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Soft diplomacy to encircle India? A Chess board played by China & Pakistan


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While India applauded the welcome arrival of Rafale at Ambala, and our great thought leader again opening his mouth wide open, three important events took place. One was quite interesting and the remaining two were the fall out of the first event but were worth observing and taking note of the chess board played by China and Pakistan.

Keeping in view the differential in technological military capabilities between the Indian Army and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and the positional terrain advantage secured by the latter through its preemptive manoeuvre, it is a prudent strategy for India to persist with military and diplomatic engagement through a probable continuous dialogue to achieve the political aim – restoration of status quo ante April / May 2020.

Even a strategy to achieve a compromised political aim: status quo ante with buffer zones where no patrolling, deployment or development of infrastructure would be pragmatic and easy to implement with monthly or regular patrolling and leaving Indian food to inform other party of patrol.

In a major boost to the private sector, India‘s defence ministry signed a Rs 2,580-crore (slightly over $350 million) contract with Larsen and Toubro (L&T) and Tata Power Company Limited (TPCL), apart from a pse, for the supply of six Pinaka rocket regiments, to strengthen the army’s artillery along the de facto borders with China. The contract also provide a fillip to the Government’s ‘Make in India‘ initiative under the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat‘ (Self-Reliant India) campaign launched earlier this year. The public sector undertaking under the Ministry of Defence to bag the order is Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML). Signed by the Acquisition Wing of the defence ministry, the six Pinaka regiments would comprise 114 launchers with Automated Gun Aiming and Positioning System (AGAPS), apart from 45 Command Posts. L&T and TPCL will supply the Command Posts, while BEML would supply 330 vehicles. The “northern and eastern border” is an official word for the Line of Actual Control with China.

The 40-km-range Pinaka Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) has been indigenously designed and developed by DRDO and productionised by the three defence manufacturers. India has also test fired a 75-km extended range variant of the Pinaka in the recent years. The munitions for the Pinaka rockets are manufactured in India, the first by the private sector in India. These rockets were test-fired at the Pokhran ranges recently.

The logic of this strategy is simple: tire the Chinese out because it is difficult to sustain an indefinite large – scale deployment in this difficult terrain with extreme weather in winter. However, the danger is that if the Chinese come to sense India’s strategy, they may raise the ante. The prolong war will cost India dear. India has already opened war chest and started shopping for extra military hardware and cost of sustaining winter warfare on another front will need extra moolah and men to guard the long border especially at the pressure points.

The LAC was based on the positions held by the rival forces at the time of the 1993 agreement. China’s 7th November 1959 assertion (also known as 1960 claim line) north of Pangong Tso and in Depsang Plains was further west of the LAC by 10 and 20 km, respectively. The alignment of the 1959 claim line had been carefully planned by the Chinese. It is tactical in nature.

While India applauded the welcome arrival of Rafale at Ambala, and our great thought leader again opening his mouth wide open, three important events took place. One was quite interesting and the remaining two were the fall out of the first event but were worth observing and taking note of the chess board played by China and Pakistan.

A seminar was held recently at Islamabad. Experts advised Islamabad, Beijing and Tehran to develop their trilateral mechanism to benefit from the signing of a China – Iran strategic deal. The suggestion was put forward at a Webinar hosted by the Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI), which was chaired by Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed. The Webinar was attended by representatives of local as well as Chinese and Iranian think tanks.

It was held to discuss the proposed China – Iran pact and explore how Pakistan could benefit from it, especially after India’s gradual ‘so called’ ‘temporary’ exit from Iran because of the US sanctions. Senator Mushahid said the “far-reaching” development augurs well for strengthening regional cooperation and connectivity. “China’s entry into Iran with strategic partnership and Indian exit from Chabahar will help secure our western borders and strengthen the China – Pakistan Economic Corridor,” he said.

India’s departure from Iran’s Chabahar projects would mean a reduced threat for Gwadar and CPEC projects, Mr. Mushahid added. Senator Mushahid said Pakistan and Iran enjoy “strategic confluence” of interests. He listed the common interests as peaceful and secure borders without each other’s territory being used by non-state actors to destabilise the other neighbour; regional economic and trade connectivity via BRI / CPEC; cultural connectivity through the common heritage of religion, history and Allama Iqbal; durable peace and stability in Afghanistan; opposing hegemony, sectarianism, terrorism and extremism; and rejecting a ‘New Cold War’ in the region.

