An unfriendly act. There is no other way to describe China’s fourth veto in ten years on a UN proposal for a ban on Masood Azhar, chief of Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM), the Pakistan-based terror organisation.
Beijing’s reason for being the only P5 country to say ‘No’ to the resolution to declare Azhar as a global terrorist is most disingenuous. “There is no consensus.” Well, if you are the only naysayer, there will, of course, never be any consensus. “We need more time to examine the evidence.” For a nation that has set numerous world records in the speed of executing projects, this explanation is a disgrace.
India’s friends in China – and their number is not small – should know that their government’s decision has disappointed and angered all sections of Indian society. Supporting Pakistan is one thing. There is, frankly, nothing wrong with that, since Pakistan is China’s neighbour and any two neighbours anywhere should have friendly and cooperative relations. But supporting a terror organisation? One that has a well-documented record of terrorist attacks in India? One that has claimed responsibility for the terror attack in Pulwama on February 14, in which 40 CRPF soldiers were martyred? One whose heinous crimes include two assassination attempts on Pakistan’s own former president Pervez Musharraf?
What would Chinese people and the rulers in Beijing think if any foreign-based and foreign-sponsored separatist organisation, motivated by the same Islamist ideology that energises JeM, were to carry out similar attacks on Chinese army/paramilitary personnel in Muslim-majority Xinjiang province? And what would they say if any member of the world community repeatedly came to the defense of its chief? As a friend of China, it pains me to say that Beijing has misused its veto power by its decision that is both hypocritical and morally indefensible.
More pertinently, China is not helping either itself or its “iron friend” Pakistan by coming to the rescue of the head of a terrorist organisation. I have often said to my Chinese friends: “Do not be under the illusion that this snake of terrorism and separatism, which drinks milk from the pot of Islamist extremism, can bite only India. Someday it can bite China much harder than it is already doing now.”
Beijing’s decision at the UN may temporarily help the ruling establishment in Islamabad in continuing with its crafty policy of making a distinction between “bad terrorists” (who attack Pakistan and kill Pakistanis – 70,000 of them, as its Prime Minister Imran Khan himself recently admitted) and “good terrorists” (who target and bleed India). But when the ideology that nourishes terrorism is the same, the “good” terrorists can certainly turn “bad” at a later date. Hasn’t Pakistan itself had a bitter taste of this malign metamorphosis? A section of the Talibanis it trained, indoctrinated and armed for the ‘jihad’ in Afghanistan later turned against Pakistan’s own army and civilians.
The real question is: How should India deal with China? In my opinion, with a consistent approach that is a combination of four principles – Realism, Firmness, Friendliness and Innovative Thinking.
That India has to be realistic in dealing with China is obvious to all except to those who foolishly imagine that our northern neighbour can and should be “contained”. They further daydream that containment of China could become successful if India partnered with USA, Japan and Australia in the so-called “Quadrilateral” or “Asian NATO”. China has become so strong economically, so powerful militarily, and so adroit diplomatically, that Quad can never take off. Indeed, any signs of India wanting to join an anti-China block can only sharpen Beijing’s antagonism towards New Delhi. And this will erode the painstaking progress India and China have made over the past few decades in improving bilateral relations. China is, and will always remain, our neighbour, and good-neighbourliness is in the vital interest of both our countries.
However, this does not mean India should show pusillanimity whenever Beijing behaves in an unfriendly manner. Howsoever strong and big a nation may be, even the smallest nation has the right to question it if its conduct is morally weak. And India is by no means a small and powerless nation, and the realists in China know this. Our firmness on the issue of terrorism will sooner or later make the rulers in Beijing realise what is best in their own interest.
The case for India-China friendliness, from a historical and civilisational perspective, needs renewed affirmation at a time like this when anti-China sentiment is running high in our country. What unites our two nations with millennia-old spiritual and cultural bonds is far stronger than the current trust-deficit that divides us. India must never forget this truth, especially since there are certain outside powers that do not wish to see India and China become friends and good neighbours. Of course, it is also China’s responsibility to nurture and strengthen friendship with India. No person can clap with one hand is an age-old adage.
