Thursday, June 11, 2009

China, India, Pakistan, The United States and the Taliban: Tangled Webs and Trip Wires

The relations between China, India, Pakistan, the United States and the Taliban has been is a dynamic and interesting constellation of contradictions and aspirations. One can get a sense of the complexities, and volatility, of these relationships, by considering the movements and counter movements among these parties in the context of recent troop movements by India. This essay suggests that in these sorts of contexts, simple linear thinking and the international law structure grounded on these simplifying assumptions, are inadequate as a framework for managing these complex and multi-tiered relationships.

The simple story is straightforward India has announced significant troop movements to reinforce its border with China, large sections of which remain disputed. The Chinese have not been pleased. The Indian Press reported that "Arunachal Pradesh Governor J.J. Singh said earlier this week that two Army divisions of around 30,000 soldiers each would be deployed along the disputed border as part of a “planned augmentation of [India’s] capabilities to defend the country.” Mr. Singh’s statement followed reported claims from officials that Chinese incursions into Indian territory had become more frequent in the past one year." Ananth Krishnan, China Cautions India on Troop Build Up Near Border, The Hindu, June 12, 2009.

The Chinese met these actions with a scathing analysis.
The tough posture Singh's new government has taken may win some applause among India's domestic nationalists. But it is dangerous if it is based on a false anticipation that China will cave in. India has long held contradictory views on China. Another big Asian country, India is frustrated that China's rise has captured much of the world's attention. Proud of its "advanced political system," India feels superior to China. However, it faces a disappointing domestic situation which is unstable compared with China's.India likes to brag about its sustainable development, but worries that it is being left behind by China. China is seen in India as both a potential threat and a competitor to surpass. But India can't actually compete with China in a number of areas, like international influence, overall national power and economic scale. India apparently has not yet realized this.
India's Unwise Military Moves, People's Daily Online, June 11, 2009.

Both sides suggested they would not be bullied by the other into making territorial concessions. From the Chinese perspective, "
India's growing power would have a significant impact on the balance of this question, which has led India to think that fear and gratitude for its restraint will cause China to defer to it on territorial disputes. But this is wishful thinking, as China won't make any compromises in its border disputes with India. And while China wishes to coexist peacefully with India, this desire isn't born out of fear." India's Unwise Military Moves, supra. The Indians take a different view: "Hitherto, the Indian defence establishment’s focus had been on Pakistan but there is a growing realisation that we cannot ignore China’s growing military might and its ability to quickly move troops and equipment thanks to the railway line it has built up to Lhasa, a top military official told IANS, speaking on condition of anonymity. India and China might have put their border dispute on the back burner as they move ahead in other spheres but there is a growing realisation that we need to refocus on China, the warming diplomatic relations and the joint war games notwithstanding, the officer added. " India ramps up military presence along China border (Lead, changing dateline), The Gaea News, June 9, 2009 ("According to union home ministry reports, there were about 270 “violations” by China on India’s western, middle and eastern sectors in 2008, while there were 60 such incidents reported so far this year. Beijing had in 2003 given up its territorial claim over the Indian state of Sikkim but was still holding on to its old stand that a vast stretch of Arunachal Pradesh belongs to them. " Id.).

But the Chinese have not merely reacted verbally.
While both China and India have agreed in principle to maintain “peace and tranquillity” along the disputed border, talks have made modest progress, and the dispute continues to remain a wedge in relations between the two countries in spite of a fast-growing trade relationship. China last month reportedly blocked a $ 60 million Asian Development Bank project to finance a flood-management programme in Arunachal Pradesh, parts of which China still has claims on.
Ananth Krishnan, China Cautions India on Troop Build Up Near Border, supra. More importantly, China has hinted at a policy of Indian containment, even as it mocked what it suggested as the silly Indian policy of pretended refusal to join in the joint American-Japanese efforts to contain China. "Indian politicians these days seem to think their country would be doing China a huge favor simply by not joining the "ring around China" established by the US and Japan. India's growing power would have a significant impact on the balance of this equation, which has led India to think that fear and gratitude for its restraint will cause China to defer to it on territorial disputes. . . . It should also be asking itself why it hasn't forged the stable and friendly relationship with China that China enjoys with many of India's neighbors, like Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka." India's Unwise Military Moves, supra. Interestingly, "Investigators say rescuers found the wreckage of the Russian-made AN-32 aircraft scattered across a hill in the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, Wednesday. The air force says four senior military officials were among those on board. Authorities say the plane was on a routine supply mission from an air base in Arunachal Pradesh to the northeastern state of Assam. . . . The plane went down in a Himalayan region near the disputed border with China." Indian Searchers Find Wreckage, Bodies from Military Plane, VOA News, June 10, 2009.

