
Asia Times of 21 Nov. 2009 observed:
“By engaging in backing Pakistan’s military exclusively against India while ignoring its Taliban threat in Af-Pak, Beijing indirectly finds itself injecting strength into the sub-Indian regional jihadi web. By supplying Pakistan with missile technology and weapons capable of escalating the military build-up with India, China would be encouraging both nuclear countries to expand their strategic armament and reduce their diplomatic attempt to reach solutions to their bilateral crisis. By giving weapons aimed at India, China is lessening Islamabad’s focus on Taliban and jihadi organizations.”
The second facet of China’s Muslim world oriented diplomacy is of strategic arms support to the “confrontational axis” (known as al-Mum’anaa in Arabic) including the Iranian – Syrian-Sudanese regimes. It is to strengthen the two large trees of global jihadi web directly and indirectly. Iranian regime is Khumeinist-jihadist and Teheran and Damascus strategically support Hezbollah, a Khumeinist- jihadist organization.
Iran, Syria and Hezbollah support Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad
(PIJ), both of them being Salafi jihadis. Iran and Hezbollah cooperate with Sudanese Salafi regime, with ties to international jihadi organizations in and beyond Africa. Eventually China’s strategic arming of the “confrontational axis” ends up backing international jihadism including the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
This being the situation, and in the light of above mentioned two strong reasons, Washington has been increasingly feeling the need of camaraderie with Beijing to cope with the crisis in US economy. Any thinking of this sort would naturally preclude the scope for “containment “strategy towards China. In the joint statement issued in Beijing at the conclusion of Obama’s recent visit, the US conceded China a role in peace strategies in South Asia with specific reference to India and Pakistan. India did not fit well in their chemistry. Sword-rattling of China in anticipation of the visit of the US President was essentially to convince the US that domineering position in Asia surely rested with China and not neither with India not Russia.
India’s guarded reaction to the insinuating act of the US President, something that brings her down to the level of sub-regional power, found expression in the words of the Prime Minister while replying to the questions of media persons in Washington. He said that drawing comparison between the growth rates of economy of the countries under discussion had to be grounded on social-political values with universal acceptability.
Nevertheless, observers say that sections of foreign office in Washington are somewhat skeptical, and their backtracking on Obama’s statement has begun. As soon as Obama flew out of Beijing his aids began explaining the statement. Under Secretary for political affairs, William Jones, speaking to media persons after his lecture at the Carnegie Endowment said in the context of Sino-US statement:
“The US is interested in pursuing the best and healthiest possible partnership with China. But that does not come at the expense of other increasingly important partnerships, particularly our relationship with India”. He advised them “not to read too much between the lines.”
Interestingly, Obama compensated the omission of India in the Asia Pacific statement by what he said in his speech delivered at Tokyo en route to China.
“India today is a rising and responsible global power in Asia. Indian leadership is expanding prosperity and the security across the region. And the US welcomes and encourages India’s leadership role in helping to shape the rise of a stable, peaceful and prosperous Asia. Beyond Asia, as the world’s largest multiethnic democracy, as one of the world’s fastest growing economies and as a member of G-20, India will play a pivotal role in meeting many challenges we face today. And this includes very top economic priority creating good jobs with good wages for the American people.”
This real-politick, chilling in exposition but factually true in substance conveys confidence as well as diffidence of Obama administration. The US is hitherto used to deal with either a militarily equal power or an ideologically contesting adversary. But handling deftly the world economic power with equally strong thrust of real-politick muscle has made Obama swing from one stand to another. All this boils down to the well-known political adage that “there are no permanent friends or foes; there are only permanent interests.” This is what Security Adviser James Jones means by saying that “public statements are not necessarily policy statements.”
Mirwaiz’s China sojourn
China’s invitation to the Kashmir leader (Mirwaiz) has to be evaluated in a much broader perspective than just the tight frame of Kashmir separatist agenda. Hopefully Mirwaiz will be stepping on the red carpet as he walks down the ramp at Beijing airport. The bonhomie will be tempting and he will find himself elevated to the status of an important person for his hosts.
He has a religion-oriented mission with ‘definite’ as well as ‘indefinite’ features. Definite features include doing away with the status quo in Kashmir, withdrawal of Indian army from the state and secession of the state from Indian Union. The prime mover of indefinite feature is assessing the will of the people through plebiscite to vote for one of the three options viz. India, Pakistan and independence. Obviously, in Beijing, Mirwaiz will float only the definite part of his mission eschewing its indefinite part because that does not suit the Chinese in any case. However, since he has in his statement said that China is a stakeholder, the Chinese may impress upon him to talk in terms of four and not only three stakeholders in Kashmir. Expectedly, he will receive patient hearing for that part of his story. Even some sort of encouragement may be forthcoming. Be that what it may, is he going to open a debate with his Chinese hosts about the need for freedom of Kashmiris on religious count?
Since Mirwaiz is a Muslim religious leader and he rushes to the OIC meets to plead his religious cause before the World Muslim leadership, he is expected to raise the issue of independence of Xingjian and liberation of nearly thirty millions of Sunni Muslim Uighurs of China.
