The Way to Tackle a Rattled China After Modi’s Balochistan Barb
Modi’s Balochistan has made China feel insecure about the progress of the CPEC project. (Photo: Lijumol Joseph/ <b>The Quint</b>)
Modi’s Balochistan has made China feel insecure about the progress of the CPEC project. (Photo: Lijumol Joseph/ The Quint)

The Way to Tackle a Rattled China After Modi’s Balochistan Barb

Ever since the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was announced in 2015, Pakistan has complained that it is on India’s hit list. This is in addition to its propaganda about Indian interference in Balochistan. Immediately after the 8 August Quetta terrorist attack in which over 70, including many prominent lawyers, were killed, the Pakistan army spokesperson tweeted that the attack was aimed against the CPEC project and to undermine Balochistan’s improving security situation. Some influential leaders said that R&AW was involved.

Is China now taking Pakistan’s protestations seriously? That seems to be the case, because Chinese scholars are making belligerent comments that India cannot and should not ignore.

Beijing’s Fear-Mongering

A few days ago, Hu Shisheng, a senior academic with the Chinese Ministry of State Security-linked think tank, China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, expressed apprehension that India may “use” anti-Pakistan elements in Balochistan to stir trouble against the CPEC. Hu warned that “If this kind of plot causes damage to CPEC, China will have to get involved.” Clearly, such comments could not have been made except at the behest of the Chinese authorities, for the likes of Hu do not have the latitude to express independent views on a sensitive subject such as this.

India has protested against the CPEC for it passes through the PoK. It obviously cannot but do so.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi also mentioned Balochistan during his Red Fort address on Independence Day, but that was implicitly in terms of Pakistani human rights violations against Baloch nationalists who have never accepted Pakistan’s duplicitous annexation of the state in 1948. In neither case has India even remotely indicated that it would take any action against the construction of the CPEC.

Assuaging Beijing

China is, thus, acting jointly with Pakistan on the CPEC, which is strategically and economically a very important project for both countries. China is making it publicly clear that the CPEC is adding a strong foundation to its relations with Pakistan, which have hitherto been based on shared hostility towards India. It is thus a game changer for Sino-Pak relations. Consequently, India now faces a graver security and diplomatic challenge; China’s opposition to India’s NSG membership was only an initial manifestation.

How should India respond to China’s warning? Should it change course and stop profiling the human rights situation in Balochistan? That would be disastrous for it would be one more occasion of India showing undue concern for Chinese sensitivities.

It would lose credibility and, hence, should be completely avoided. Besides, by raising Balochistan in the human rights context, India is not directly interfering in a Chinese issue.

Bonhomie Will Continue

Recent reports indicate that the Modi government’s approach is to keep relations with China on an even keel while showing Pakistan that it won’t be business as usual. This is in itself a sound basis to proceed. However, while it may work in respect to the purely bilateral aspects of Sino-Indian ties such as economic, commercial and cultural and perhaps even on border management, it is unlikely to cause any change in China’s support to Pakistan.

Pakistan’s location with the Gwadar port giving access to the western regions of China to the Arabian Sea is now a new and important foundation of bilateral ties. In the past Pakistan’s location provided the underpinning to its relations with Britain and the US. Now it is with China.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivering his speech on the occasion of the 70th Independence Day at  Red Fort, in Delhi, 15 August 2016. (Photo: IANS/PIB)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivering his speech on the occasion of the 70th Independence Day at Red Fort, in Delhi, 15 August 2016. (Photo: IANS/PIB)

Snapshotclose

Source of China’s Insecurity

  • Chinese scholar makes an outrageous comment that India may use anti-Pakistan elements in Balochistan to throw CPEC project out of gear.
  • China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a project worth $46 billion with Beijing cooperating in the development of infrastructure projects.
  • CPEC is being considered as a milestone in the Sino-Pak relations with both countries eyeing for significant gains through the Gwadar Port.
  • Modi govt’s approach is to keep China in good humour but give Pakistan stern hints to get its act together.

Securing Our Interests

As Pakistan’s shadow will loom ever larger on Sino-Indian relations at a time when India wishes to adopt a more determined approach towards its neighbour, it is essential to inhibit any Chinese adventurism. The only way to effectively do so is by developing quickly a full nuclear deterrent against China both on land and the seas. India has some distance to cover in these aspects and so far more resources and effort have to go into the programme.

Till now, India has proceeded on the maxim that a stable neighbourhood is important to its interests. This is not an unsound basis for the formulation of a neighbourhood policy, provided a neighbour is not acting with relentless malignancy as Pakistan always has. In that case, this new thought process has to be examined even if Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons. This is not making a case for adventurist action, but for giving Pakistan and the international community the indication that India can and will explore measures to safeguard its interests in a manner unlike in the past.

A Consistent Approach

The Balochistan reference was one such nuanced hint. It was directed not at destabilising Pakistan but to remind it of its own human rights record. It has been especially significant as it has been made at a time when Pakistan is going all out to internationalise the J&K situation preventing its normalisation. Other indications of an economic and commercial nature can and should be obliquely mentioned.

Pakistan must be made to feel that a firm response will be given by India to its negative actions, including instigating terrorism. A consistent approach is now needed, not the past practice of drawing red lines and then erasing them.

(The writer is a former Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs. He can be reached at @VivekKatju.)

Also read:
No Going Soft Now: India Must Stand Up to Beijing’s Threat
Boxing It In: China’s Approach to India
Jingoism on Balochistan is Not in India’s Interest: Manish Tewari

(The Quint is now on WhatsApp. To receive handpicked stories on topics you care about, subscribe to our WhatsApp services. Just go to TheQuint.com/WhatsApp and hit the Subscribe button.)

Follow our Opinion section for more stories.

    Also Watch