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    South Asia
     Jan 29, 2008
India's vision blurs over China
By Zorawar Daulet Singh

NEW DELHI - On concluding his recent visit to China, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh remarked, "President Hu [Jintao] recognized the problems in Pakistan and agreed that a strong, stable, moderate Pakistan is in India's interests and in the interests of Asia," and it was "necessary for both India and China to consult each other more frequently".

Earlier, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, on the Hu-Manmohan talks, noted, "The two leaders agreed to strengthen their consultation and communication for the peace and stability in the South Asia region so as to make joint efforts for the stability there."

If one takes the long view of the many geopolitical futures for

South Asia, the above comments reflect a strategic opportunity for New Delhi to consider namely, the possibility for the two giant neighbors to discuss and perhaps even collaborate to stabilize a piece of strategic real estate that if it spirals out of control will influence both states adversely. But that's not all. The prospect of an accelerating US presence in close proximity to India's western frontiers, and to China's southern periphery, further suggest that it is in both nations' interests to ensure that the US does not entrench itself in a "common" neighborhood, and leverage that position to play geopolitical arbiter in the southern rim of Eurasia and beyond.

Prospects for such "strategic cooperation", however distant or preposterous, are further reinforced by the fact that, for both India and China, sustaining their internal socio-economic rejuvenation is likely to constitute the central goal of their grand strategies for the next few decades. Thus, very simply, neither can afford instability or "great games" on their peripheries.

The Eagle returns
The primary factor that demands a re-evaluation of entrenched Indian attitudes regarding China's view of Pakistan stems from the new situation that arose since America's dramatic reentry into South Asian affairs since late 2001. The two seemingly enduring triangles in South Asian international relations - India-Pakistan-US (IPA) and India-Pakistan-China (IPC) - have come together to infuse a new geopolitical dynamic in the subcontinent.

Now while the Indian strategic community exclusively focuses on the sinister record of the latter triangle, namely the China-Pakistan entente, the former triangle has assumed far greater strategic significance for India since 2001, when Washington re-activated its Cold War alliance with Islamabad, ostensibly to prosecute the "war on terror" in Afghanistan in the aftermath of September 11.

In sum, the burden of Pakistan's security has largely shifted from one external guarantor, China, to another, the US. Ironically, New Delhi, unwilling or unable to wholly confront this geopolitical great power exchange, and by persisting with its focus on the China-Pakistan linkage, is completely unprepared for the emerging South Asian balance of power.

Insofar as US re-engagement with South Asia since September 11 and its resumption of playing a pivotal role in Pakistani affairs lends legitimacy to China's own engagement with Pakistan, the IPC triangle is kept alive by Beijing with little costs in its bilateral relationship with New Delhi. Noted China scholar, John Garver has made this point when he opined that Beijing has in fact benefited from American intervention in Pakistani affairs after September 11, since it reduced China's burden of preserving the regime in Islamabad and sustaining the Pakistani state.

To be sure, China since the early 1990s, prior to Washington's much acclaimed South Asian de-hyphenation, has transmitted subtle signals (ie taking a detached position on the Kashmir dispute) that suggested an envisaged de-hyphenation of Beijing's relationship with India and Pakistan (ie pro-Pakistan to neutrality in Indo-Pakistani relations). The same was reiterated most recently during Hu Jintao's visit to India in November 2006, where the premier stated that China does not seek "selfish gains"in South Asia. In fact, this nuanced stance was to signal to Pakistan (and other smaller South Asian states) that an anti-India policy will not receive support from Beijing and for New Delhi that it would not use its influence with South Asian states in anti-India activities.

In essence, it was a type of reassurance strategy that aspired to alleviate Indian threat perceptions and to prevent China's entrapment in intra-South Asian disputes. The declaration of a "strategic partnership" with India during the Wen-Manmohan summit in April 2005 was another signal of Chinese disengagement from a Pakistan-centric South Asia policy. Of course, to the dismay of most Indian analysts, Beijing has been unwilling to abandon its "multidimensional"relationship with Islamabad altogether. And, it is unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future.

However, even here, it is vital to appreciate that Sino-Pakistani relations have more variables, at least for China, than simply an anti-India hedge: First, China seeks to balance US influence and vice-versa; a typical great power response. Second, Pakistan serves as a potential geoeconomic "bridgehead" to China's West Asian energy interests and access to the sea. Third, Pakistan also plays an intermediary role in China's engagement in the Greater Middle East. Fourth, an unstable Pakistan will adversely affect Xinjiang province with its 60% non-Han population.

Nonetheless, the IPA triangle has come to the fore as the dominant variable in the Indo-Pakistani relationship. It is now fairly evident that the US, like to China, is unwilling to abandon Pakistan for a deeper bilateral equation with India. In fact, the fundamental premise of US's South Asia policy is preserving the strategic gains that emerged from the post-September 11 window of opportunity to dehyphenate its relationship with India and Pakistan.