And, indeed, even as China was mocking India, it announced agreement on "
cooperation on law enforcement and anti-terrorism. "We hope to work with Pakistan to fight the crimes concerning the citizens of the two countries to ensure safety of the Chinese people in Pakistan," said Zhou Yongkang, member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee." China, Pakistan, vow to Enhance Anti-Terrorism Co-op, People's Daily Online, June 190, 2009. A principal purpose is to enhance security for Chinese citizens in Pakistan, a problem that has vexed China for a few years. See, e.g., Larry Catá Backer, Pakistan and Its Prostitutes Part II: The Gahzi Brothers, the Red Mosque, Globalization and Power, Law at the End of the Day, July 20, 2007. But Zhou Yongkang was also reported as suggesting that "China would join hands with Pakistan to push forward bilateral ties and cooperation to safeguard regional peace." China, Pakistan, vow to Enhance Anti-Terrorism Co-op, supra. China's relations with Pakistan have been close since Pakistan ceded a large chunk of Jammu and Kashmir to China in 1963, an act protested by India. "The boundary dispute between India and China involve large areas along their 4,000-kilometre border. India says China is occupying 43,180 sq km of Jammu and Kashmir, including 5,180 sq km ceded to Beijing by Islamabad under the Sino-Pakistan boundary agreement of 1963." China confirms protesting Manmohan Singh’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, Thaindian News, Feb. 14, 2008.

At the same time, the United States, also a close confederate of Pakistan, has sought to enhance ties between India and Pakistan based on the "terrorists as common enemy" theme. U.S. Pitches for Restarting India-Pakistan Dialogue, The Times of India, June 11, 2009 ("The US has made it clear to Pakistan that it has a "special responsibility" to act firmly and immediately against those responsible for the Mumbai attacks and bring them to justice, Burns replied when asked about the release of Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafeez Saeed by a Pakistani court. Burns called on Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and held discussions on a wide range of issues that included India-US civil nuclear cooperation, the situation in Pakistan and the region and expanding defence relations between the two countries. " id.). At the same time, Pakistan had been pressing the United States to convince India to reduce its troop concentrations on the Pakistan-India border. See U.S. Nixes Pak Plea for Indian Troop Withdrawal, The Times of India, May 5, 2009 ("Pakistan is pressing the Obama administration to ask India to reduce troops from its borders in order for Islamabad to spend more resources to fighting extremists inside its own territory. President Obama isn't buying that, according to U.S. officials. Instead, Pakistan will be told again that it needs to get out of its India fixation and look within itself when President Asif Ali Zardari meets President Obama at the White House on Wednesday." Id.). The Americans appear to have little political interest in India except for its role in stabilizing Pakistan as a front line state in the American proxy wars against global terrorist networks. US Envoy Visits India, Promotes Talks with Pakistan, VOA News, June 10, 2009 (U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs William "Burns told reporters in New Delhi that India is a top foreign policy priority for the United States. The State Department says U.S. officials are lobbying for India and Pakistan to restart peace negotiations that were halted following the terrorist attacks in Mumbai last November. " Id.).

India, for its part, is not merely strengthening its military presence in the region. The military comes almost half a year after the Indian government announced ambitious plans to create a transportation infrastructure to better connect the region with the rest of India. "Arunachal Pradesh is all set to become more accessible with the government granting Rs.125 billion for constructing a 1,412 km trans-state highway and another 847 km of roads, a move that will also benefit several hydro-power projects in the state.”The proposal would benefit all the 16 districts of Arunachal Pradesh and Sibsagar and Tinsukhia districts of Assam and is aimed at providing efficient road connectivity to remote and backward areas and the areas of deficient roads,” Home Minister P. Chidambaram said." Government approves 1,412-km trans-Arunachal Pradesh highway, Thaindia News, Jan. 9, 2009. These roads also connect to airfields being built close to the Indian border with China. "External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee told parliament Thursday. 'Thirteen operational roads are to be completed in Arunachal Pradesh. We are also constructing airports (airfields) close to the border,' he said while replying to a supplementary during question hour in the Rajya Sabha." India building airfields along China border: Mukherjee, Thaindia News, Oct. 23, 2008.

