Pakistan PM Imran Khan with Gen Qamar Bajwa | @peaceforchange | Twitter
File photo | Pakistan PM Imran Khan with Gen Qamar Bajwa | @peaceforchange | Twitter
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As India tries to sort out its tension with China, Pakistan’s relative silence is noticeable. