In the midst of a triangle

Dawn, October 9, 2005
In the midst of a triangle
By Dr Zhang Li

This book is a collection of 16 papers read by government policy-makers, politicians and scholars from various countries including Pakistan at a seminar held by the Islamabad Policy Research Institute in collaboration with the Hanns Seidel Foundation on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute earlier this year

Dr Zhang Li writes about China’s policy in South Asia and how it can play a pivotal role in the resolution of the Kashmir issue

The Kashmir dispute has haunted Pakistan and India for more than five decades. China has long been relevant to Kashmir geographically, historically and strategically. Beijing has serious concerns about this area especially the lndo-Pakistan confrontation centred on it during the last few years as a result of the known geo-political developments. Generally speaking, China’s view on Kashmir has much to do with its evolving relations with India and Pakistan, two major South Asian powers.

As is widely known, China and India enjoyed a short-lived honeymoon during the 1950’s. At the same time, Beijing had unstable relations with Islamabad even after the Bandung Conference, primarily due to Pakistan’s strategic ties with Seato and Cento, US-sponsored alliances aimed at containing the Soviet Union and China. In those days China’s basic position on Kashmir was a “no involvement” and “doing justice” approach, advocating the necessity of bilaterally addressing the Indo-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir without any extra-regional interference. This ostensibly impartial approach was more conformable with India’s position in the existing context, in view of the then regional reality of Indian supremacy over Pakistan. But, the “no involvement” approach was significantly underscored by the fact that, even at the warmest period of Sino-Indian relations during the 1950’s, Zhou Enlai politely and firmly declined Jawaharlal Nehru’s invitation to visit Srinagar and refused to comment on the issue in India’s favour.

The 1962 Sino-Indian border war directly caused by the border dispute decisively changed Beijing’s perception and calculus of its strategic interest in the South Asian subcontinent. This helped reshape its policy options towards the region in general and towards Kashmir in particular. To be specific, the rising animosity and mounting rivalry between China and India made Beijing visibly alter its attitude to the India-Pakistan tussle over Kashmir. Roughly during the same period, Islamabad’s positive engagements with Beijing, especially signing a major border agreement with China in 1963, proved to be considerably useful in enhancing China’s sympathy for Pakistan on Kashmir. It is worth mentioning, however, that China’s prudence in dealing with this issue was marked by its insistence that the Sino-Pakistan border agreement would by nature be provisional. Hence it was subject to adjustment and finalization after a final settlement of the Kashmir issue had been arrived at between India and Pakistan.

In adjusting its relations with India and Pakistan in the early 1960’s, China’s basic position on Kashmir has seen some meaningful changes. It began to emphasize that the prospect of the disputed region should be envisaged and decided through a UN supervised plebiscite based on genuine representation and self-determination of the people of Kashmir. This approach actually meant that Beijing began to morally support the campaign of freedom and secession from India within Kashmir and endorse Islamabad’s claim to Kashmir as a whole. During the Indo-Pakistan war in 1965, Beijing clearly expressed its full solidarity with Pakistan and strongly supported Pakistan’s position of getting back Kashmir. As a tangible testimony of helping Pakistan, Beijing voiced an ultimatum to New Delhi, warning to undertake measures that were deemed to be proper unless India stopped its military provocations along the unsettled Sino-Indian boundary. Beijing’s statement sent a clear signal that it was supporting Pakistan, and it proved to be quite useful for Islamabad in reinforcing its ability to confront India. New Delhi, sensing the purposeful pressure from Beijing, had to deploy a large amount of troops along its lengthy border with China in case of a second front supposedly initiated by China...

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How far the peace process in South Asia will proceed could be primarily decided by what kind of concessions the two sides are ready to make in a series of uneasy bargains
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Sino-Indian relations witnessed a visible thaw since the late 1980’s and China began to revise its South Asia policy around the mid-1990’s, symbolized by the high-profile exchange of visits and the kick-starting of a series of confidence-building thrusts. Referring to the Kashmir issue, Beijing began to tentatively play down the significance of several UN resolutions on Kashmir that basically endorse a final settlement by a virtually pro-Pakistan plebiscite, and came around to support a formula of resolving the Kashmir problem through bilateral negotiations based on the 1972 Shimla Accord rather than foreign interventions. While comprehending Islamabad’s vital stake in the ultimate outcome of the Kashmir stalemate, Beijing has repeatedly proposed that India and Pakistan should work together on other easier, but still significant, aspects of their bilateral relationship prior to reaching a final resolution on Kashmir.


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New observations

The recent heightened tone of Indo-Pakistan interaction has raised general expectations for peace in South Asia. But a key point tends to be overlooked. To make the process practically fruitful, both New Delhi and Islamabad have to adopt a give-and-take approach, regardless of whether they are willing or not. But the fact is that they have both stressed the major differences in their respective outlooks on the root and nature of their problematic relationship, setting different preconditions for the normalcy of bilateral relations: New Delhi has claimed that the cross-border terrorism must be completely stopped before normalization and essential improvement of the bilateral relations takes place. By contrast, Pakistan emphasizes the issue of Kashmir and considers it the “core issue” determining all dimensions of the two countries’ relationship. This huge gap is quite understandable in terms of their respective reasoning and arguments which they have articulated for their own national interests. But for detached foreign observers, the setting of respective requisites for the prospects of bilateral ties, would narrow the range of options for India and Pakistan. It would envisage a formidable and even an almost unachievable mission in seeking a substantial breakthrough in the stalemate because of lack of flexibility and realistic thinking.

From a Chinese perspective, given prevailing circumstances, how far the peace process in South Asia will proceed could be primarily decided by what kind of concessions the two sides are ready to make in a series of uneasy bargains. One could make some predictions in terms of the nature of the amity as well as the possible bottom lines set by the two. It has been argued whether New Delhi could underplay its original starting point for facilitating official negotiations between the two capitals and for normalizing relations with Pakistan. Instead of demanding a complete end to cross-border terrorism, it could highlight the emerging fact that military and terrorist infiltrations across the LoC have been considerably reduced and the situation within the Kashmir Valley has become visibly improved.

As an important development, the Musharraf government has intensified operations against terrorist outfits and groups within Pakistan, many of which are believed to have been associated with trans-border penetrations. This enhancing effort and its outcome in this regard have received high acclaim worldwide. Currently, many signs still indicate that the Musharraf regime’s hard-handed crackdowns on extremism will continue. However, New Delhi has grudged offering encouraging assessments and timely acknowledgements of Pakistan’s initiative; and India’s popular reactions to it have basically been sceptical and fastidious. It has been argued that if India adequately recognizes the endeavour Musharraf made in targeting militant fundamentalists and, therefore, lowers its request for total end of cross-border militancy, it would surely be helpful in facilitating the process of dialogue and amity between the two sides.

Another dimension pertaining to the current Kashmir problem is how to envisage Washington’s role as a virtual mediator in South Asia. As a matter of fact, both New Delhi and Islamabad become increasingly aware of tangible US involvement in their bilateral affairs and, interestingly, have always taken account of the tremendous American influence over recent years. It is well known that New Delhi and Islamabad hold totally different views of foreign meddling. In contrast to Islamabad’s interest in invoking active international involvement and even accept it as an indispensable catalyst for a reasonable resolution of the Kashmir issue, New Delhi has impressively rejected any strategy of involving external powers or international bodies, let alone relying on them...

According to a prevailing Chinese view, any imposed extra-regional power’s influence in the present South Asian equation does and will produce mixed effects on the prospect of India-Pakistan rapprochement. Despite some obvious merits, Washington’s zeal, if moving beyond the limits, might bring about new uncertainties. And external pressure on the two countries to take action cannot guarantee the endurance of commitment to amity if there is not enough inherent dynamism for envisaging major issues from inside.

Indeed, many analysts outside South Asia have speculated that the active engagements between India and Pakistan since 2003 might be primarily regarded as a result of external influence, particularly the increasing pressure from Washington. True, America’s low-key statements are in contrast to the impressive exchange of conciliatory rhetoric and postures between New Delhi and Islamabad. Several controversial Pentagon documents, released by an Indian website, illustrate that Washington has a strongly proposed “road map” of the South Asian peace process, which highlights a pressing American involvement in the regional scenario. It even offers a timetable for making the regional leaders meet the requirements, which are predominantly to end India-Pakistan confrontation and to resolve the Kashmir dispute.

If the authenticity of these documents is confirmed, it will be seen as a convincing case of high-handed outside pressures that drive both India and Pakistan to seek peace and stability in the region. So a significant concern here is whether both countries equally sense the imperativeness and urgency of reconciliation and, perhaps more important, whether they are politically and psychologically ready to reach a consensus on the basis of reciprocal concessions and accommodation. If it is not the case, one could barely be optimistic about the prospect of the South Asian reconciliation process...

Current developments indicate that both Indian and Pakistani policy-makers have expressed their inclination to lower the threshold of normalizing the relations. This brings about the probability of reasonably underplaying the preconditions set by the two and actually sends out an active signal on a reciprocal basis. It is noted that the joint statement issued by the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in New York in October 2005 makes no reference to the “cross-border terrorism” in view of the fact that the trans-LoC militant penetrations from Pakistan have become obviously reduced. According to the Indian leader, this key document committed the two countries “to advance beyond what was agreed to in the January 6 (2004) statement both in terms of discussing confidence-building measures as well as moving to discuss complex issues relating to the State of Jammu and Kashmir”.

To give another example, as Musharraf currently proposes, Pakistan is willing to go beyond the UN resolutions and no longer impose its demand for plebiscite in Kashmir. According to this proposal, the two countries would first designate some areas on the flanks of the LoC, demilitarize them and then change their status in order to phase out the remaining issues. Meanwhile, he asked India to show flexibility by abandoning the claim of a simple conversion of the LoC into a permanent boundary. This interaction of willingness should be valued greatly against the backdrop of the domestic opposition to and criticism of the peace initiatives.

Active role

Based on China’s parallel cultivation of its relations with both Islamabad and New Delhi; in view of the emerging Indo-Pakistan rapprochement; and the still suspended setting for the Kashmir problem, some interesting and meaningful questions have already been raised: Does Beijing’s balanced stance mean a basic change from practicing “no involvement” to reasonably coming on the scene? Would Beijing find the chance of playing a constructive role in the current India-Pakistan interaction? What kind of role and what type of behaviour will China be expected to conduct? Would China be mutually accepted by India and Pakistan as a responsible facilitator in that region? And more important, how does Beijing design its significant role aimed to pursue both South Asian rapprochement and its own national interests? These questions need serious probes and answers.


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Excerpted with permission from:
The Kashmir Imbroglio: Looking Towards the Future
Edited by Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema and Maqsudul Hasan Nuri
Islamabad Policy Research Institute

Dr Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema is president of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) and has written several books and research articles on issues related to Pakistan
Dr Maqsudul Hasan Nuri is a visiting professor at the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad and is a freelance writer for different newspapers
Dr Zhang Li is a research professor of International Relations and director of the Centre for South
Asia-West China Cooperation & Development Studies, Siachuan University. He has many publications and presentations to his credit

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