Iran’s Ambassador Seyyed Mohammad Ali Hosseini, in an article for IPI on the China – Iran partnership which was read out at the webinar, said the comprehensive document would provide a framework for “long-term and strategic cooperation in all political and economic fields and in an equal and fair approach”.

The ambassador said Iran was ready to extend its cooperation with China to other friendly countries in the region in a regional mechanism. The senior fellow at the Centre for West Asian and African Studies, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, Dr Jin Liangxiang, said that conditions were favourable for trilateral cooperation between Pakistan, China and Iran. Iran and Pakistan can through this cooperation become new economic power centres for the region. He said CPEC was progressing well, but it was important for Iran to develop a national consensus on planned Chinese investment.

He warned that Chinese entry into Iran could be seen by India as a challenge from China and Pakistan, and it could react to the development. The three countries, he said, could benefit through energy cooperation, construction of pipelines for transporting Iranian oil and gas to China and improved market access. Dr Foad Izadi, a Professor at Tehran University, said there could not be better partners for Iran than China and Pakistan in its quest to defeat US ‘maximum pressure policy’. Executive Director of IPI, Prof Sajjad Bokhari, also spoke on the occasion.

Secondly simultaneously as part of anti-India tirade, and gang war Bangladeshi research scholar, Zainal Abedin, while addressing an international Webinar organised by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), stressed on the urgent need for the formation of an anti – India coalition that should comprise countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Maldives: all muslim dominated nations of the SAARC region.

The event titled ‘India: Past, Present & Future: Perceptions of the Muslim World’ had leading international experts from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Nigeria as panelists. IPS executive president Khalid Rahman chaired the webinar, while senior research fellow Syed Muhammad Ali moderated it.

Mohammad Zainal Abedin, who was trained in India to fight against West Pakistan in the 1971 war, said trusting India was a grave mistake by the Bengali Muslims as the act converted East Pakistan into Bangladesh, which later became an Indian proxy state. Some high placed and heard European politico-intellectuals, however, prefer that China, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka should come together and talk on “State led terrorism by India” as early as possible.

Lord Nazir Ahmed has floated this idea, who is the first Muslim member appointed in the House of Lords for life. The scholar Abedin articulated of the need of an alliance of Afghanistan, Iran Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Maldives, and these South Asian nations are all majority Muslim countries. Zainal Abedin recommends that the countries in his preferred coalition must fight the overt and covert activities of the Indian Intelligence Agency – The RA&W.

As of Iran’s inclusion in the proposed coalition as suggested by Zainal Abedin, the fact is that Iran for some understandable reasons could be a part of the partnership simply because Iran and the Indian establishment may not be in good terms on the pretext that India is very much tilted towards the United States and Iran, and US are the declared enemies per chance. Therefore it was argued that Iran if seduced effectively may join this coalition. For this reason Iran can thus be in the coalition format. Enemies’ enemy is my friend may work in this case.

The reluctance of these countries, albeit Muslim ones, to speak against the Indian Occupation of the Kashmiri population does tell that these countries have a variety of political-economic interests tied up with the Indian establishment which hits the Kashmiri issue very hard. Bangladesh for instance, may have some grudge over the RA&W penetration in the body politic of the country, however, the nation as such under Excellency Sheikh Hasina, still appears to remain obliged to the Indian Union for its creation in the early 70s. This means that the RA&W is a grave menace that has to be fought by these countries in coalition more so by Bangladesh.

Thirdly, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosted a video conference (VC) of Foreign Ministers of China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nepal on working together to fight Covid -19, and resume economy, on July 27, 2020. Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan Mohammed Haneef Atmar, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and Pakistan Minister for Economic Affairs Khusro Bakhtyar, and Nepali Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali attended the VC.

These nations agreed to work together to fight Covid – 19 and resume economy. Wang said that as a neighbour and partner, China stands ready to continue to work with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nepal to overcome difficulties, safeguard people’s health, promote the resumption of work and production and enhance people’s livelihood until final victory over Covid  – 19 is achieved.