Independence of a small hilly area (Kashmir) surrounded by three major actors of whom two are among major world powers, and with no outlet to the maritime routes. seems a very weird idea. Its fragile economy, geographical construct and absence of industrial base are temptations too strong to be resisted by the neighbouring countries. Nehru once said that he would prefer to hand over Kashmir on a platter to Pakistan rather than make it an independent state. It is only the sham states like the one under discussion that ultimately turn into hotbeds of international intrigues and conspiracies.
Mirwaiz’s statement came just a day after President Obama pontificated in Beijing that China had a role in the political affairs of South Asia, and dragged India-Pakistan relationship into the vortex of South Asia’s search for peace
We recollect that only a couple of days prior to the announcement, Mirwaiz had met with the Pakistani Ambassador in New Delhi. Mirwaiz’s statement that China has a role in Kashmir dispute is the reverberation of Obama’s subtle and diplomatic pronouncement in Beijing.
Recently a large delegation of the US officials headed by the Secretary of State with the inclusion of CIA Director General was on official tour in Islamabad. Before we reflect on this subject, it needs to be made clear that in zeroing in on Mahsud stronghold in South Waziristan, the ruling PPP in Pakistan wanted also to avenge the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Late Baitullah Mahsud, killed in a drone attack, had claimed the assassination of Benazir just three days after the fateful event took place. Prior to launching attack on South Waziristan, a number of tribal chiefs in the area, patent rivals of Mahsud tribe, had been won over or neutralized through money power. Mahsud’s replacement Hakimullah is reported to have escaped to Afghanistan.
Islamabad projected this piece of success as its major contribution to America’s war on terrorism. It felt emboldened to crystallize its stand by focusing on two pre-requisites for continuing hot pursuit of withdrawing Pakistani and Afghan Taliban in the region. One was that any scheme of forming a ruling alliance between President Karzai and the moderate Taliban in Afghanistan would be acceptable to Pakistan only if Indian role in Afghanistan in whatever shape was rolled back. The second condition was that normalcy in the region would never take place as long as Kashmir issue was not solved.
Washington’s think tanks are fairly knowledgeable on centuries-old history of Indo-Afghan cultural and political relations. A vast majority of Afghans had condemned destruction of 2500-year-old Buddha statue at Bamiyan by the Taliban in 1999. Afghanistan had overtly and covertly supported the freedom struggle of Indian Congress leaders against the British colonial rule at a time when Pakistan was not yet born. There is no possibility of India either severing age-old relations with Afghanistan or putting a moratorium on them just because the US would oblige Pakistan for being partner in war against terrorism.
The US, by its own admission, is also aware that two attacks made on Indian embassy in Kabul this year were the handiwork of Pakistani intelligence agency. The purpose was to scare away Indian technicians, engineers and skilled manpower from completing developmental projects in Afghanistan. The US observers in Afghanistan are also aware that India’s help to Afghanistan is restricted to building of roads, bridges, hospitals and infrastructure, and that New Delhi avoids involvement in that country’s domestic political affairs.
It has to be made clear that the US is not fighting only her war against terrorism in Af-Pak region; the US is fighting the war of entire free world against terrorism. Pakistan is the foremost beneficiary and protégé of US sacrifices. But since both are responsible for raising jihadi legions during fight against the Soviets, they sowed the wind and they shall have to reap the whirlwind.
The fact is that policy-planners in the US foreign office are bogged with ifs and buts about taking India on board for any major policy that would involve neighbouring states in a lasting peace in Afghanistan. Their uncertainty stems from Washington’s long and certainly unjustifiable policy of maintaining parity between the two sub-continental countries. Blanket application of this formula has, more often than not, obstructed free flow of cordial relations between India and the US in the past. Indian observers believe that with the uncovering of terrorism worm-box, Washington will need to do some re-thinking on the matter.
Again in regard to Kashmir issue, American policy planners are on the horns of dilemma. In recent past they have been pandering to the conclusion that an externally sponsored political uprising with religious undertones is more a facet of terrorism than a struggle for freedom.
Nevertheless, given India’s resilience in responding to divergent opinions in domestic politics in a democratic manner, the US should feel content with New Delhi working on a plan that meets genuine aspirations of various gropes of people in Kashmir. This again is an internal affair of the Indian state.
As a citizen of India, Mirwaiz cannot be denied passage to Beijing. However, it is for the security staff at the IGI Airport whether rules allow them to let a passenger clear immigration with Chinese visa affixed on a separate sheet and then attached to the passport.
But what should the Mirwaiz be talking to Chinese authorities? We think there are some serious questions. Let us proceed.
The joint Sino-US statement has this crucial sentence.
“The two sides welcomed all efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South Asia. They support the efforts of Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight terrorism, maintain domestic stability and achieve sustainable economic and social development, and support the improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan. The two sides are ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace, stability and development in that region.”
This means that Washington has formally accepted China as partner in South Asian strategy without even dropping any hint to the fact that China is in illegal occupation of 5000 square kilometers of Indian territory in Aksai Chin region gifted to her by Pakistan as a result of Sino-Pak Agreement.
