Modi in the China Shop

Spearhead Analysis – 19.05.2015

Modi in ChinaIndia’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited China from May 14 to 16. He went there with some heavy baggage. India’s establishment has never lost an opportunity to portray China as a threat. In fact its military establishment says loudly and clearly that in their threat perception they consider China and Pakistan as a single threat never explaining how this combined threat will actually materialize against India. Mr Modi also draws inspiration and support from the right-wing Hindu nationalist groups that nurture a deep distrust — bordering on hatred — towards China and Pakistan. There is also the fact of Indian intelligence activity to exploit Pakistan’s vulnerabilities and undermine it from within — the latest manifestation being the attack on the Ismailis in Karachi with India blaming IS and sectarian rivalry almost from the first moment after the attack. And there is the open Indian hostility to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor by creating and stoking disruptive debate within Pakistan. That India has forged a strategic alliance with the US may not worry the supremely confident Chinese but India edging into the US-Asia Pacific plans may not thrill the Chinese.

The Modi teams’ first step of ending dialogue with Pakistan and signaling a hostile posture with cease fire violations on the Line of Control in Kashmir and a stepped up intelligence operation against Pakistan has been followed by a series of foreign visits — 19 at last count. The idea obviously is to outline some kind of visionary foreign policy that seeks to lift India to a higher plane with its sights on a seat in the UN Security Council and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Neither of these ambitions figured in Modi’s China yatra. Nor was there any mention of China getting into any infrastructure, economic or technological ventures in India. The agreements were in the form of MOU’s that may or may not crystallize and the $22 billion package is mostly loans to Indian business houses. This is in stark contrast to China’s unambiguous $46 billion package for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor — the subject of much hand wringing and hair pulling among those in India who cannot stomach anything good ever happening in Pakistan. Clearly India does not figure in China’s Silk Road and the belt and road initiatives. Pakistan does because it is through Pakistan and Gwadar that China thrusts towards Eurasia.

If Pakistan can be ignored by India then Pakistan too can indicate that its initiatives with China and Afghanistan are regional and even extra regional leaving India to consider its options. The recent agreement between the Pakistani and Afghan intelligence agencies and the continuous high level contacts between the two countries are a manifestation of political and military resolve to jointly tackle issues. Pakistan is acting to root out extremism and terrorism and working closely with Afghanistan and the US. India’s harping on past policies and misadventures by dredging up bygone events is not having any impact because of the changed realities and Pakistan’s policies based on those realities. India needs to come on board.

That India is a big player on the regional and world stage is a fact. That India figures importantly in the BRICs and Asian Investment Bank is also a fact. Pakistan also understands the asymmetry with India and both India and Pakistan understand the cost of conflict and the benefits of a normalized relationship that stresses trade, economy and human security. Pakistan has clearly signaled that it wants peaceful relations with all its neighbors including India. China has consistently advised peaceful cooperation between India and Pakistan. It is time for India to take a step towards unraveling the strategic distrust that spawns hostility.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)