In 2001, when President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney spurned the offer of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to accept India as the lead partner in the region against terror groups operating in Afghanistan and instead showered largesse on Pakistan under Pervez Musharraf, the ISI ensured that NATO cash and materiel went to those who were closet Taliban warlords, thereby creating a revival of that militia that was funded by its declared enemies. GHQ in Rawalpindi dangled the prospect of a peace deal with the Taliban, in the process inserting sympathisers into the Afghan government, who paralysed it from the inside and reported on it for their terrorist friends. By moving away from India, leverage by the US on GHQ was lost and both the escape of terror elements (who later surfaced in countries across continents) as well as the resurgence of the Taliban became inevitable.
There was never an “either or” choice in 2001 between India and Pakistan, for the reason that Islamabad would have panicked at closer US ties with Delhi and cooperated not just in words but in deed in the conflict. Washington has paid a monumental price for its error in relying on Pakistan to fight the very terrorists that were being nurtured by GHQ.
Now China has joined the US in adopting a policy that places the interests of the Pakistan army above that of the Chinese people, by scuttling India’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) at the just-concluded Seoul summit. Such opposition from China converted what could have been a transformational point in Sino-Indian ties into a disaster, not for India, but for China. From now onwards, when the MHA and other elements in the bureaucracy seek to restrict the entry into the domestic market of Chinese telecom, energy and infrastructure providers, it will be harder for those who understand the benefits to both countries of strong India-China commercial ties, to protest. By its equating of India with a much smaller country, Pakistan, Beijing has shown that it will seek to confine India into the “South Asia” box rather than accept the country as an equal.
Had China abstained at the NSG meeting and thereby allowed the vote on India to go ahead, a neo-Wahhabi country such as Turkey or those nostalgic about the period when Europe ruled Asia (such as Ireland and Austria) may still have blocked the entry of India into the NSG. However, by not standing in the way of NSG accession, China would have shown itself to be the friend of India that it claims to be.
This country did not expect to be humiliated by an arithmetically nonsensical equating of India with Pakistan, a formulation as devoid of commonsense as equating North Korea with China.
The blocking by China of India’s entry at Seoul has weakened China’s few friends in policymaking groups in India, and sharply added to the power of China’s enemies. It has been a self-goal of the same magnitude as the 2001 Bush-Cheney decision to trust the GHQ arsonist with putting out the terrorist fire.
It had been expected that President Xi Jinping would have the political strength to face down a PLA that follows the lead given by the Pakistan army in a most faithful manner, no matter that such moves are often against the interests of the Chinese people.
However, it is clear that President Xi has still not gained the control over the military needed to ensure that those in uniform do not get policies formulated that are opposed to China’s own interests, simply to favour an alien military that is an incubator for terror groups.
Given the post-Seoul reality that China sees India as an inferior power undeserving of access to groupings such as the NSG, the entire policy of nuclear restraint that India has been following may now be given a relook.
Those who rage that entry into the NSG means very little in practical terms are correct. However, what is important is the signalling that support or opposition to India’s becoming a member gives.
Those backing India consider this country an equal, and not as a pariah. Those opposing view it as an inferior country, no matter how much honey they pour into the language used to describe India.
As in 2001 with the US, going with India in 2016 would not in any way have resulted in Islamabad cutting off its linkages with Beijing. Both the US as well as China are crucial to the survival of the Pakistan army, which is why it is a surprise that policymakers in both Beijing as well as Washington believe that GHQ has any choice other than accepting the fact that it is in the national interest of both China as well as the US to have close ties with India.
While our country loses very little because of China’s decision to back Pakistan against its own longer-term interest, the loser will be China.
From now onwards, those seeking to block Chinese companies from freely operating in markets in India will go about their own blockades less obstructed. The India market will follow the example of those in countries where security considerations are used to exclude China.
For those in India who wish to see the two giants of Asia move closer together, Beijing’s folly at Seoul has been a painful blow.