Insofar as a convergence of interests with the US's "war on terror" in Afghanistan is perceived by the security establishment in New Delhi, this has further ensured that New Delhi has been willing to conform to US's regional agenda, and has consequently been unable or unwilling to forge an independent policy vis-a-vis Islamabad. In fact, popular opinion in New Delhi has been prepared to take a benign or even favorable perspective on US policy vis-a-vis Pakistan and its implications for the trajectory on Indo-Pakistani relations, thereby greatly easing any contradictions for Washington's much valued de-hyphenation.

Pertinent facts, such as, the bulk of US military aid to Pakistan over the past five years has been used to acquire American conventional military systems more useful vis-a-vis India, and evidence on US's role in aiding and abetting Pakistan's road to nuclear weapons (almost in parallel track to Beijing's covert support), are either dismissed without serious reflection or ignored altogether.

Quite clearly, New Delhi's belief that the US would serve Indian interests in Afghanistan, and the hope that Washington would or could roll back the Pakistani military's irredentist aspirations has been tragically misplaced. An important cause for Indian delusion regarding US's role in South Asia is largely because New Delhi itself is seeking to deepen its links with the Washington, and is thus willing to overlook US's policies in the region and their implications for longer-term Indian interests.

India in a multipolar South Asia
In an age of "open regionalism", the aura of India's geopolitical primacy over South Asia has been shattered. Indeed, New Delhi's inability to shape its periphery, a result of political and bureaucratic obduracy, has accommodated the presence of outside powers in South Asia. We are now in an age where pluralism or multipolarity is the dominant structure in regional (and global) security affairs. If this is indeed the structural reality in South Asia, and one adopts the timeless maxim that there are "no permanent enemies"in international politics, then New Delhi must be unsentimental in its pursuit of restoring a modicum of stability and influence in the subcontinent. And since two major actors - US and China - are engaged at varying degrees in the affairs of almost all states on India's periphery, it would be impulsive for New Delhi to take a biased perspective on this great power competition.

The latest Hu-Manmohan joint vision statement notes: "The two sides take a positive view on each other's participation in sub-regional multilateral cooperation processes between like-minded countries, including South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation and Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The two sides hold that this does not affect either country's existing friendly relations or cooperation with other countries."

In sum, both states have acknowledged each other's participation in sub-regional theatres and on a multivector basis.

The statement goes on to note, "The two sides positively view each others' participation in regional processes and agree to strengthen their coordination and consultation within regional cooperation mechanisms ... to explore together and with other countries a new architecture for closer regional cooperation in Asia, and to make joint efforts for further regional integration of Asia."

The above vision could lay the foundation for the initiation of a new India-China strategic dialogue, though not exclusively, over Pakistan. Now any collaboration between India and China would naturally imply a convergence of interests, albeit tactical. An important shared perspective might be keeping the South Asian neighborhood free from an overbearing great power presence. That US strategic presence in close proximity to India's western frontiers has not brought about the geopolitical benefits originally envisaged by New Delhi is gradually being recognized. American obstruction into the evolution of normal inter-state relations between Tehran and New Delhi, especially in the vital sphere of energy security is a case in point.

Beijing's grand strategy lays a strong emphasis on preserving stability on its southern and western periphery, given the undiminished security calculus over Tibet and Xinjiang, Chinese provinces populated by restive minorities. Beijing's policies in Central Asia and its cooperation with Russia to stabilize the region after September 11, 2001, was driven largely by a desire to counterbalance the prospect of a sustained American military presence on China's vulnerable western frontiers.

In a similar vein, it is arguably in Beijing's interest to see that India's foreign policy autonomy is preserved, for internal discord in India's polity make it an attractive target for external penetrations in multidimensional - political, economic, military - spheres. Thus, paradoxically, China would not wish to see India lose control over its periphery (which partially overlaps with China's), for any vacuum when filled by a great power will create a formidable challenge for Beijing's security planners.

Finally, there are tangential geopolitical benefits that could accrue to New Delhi by issue-based cooperation with China. First, India-China cooperation may provide India with much needed leverage vis-a-vis Washington, both on the latter's greatly exposed Pakistan policy and in moving forward with constructive geoeconomic links with Iran. Second, it could provide a signal to Pakistan that it should wisely appraise the evolution of its alliance with the US, and that other options for economic development and security are available to Islamabad.

Third, a strategic dialogue has the potential to become a mechanism for bilateral confidence-building between Beijing and New Delhi itself, and, alleviating "threat perceptions" on both sides of the Himalayas. A periodic dialogue would help both states in gauging each other's intentions, which for too long have been filtered through the tainted prism of Cold Warriors. Arguably, it could be an important step toward alleviating the intractable "security dilemma" between India and China.

Is this not the essence of "cooperative security"?

Zorawar Daulet Singh, who holds a master's degree in international relations from the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, is an international relations analyst based in New Delhi zorawar.dauletsingh@gmail.com.

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