Evidently, Washington’s move aims at reassuring Pakistan that two leading world powers do not overlook her larger strategic interests in the region and they are willing to promote them because in their political chemistry India stands excluded as one of the main actors on South Asian political stage. It diminishes India’s chance of finding a berth for UN Security Council membership.
Mirwaiz’s surprise statement that China is a stakeholder springs from the Sino-Pak Agreement of 1963 by virtue of which Pakistan gifted away 5000 square kilometers of Aksai-Chin area to the north of Ladakh to China. What Mirwaiz presumably contemplates is to convey to China that in case of settlement of Kashmir issue, his party would not want to raise hackles over the Sino-Pak Agreement even if Kashmir gets illusory “aazaadi”. If this is what he intends to convey, it would be unpardonable disservice to Kashmir’s movement of sub-regionalism, and betrayal of armed insurgency something which the separatists have been holding dear all the years of turmoil.
Article 6 of Sino Pakistan Border Agreement 1963 says:
‘The two parties have agreed that after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, the sovereign authority concerned will reopen negotiations with the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the boundary as described in Article Two of the present agreement, so as to sign a formal boundary treaty to replace the present agreement, provided that in the event of the sovereign authority being Pakistan, the provisions of the present agreement and of the aforesaid protocol shall be maintained in the formal boundary treaty to be signed between the People’s Republic of China and Pakistan.’
In the first, place this agreement violates the UN Security Council Resolutions on Kashmir, which stipulate that none of the two contesting parties will do anything that changes status quo in Kashmir. By contracting the agreement with a third party, Pakistan has given India space and justification for rejecting the stipulations like “plebiscite” in the said UN Resolutions. By not contesting the Sino-Pak Resolution, and by raising China as a stakeholder in Kashmir issue, the Hurriyat leader indirectly concedes to India the right to reject plebiscite and attached obligations of Security Council’s Resolutions.
The signatories to the Sino-Pak Agreement have no right to dictate the eventual “sovereign authority” to sign or not to sign any agreement leave aside replacing the present agreement with a fresh one. This makes the Agreement null and void in the eyes of international law. Will Mirwaiz invite the attention of Chinese authorities to the legalities of the issue and jurisprudence of the Agreement when he talks to them as “stakeholder” in his own words?
But it appears that Mirwaiz has not either read the text of the said agreement carefully so as to analyze its implications or wants to take shelter behind the changed Sino-US strategy on Kashmir essentially initiated by Islamabad. Let us focus attention on some crucial parts of Sino-US statement.
The Mirwaiz knows that it is not without specific context that the joint statement speaks about peace and stability in South Asia. Amusingly, the statement is silent about large-scale unrest in Eastern Turkistan (Xingjian), the Eastern province of China with nearly thirty million Uighur Muslim inhabitants. Recently, violence in Urumchi almost swept the region in which hundreds of people of two rival ethnic communities, namely Uighur Hanafi Muslims and Han Chinese, clashed fiercely resulting in cold-blooded killing of hundreds and destruction of huge properties. Chinese authorities arrested hundreds of Uighurs, tortured them in prisons, and prosecuted many. Nine of them accused of murder were executed only last week.
Will Mirwaiz take up the question why China should be worried only about peace and stability in South Asia particularly the sub-continent, and not about Chinese Turkistan where deadly ethnic clashes occurred owing to Beijing’s sustained agenda of settling Hans Chinese ethnic population in the region where historically the Uighur Muslims had been in majority for many centuries, but are now reduced to minority owing to covert demographic change fostered by Beijing. We have very little hope that the Mirwaiz will raise this crucial issue with Chinese authorities. The reason is that he has never spoken about the denial of rights of the people in Gilgit and Baltistan, legally part of India but illegally occupied by Pakistan. He never protested to wholesale demographic change brought about by General Musharraf (as Corps Commander of Northern Areas) in which Sunni Wahhabi Pathans from NWFP were settled in the area in large numbers over-arching the numerical strength of other faiths like Shias, Nurbakhshiyas, Ismailis/Agha Khanis and Ahmadiyyah etc.
Secondly, is Mirwaiz going to ask the Chinese to rescind Sino-Pak Agreement of 1963 and return an area of 5000 square kilometers which originally belonged to the State of Jammu and Kashmir but was illegally given away by Pakistan -- - being in control of that part of the state? Likewise, is Mirwaiz going to tell the Chinese to vacate another 6000 square kilometers area illegally occupied by them during Sino-Indian war of 1962 because it is the territory of the original State of Jammu and Kashmir?
Lastly, the recent Sino-US joint statement says that they will “support the efforts of Pakistan and Afghanistan to fight terrorism”. Is Mirwaiz going to ask the Chinese to identify the terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan? Will he remind them what their reaction was when the US decided to pump billions worth arms, ammunition and war material into Pakistan for transmission to Afghan mujahideen during the regime of General Zia? Will he remind them that two years ago Beijing arrested many fundamentalists operating in her eastern province and identified some of them with Pakistani nationality and Pakistani terrorist groups, executing two and deporting others to Pakistan? These questions will help Mirwaiz understand his hosts better and how he should proceed in his deliberations with them.
(The author is the former Director of the Centre for Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University)
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