Wang proposed that the four countries consolidate consensus of solidarity against Covid – 19, carry out joint cooperation mechanism on Covid-19 response in the region, enhance cooperation in the fight against the pandemic and in vaccine, and accelerate economic recovery and development after the pandemic. Ministers from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nepal said the three sides are willing to deepen cooperation with China to fight the pandemic, ensure the flow of trade and transport corridors, facilitate people-to-people and trade connection, build a “silk road of health” and community of a shared future for humanity. This raises my thoughts on the ulterior motives of China.

China’s effort during Covid -19 pandemic is to increase its area of influence. Even though it is silent on Galwan issue but it has reduced tariff rates for Bangladesh of 97% of the products, threatened Bhutan, extended a hand of friendship to Afghanistan as sooner or later American boots shall leave Afghanistan, it is giving massive aid to Nepal to teach mandarin in Nepalese schools and funding and beaming Chinese cartoons, which is creating cultural changes in young Nepalese ‘kancha’ and ‘kanchis’ Pakistan is already a vassal state and day is not very far, when Pakistan sells it territory again TO China to create permanent army camps in its area.

China is laying fibre optics cables in Pakistan and may beam its ‘reformist’ cultural agenda to change the perception among other SAARC nations as dependable, formidable and steel willed ally. China will showcase itself as close ‘chaddi friend’ and may try to tilt them in their favour and start other multiple front against India.

Some NGOs in South Asia and China are standing up against politicisation and stigmatisation of the Covid-19 pandemic and are calling for a joint effort in the virus fight, at a time when some Western politicians are utilising the pandemic to attack other countries for political ends.

Trump calls the virus as ‘China virus’, and this has given dent to China. A joint initiative released by the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC) and friendly organisations in South Asian countries including India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka at a Covid-19 themed Webinar on Monday, appealed to “speak with one voice for justice”, amid the unprecedented challenges brought by the pandemic.

China’s Embassy to Bangladesh confirmed with the Global Times that Ambassador Li Jiming has said that he would be willing to be the first volunteer for the upcoming phase III clinical trial of a vaccine candidate developed by Chinese company Sinovac Life Sciences Co., Ltd. in Bangladesh. This is the ways to make new friends and admirers.

The socio-economic conditions of “almost all African countries” have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic which is poised to worsen dramatically as tourism, air transport and oil sectors are “visibly impacted”, according to a new report published by the African Union (AU) recently. The 55 – member African bloc said in its latest report on the impact of Covid-19 on African economies issued on Monday that “some key sectors of the African economy are already experiencing a slowdown as a result of the pandemic.” The report noted that the Covid-19 crisis is affecting both the African and world economies.

The AU also projected exports and imports of African countries would drop by at least 35% from the level reached in 2019. The loss is estimated to be around US$ 270 billion. “The fight against the spread of the virus and medical treatment will lead to an increase of public spending in Africa estimated to be at least US$ 130 billion,” the report revealed.

It said it’s lagging tourism sector, the decline in remittances from the African diaspora, reduced fdi, and official development assistance, as well as illicit financing flows and domestic financial market tightening are among the major exogenous impacts of COVID-19 on African economies. The endogenous effects of COVID-19 are occurring as a result of the rapid spread of the virus in many African countries. They are linked to morbidity and mortality and lead to a disruption of economic activities, according to the AU. “It is important to assess the socio-economic impact of COVID-19, although the pandemic is at a less advanced stage in Africa due to its lesser quantity of international migrants’ arrivals relative to Asia, Europe and North America and strong precaution measures in some African countries,” the report read.

According to the report, tourism, air transport and oil sectors have been “visibly impacted.” It also stressed that invisible impacts of COVID-19 are expected in 2020 regardless of the duration of the pandemic. “The socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis is real. It is therefore essential to inform the populations on the impact and advise policymakers in order to better prepare and lessen the adverse impact of the pandemic,” “With the negative impact on key sectors of the economy such as tourism, travel, exports; with falling commodity prices, declining governmental resources to finance public investment, it would be [seemingly] impossible to achieve an optimistic forecast of growth rates in 2020,” the AU stressed.