At the same time, this may remain merely a war of words. For despite the troop movements, India and China have been working toward greater military cooperation against a common enemy--global terrorist operations aimed at the overthrow of their respective governments or the independence of regions under their respective control. See Larry Catá Backer, China’s People’s Liberation Army at 80: Projecting Power and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Law at the End of the Day, August 1, 2007. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) remains a significant vehicle for the testing of PLA capabilities within the increasingly broad sphere of Chinese influence in East and Central Asia. It also serves as a basis for keeping contests for power and influence in the region within the battlefields of media and commerce. And China has sometimes been more accommodating in fact than its rhetoric might suggest. "In an important development, China has at last issued a visa to a resident of Arunachal Pradesh, which Beijing claims to be its territory, months after denial of the same to an IAS petitioner had earned the ire of India." China grants visa to Arunachal Pradesh academician, The Times of India, Dec. 6, 2007. And the current Indian government of Manmohan Singh has made progress to diffuse the "border dispute with China, brokering a deal to reopen the Nathula pass into Tibet which had been closed for more than 40 years." Profile: Manmohan Singh, BBC NewsOnline, March 30, 2009.

International relations have produced a number of networks of relations that provide much room for political maneuvering and produces a distinct form of managerialism beyond the usual approaches of conventional international law. India wishes to "make facts" within the territories it has disputed with China and currently controls. That might well serve it in negotiaitons with China. China has been doing the same with territory assigned by Pakistan to China that India claims. Pakistan and China's interests align against India. China has been willing to encircle India through alliances by states increasingly dependent on Chinese generosity and support--principally Pakistan and Sri Lanka. And, indeed, Sri Lanka has proven to be a great success, in which China shares, but India and the United States do not.
Although Beijing may have conveyed to Colombo its oft-stated position that Sri Lanka must seek a political solution to the ethnic problem, it did not waste the opportunity to sell military hardware to Sri Lanka after the Indian government declined to provide military equipment, citing concerns over the use of force against the Tamils. The Sri Lankan Army chief Sarath Fonseka has noted that “India had told us they were not in a position to sell or send offensive weapons or even equipment like radars and basic communication equipment to meet our requirements” (Indian Express, May 25). The United States also suspended military aid to Sri Lanka over human rights issues. Vijay Sakhuja, Sri Lanka: Beijing’s Growing Foothold in the Indian Ocean, China Brief Volume: 9 Issue: 12 June 12, 2009
But India has been less enthusiastic about doing the same with the United States--mostly perhaps because of the needs of the United States in Pakistan, the American's traditional wariness of India (a foolish position but one for which India is as much to blame as the Americans), and the American focus on nuclear rather than geo-political issues. But war is unlikely because all actors face different strains of a common enemy. Still this is a useful enemy. Pakistan, China and India have a joint interest in acting against terrorist networks. Yet at least one of those states have found some strains of those networks useful in its covert military actions actions against its neighbor. The result are interlocking networks of cooperation and antagonistic relations. There is both military integration against terror, and military competition in preparation for defense of territorial claims. At the same time, China has become a major player in the global community's efforts to exploit the India-Pakistan divide for their own best interests. India has been less adept at exploiting Chinese weaknesses in Tibet, and has been ineffective in projecting power to protect Tamil interests (though that is understandable given the sometimes vilolent relations between Sri Lankan Tamils and the Indian elites).

The Chinese have profited through a long term strategy to distract the Indians in Pakistan and thus weaken their ability to meet Chinese competition in global markets. China has also profited by a friendship that permits some measure of protection against Islamic insurgency directed against China from safe havens in Pakistan--something the Americans have been unable to duplicate with respect to united front terrorist activity in Pakistan under the Taliban rubric and directed against American interests in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Indians have avoided war but have been unable to profit from a stability that would put it in a better position to compete against China. And the Americans have appeared oblivious--to their detriment. It will be interesting to see how this status continues to be managed in the coming months. Instability within any of the players can easily change the rules of the game and managerialsim will be severely tested.

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