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India needs to recast its neighbourhood policies as China remains cryptic on Masood Azhar

File photo of Masood Azhar. Photograph:( AFP )

Gurgaon, Haryana, India Mar 12, 2019, 11.36 AM (IST) Written By: Pushpesh Pant

The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in a recent statement, mentioned ‘age-old ties’ and ‘friendship’ that India and China have sustained using the metaphor of life-sustaining streams of water meandering through vast stretches of land in their long journey from source to the sea. 

Names of rivers like Ganga and Yangtze do evoke historic civilisational memories of people but it would be naive to imagine that poetic imagery alone can help sustain meaningful, substantial relationships between nations. In the same speech, Wang reiterated that for China friendship with Pakistan remain important and he expressed hope that both India and Pakistan would respect each other's sovereignty and work for a stable peace.

We can’t overlook that even after the terrorist attack in Pulwama and its aftermath nothing seems to have changed as far as China is concerned.

It may be argued that the great rivers in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent all originate in the Tibetan plateau-conceded by India to be an integral part of the Peoples Republic of China albeit autonomous, and hence, China is entwined inextricably with events in neighbourhood downstream. It cant be denied that the most populous country in the world also shares thousands of kilometres long land border with India Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar.

Bilateral disputes regarding border apart, this fact too appears to strengthen China’s claims to be ‘an interested party’ in South Asia’s future. However, to concede this without voicing legitimate apprehensions can only jeopardise our national interests.

At the moment China, like the US, has also offered to help resolve explosive outstanding disputes between India and Pakistan. The wording may be cautious and euphemistic but let there be no doubt it is trying to make bilateral issues trilateral. By no stretch of imagination can China be considered an unbiased ‘honest broker’. 

Ever since Donald Trump declared ‘trade war’ against China there has been loose talk about unprecedented opportunities opening up for India to leverage this in its relations with China particularly in the context of its relations with Pakistan. Months have passed and by now it is clear there is no point in chasing this mirage. If we are to successfully resist arm twisting by anyone we have to rely on our own strength and unwavering resolve. Once we concede that any external power is ‘required’ to reduce ‘dangerous tensions’ in South Asian Nuclear Flashpoint, we will lose our autonomy forever. It is only in Pakistan’s interest to ‘invite’ friends getting impatient to gatecrash.

India at the moment should be consolidating its ties with other South Asian neighbours to make the point that it is a predominant regional power.

Much too easily, we have fallen in the trap laid by foreign analysts who have ‘theorised’ that India’s smaller neighbours look at it as a ‘bullying Big Brother’; they don’t trust her. In the past few decades, this analysis has spawned diplomatic strategies and economic aid programmes by the US, China and some European countries to alienate Nepal and Sri Lanka from India. Apprehensions have been systematically fuelled to become anxieties causing serious alienation. 

Take a close look, from Bangladesh and Myanmar to the Maldives, India is being encircled to cripple and curb it from operating in its natural sphere of influence. After all the subcontinent and the Ocean are identified as Indian. The legacy of history can't be wished away. The footprint of Indian civilisation-Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic- extends from Central Asia to Farthest reaches of South East Asia. It is this footprint that China is keen to erode and as fast as possible. If it succeeds in this design then it will emerge as the solitary power in Asia. Neither the US nor Russia could then think of balancing it with India. 

It is in this context that India needs to assess developments in the region and recast its policies. In Nepal, the rebel leadership has made peace with Kathmandu and the remains splinter group of Maoist guerrillas have signalled a willingness to join mainstream politics. This should remove outstanding irritants in our bilateral relationships with that landlocked neighbour. Rohingya refugees are a common problem shared by Myanmar, Bangladesh and India. One has to be extremely sensitive to its dangerous potential. The violation of human rights and genocide are allegations that are used opportunistically as weapons of mass destructions by Big Powers. Sri Lanka continues to be in the dock for atrocities committed by its armed forces particularly in the last phase of its long drawn civil war but one dare not question the US about its savagery in Iraq and Syria.

Nor are such concerns raised about Israel and Palestine or China and Tibet. Words like ‘People’s Inherent and Inalienable Right to Self Determination’ have lost all meaning due to selective prejudiced use and hypocrisy. India doesn’t have to be defensive at all.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)


Pushpesh Pant

Pushpesh Pant is a noted Indian academic and historian.

Story highlights

We can’t overlook that even after the terrorist attack in Pulwama and its aftermath nothing seems to have changed as far as China is concerned.