For 15 African countries, the tourism sector represents more than 10% of GDP and for 20, it is more than 8%. Figures from the AU show the tourism sector contributes much more to GDP in countries like Seychelles, Cape Verde and Mauritius (above 25% of GDP) while it also employs more than a million people in Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania. Tourism employment comprises more than 20% of total employment in Seychelles, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe, and Mauritius.

China is making special efforts to improve its image as it got extremely bad press due to atrocities of Nigerians and other nationals in China. It wants to reduce the Indian goodwill, which it wants for support from Africa for UNSC permanent seat.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte 4 days back said he had no choice but to treat disputes in the South China Sea as diplomatic endeavours because the alternative was to go to war with China. Duterte was speaking in defence of his government’s decision not to press a 2016 decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which went in favour of the Philippines in a case against China.

During his annual address to the nation, Duterte said China was in possession of territory that his country did not have the capability to challenge militarily, adding “we cannot go to war”. Chinese muscle has made the popular leader turn around and surrender, and has asked for Chinese help in fighting Covid – 19 in his nation. On other hand the Myanmar government has decided to open up the project for other foreign firms besides China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), as it is not keen that one single company dominates the mega project, according to people aware of the matter.

Foreign policy hawks concede that current strategy is winning China no new friends. Time will tell how Indian deft diplomacy will deter the nations to move away from the Chinese camp before it is too late like in Pakistan or Sri Lanka! Winds of change are blowing in Sri Lanka already. Sri Lanka will henceforth adopt an “India first approach’ as its new foreign policy plank and protect New Delhi’s strategic security interest.

This means that Sri Lanka cannot afford, should not afford and will not afford any particular country (read China) to use ‘it’ as a staging area to do anything against another country – especially India. It is hoped that Sri Lanka would resolve the eastern container terminal project, where a local protest has stalled the project, but India hopes the issue will be resolved as in private talks, the leadership has assured India.

With the onset of the pandemic lockdown came a fresh set of challenges in the Indo Bangladesh relations. West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee closed the Petrapole Benapole border to traffic, causing immense difficulties. This prompted the Indian Government to turn to the Indian government to turn to the Indian Railways and ships to transport goods to the Bangladesh. Banerjee has also refused to repatriate close to 2,000 Indians stranded in Bangladesh, which strained the ties. Maldives and Myanmar have realised the hard way.

Things are looking up and full marks must be given to the Modi regime.

Rajiv Saxena
Rajiv Saxena
Rajiv Prakash Saxena is a graduate of UBC, Vancouver, Canada. He is an authority on eCommerce, eProcurement, eSign, DSCs and Internet Security. He has been a Technology Bureaucrat and Thought leader in the Government. He has 8 books and few UN assignments. He wrote IT Policies of Colombia and has implemented projects in Jordan, Rwanda, Nepal and Mauritius. Rajiv writes, speaks, mentors on technology issues in Express Computers, ET, National frontier and TV debates. He worked and guided the following divisions: Computer Aided Design (CAD), UP: MP: Maharashtra and Haryana State Coordinator to setup NICNET in their respective Districts of the State, TradeNIC, wherein a CD containing list of 1,00,000 exporters was cut with a search engine and distributed to all Indian Embassies and High Commissions way back in the year 1997 (It was an initiative between NIC and MEA Trade Division headed by Ms. Sujatha Singh, IFS, India’s Ex Foreign Secretary), Law Commission, Ministry of Law & Justice, Department of Legal Affairs, Department of Justice, Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), Ministry of Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation (MoHUPA), National Jail Project, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), National Commission for Minorities (NCM), National Data Centres (NDC), NIC National Infrastructure, Certifying Authority (CA) to issue Digital Signature Certificates (DSCs), eProcurement, Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs (MPA), Lok Sabha and its Secretariat (LSS) and Rajya Sabha and its Secretariat (RSS) along with their subordinate and attached offices like Directorate of Estate (DoE), Land & Development Office (L&DO), National Building Construction Corporation (NBCC), Central Public Works Department (CPWD), National Capital Regional Planning Board (NCRPB), Housing & Urban Development Corporation (HUDO), National Building Organisation (NBO), Delhi Development Authority (DDA), BMPTC and many others.



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