But it is the fourth principle – innovative thinking – that will surely remove Beijing’s incentive to corner India by taking advantage of India-Pakistan antagonism. This means: India should befriend Pakistan, and vice versa, by removing the root causes of mutual antagonism. This unending antagonism is giving opportunistic rulers in Beijing an opportunity to side with Pakistan against India on an issue as important as terrorism, even though China itself has declared in numerous documents that terrorism cannot be tolerated anywhere and in any form. But if Beijing wants to continue acting in an untrustworthy manner, there is not much India can do to prevent it from doing so. India is in no position to make Beijing pay an unbearable cost for its unfriendly act. “Boycott Chinese goods”, “Join Quad”, “Withdraw from BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation”, “Play the Tibet and Taiwan Cards” – none of these can realistically work. And for each of these, the cost India will have to bear is too heavy to justify the effort.
The ceaseless India-Pakistan antagonism is also steadily raising the cost Islamabad is compelled to bear because of its excessive dependence on China to bail it out from global censure and isolation on the issue of terrorism. Many self-respecting and far-sighted Pakistanis resent this one-sided dependence, even though they value China’s generous assistance in their country’s economic modernisation. They are apprehensive of the future consequences of this unequal relationship, but they are unable to make their views heard because of the officially scripted hyperbole – “The all-weather Pakistan-China friendship is higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, stronger than steel and sweeter than honey.”
In my many conversations with Pakistanis in Pakistan, and also with members of the Pakistani diaspora abroad, I have said: “It is in Pakistan’s own interest that you reduce your over-reliance on China. You can achieve this by befriending India.” Similarly, my insistent appeal to my own countrymen has been the same: “India will be able to deal with China more effectively, and from a position of equal strength, if we befriend Pakistan.”
Unfortunately, a dangerous dogma has taken deep roots in a section of Indian society that we cannot – and we should not even try to – make friends with Pakistan. Certain delusional thought leaders in the RSS-BJP parivaar never tire of saying that the only way to end the menace that is Pakistan is to end Pakistan itself – that is, break it up into three or four separate nations. If India could not escalate its recent military action against Pakistan above the very low threshold of a skirmish lasting only two days, it helps us to be sober about what any government in New Delhi can and cannot do. It was easy for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to whip up anti-Pakistan frenzy before the elections were announced. But the undeniable truth is that it was equally easy for both him and his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan to succumb to international pressure and de-escalate war-like tension on the border.
This being the inescapable reality, the question before nuclear-armed India and Pakistan is not whether – but how − to become friends. Once we both realize the inescapability of the need to become good neighbours, and once our leaders decide to embark on a path of peace with sufficient political will, patience and mutual trust, the solutions to all the outstanding and vexatious issues will present themselves. Our biggest source of hope and guidance is the limitless reservoir of civilisational wisdom that resides in our shared religions, cultures, linguistic heritage, and age-old social bonds. In this respect, neither India-China nor Pakistan-China ties come anywhere close to the depth and breadth of India-Pakistan kinship. Awareness of, and unwavering faith in, this kinship will show us the path to eliminate our common enemy – terrorism and religious extremism (Islamism as well as Hindutva). It will also show us the way to reach an amicable, peaceful, just and compromise-based solution to the Kashmir issue in such a manner that we can completely eliminate all kinds of violence and all kinds of abominable human rights violations from this Paradise on Earth. Frankly, if we Indians care for honest introspection, we will have to admit that the Modi government’s Kashmir policy of ‘goli’ (bullets) and not ‘boli’ (dialogue, with Pakistan as well as with all sections of Kashmiris) is neither sustainable nor morally defensible.
Once we both choose to proclaim – to ourselves and to the rest of the world – that neither Pakistan is India’s enemy nor India is Pakistan’s enemy, which power on earth can play one against the other? Once we make this wise choice, China, which too is an inheritor to its own profound civilisational wisdom, will have no option but to become a friendly neighbour to both India and Pakistan. The three of us can then forge a partnership on the basis of sovereign equality to change the destiny of South Asia and Asia.
(The writer was an aide to India’s former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He has recently established ‘Forum for a New South Asia’, which advocates India-Pakistan-China cooperation.)
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