Background [The Economist]: Kashmir: The China Connection

An abiding worry for anyone trying to invest in India is what its relation will be with its near-non-state neighbor Pakistan and with the juggernaut that is China.  In military terms, India has great strategic depth:  girded by the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Bay of Bengal while the Himalayas to the North provide a near-impassable barrier against the greatest strategic threat of China.  Only Pakistan on the Western flank remains a worry.  But that too is militarily less so as the wide open plains of Punjab provide perfect tank country (as proven by India’s armour more than once).  That leaves China and its machinations around India’s periphery.  China’s string of pearls strategy has seen it build a port in Srilanka, with similar moves in Burma, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.  The last is where Gwadar and this most recent blog post in the The Economist’s Banyan’s Notebook blog comes in.

What I find most troubling (if true) is Selig Harrison’s statement there that Pakistan may have handed over de-facto control of some of its Northern areas, with up to 11,000 troops there.

AN ODD row has broken out over the failed attempt of an Indian general, B. S. Jaswal, who heads the army’s Northern Command, to visit China. General Jaswal was refused a visa, apparently because of his work in Kashmir.This is not entirely surprising. China has been irritating India for about a year now with its unwillingness to issue normal visas to residents of the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K).

One interpretation of its rejection of General Jaswal is that it is engaged in simple tit-for-tat diplomacy, following India’s refusal to allow a Chinese diplomat to visit its troubled north-eastern state of Manipur to give a talk.

There is probably more to it than that, however. For B. Raman, a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s main spy agency, China’s policy is consistent with a change in its stance on Indian-held Kashmir: “it has diluted its past acceptance of  J&K as a de facto part of India.”

As Mr Raman notes, this must delight Pakistan, which will see it as tacit support for its claim to all of Kashmir. He points out it might also be seen as a way of bolstering China’s position in possible future negotiations over Indian-claimed territory it now occupies.

In the context of the long-running and largely suppressed strategic tension between the two giant neighbours, China’s hints of sympathy for Pakistan over Kashmir, and for secessionists in the territory itself, are extremely unwelcome for India.

It will also have noticed and been concerned by China’s increased activity in Pakistan’s “Northern Areas” (which were recently renamed as Gilgit-Baltistan), the north-western part of the old J&K kingdom. Chinese soldiers there are working on road, railway and other infrastructure projects. This will provide a fast route into western China from the port it is building at Gwadar, on Pakistan’s shore of the Arabian Sea.

According to Selig Harrison, an American analyst, writing in the New York Times, the Chinese influence is greater than had been known and Pakistan “is handing over de facto control” of Gilgit-Baltistan, which is suffering a simmering revolt against Pakistani rule. He says between 7,000 and 11,000 Chinese troops are there.

Curiously, Mr Harrison equates this “collusion” by Pakistan with China with the support of parts of its establishment for the Taliban, as evidence it is not an American ally. Surely, to be “with” America, a country doesn’t yet have to be “against” China?

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