China-Pakistan infrastructure building in PoK
Any military action requires political will. Does the Bharatiya Janta Party which leads the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre have the political acumen to be able to present a politico-military response to the continuing creation of new kinds of facilities through the heart of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir connecting China’s Xianjiang Province (and hence the whole of China) with the Pakistani province of Balochistan in the Persian Gulf?
Its current flip-flop in foreign policy vis-à-vis Pakistan has led it into the same talk trap that has afflicted Indo-Pak relations over the decades.
In the current context it has happened without even any assurances from Pakistan that state-sponsored terrorism against India will be curbed or there is to be some permanence to the ceasefire agreement that Pakistan has been violating systematically for the past two years.
It needs to be recalled that it was during the tenure of the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led BJP-headed coalition government that the Kargil intrusion took place in spite of the ‘bus diplomacy’ to Lahore in 1999.
During the Kargil conflict the Vajpayee government instructed the Indian Air Force not to violate the airspace across the Line of Control as if it were foreign territory and not the “atoot ang” of India.
Perhaps, the underlying rationale was the intent not to escalate the crisis to the nuclear level and if that were so then to expect the current BJP-led government to take any stronger action than counter-bombardment of the kind it utilized to try and silence Pakistani guns in Jammu and Kashmir in the past few months is expecting too much.
Now, Narendra Modi has made his own dramatic gesture with his ‘flying visit’ to the same city and the same Pakistani Prime Minister-Mian Nawaz Sharif. Will it be with the same results?
Very likely the end game may be nothing as because all this has happened without any assurance from Pakistan that there will be a change of attitude in the dialogue with India.
In fact, India has been forced to make the ‘flying visit’ gesture without any commitment to peace and harmony along the International Border and the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. The Ufa agreement has been totally undermined and Foreign Secretary-level talks were scuttled.
In this backdrop it is difficult to expect this government to take any drastic steps to break the nexus between Pakistan and China in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Every day the noose is tightening around India’s neck.
Steel pipelines are being laid from the port of Gwadar on the Balochistan coastline to Xianjiang in northeast China to carry petroleum and gas across the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir land bridge through the Kunjherab Pass in what was till 1947 and the partition of India within the jurisdiction of the kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh. The Karakoram Highway (KKH) is being modernized and widened to take heavy duty trucks.
Within the ambit of time and space and the apparent acceptance of Indian involvement in the Baloch insurgency in the Shram-el-Sheikh document, the arrangement should be utilized to ensure defence of Indian interests in the region.
The linking of Gwadar port to Xianjiang via Pakistan and China occupied Jammu and Kashmir especially in its “disputed status” is detrimental to Indian interests.
Since these facilities transit Baloch territory it would be appropriate that the Baloch take ownership of the means of disruption of facilities traversing their territory.
They have given a good account of themselves in the disruption of the gas from the Sui gas fields by blowing up pipelines taking the gas to the Panjab province and Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa.
The Pak-China pipelines and rail links can be expected to suffer similar disruptions given the Baloch demand for a greater share of revenues for the extraction of energy from their tribal lands.
In Jammu and Kashmir too the local dissatisfaction with the current state of Pakistani/Chinese uncontrolled alienation of the land which belongs to the local Kashmiris needs to be exploited to the full.
The Balawaristan movement, encompassing the Gilgit-Baltistan salient, needs to be nurtured and exploited.
This area that was part of the princely State of Jammu and Kashmir is the hub of several infrastructure projects like lateral roads, bridges and five tunnels that are designed to prevent the kind of total disruption that occurred with the landslide at Attabad that created a huge lake making the Karakoram Highway redundant.
It is a measure of China’s desire for an alternative safer route for its energy supplies than the Malacca Strait or even the route from the Myanmar seacoast to Kunming.
The routes across the Indian Ocean are amenable to interception by Indian submarines and that is why India needs to note that the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a modern-day version of the Great Wall of China.
The Wall kept the marauding hordes from the north and west at bay; the Economic Corridor is intended to deprive India of access both economic and political from its traditional wellsprings that lie westwards in Afghanistan and Central Asia and beyond.
That is why China has deployed, by US estimates, as many as 9,000 People’s Liberation Army personnel in the guise of engineers and workers in constructing the infrastructure in Pak-occupied Kashmir.
During his recent visit to Afghanistan Prime Minister Modi made a strong plea for access of Afghan goods to India.
Even if that happens it is very unlikely that Pakistan will make available the same facilities to India for trade with Afghanistan and connectivity with Central Asia.
Most of the Trade Commissioners stationed at the Wagah/Attari border check posts (currently the only route for access to Pakistan) are either serving or retired military officers who have been instructed to use every means to ensure periodic disruption of trade through these check posts.
This is being done by sending trucks loaded with drugs and other contraband. The moment India intercepts the consignment the Pakistanis hold up all traffic along the route and Indian truckers become hostage to Pakistani whims.
The Chinese have found a way around the possibility of disruption of connectivity along the Economic Corridor by natural disasters like landslides by building the tunnels.
These will provide detours at the most vulnerable points along the Karakoram Highway heading through the unstable mountains even as rocks rumble overhead. Disruption of these tunnels will only be possible through operations by Special Forces.
India has not been able to elicit a quid pro quo from China for the use of “disputed territory” in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir for situating the Economic Corridor through it.
In fact, the intrusion into the Chumar-Depsang region of Ladakh even as Chinese President Xi Jinping was visiting Gujarat and New Delhi was as rude a diplomatic snub as it could get but the Modi government chose to swallow it.
That was an opportunity for India to push for “connectivity for all” even while allowing the status quo on the “disputed territory” to continue.
Under this concept India should have untrammeled connectivity to Afghanistan and beyond even while the Economic Corridor is put in place.
That did not happen and India may well have lost the last opportunity to break out of an encirclement that has been in the making for a long time.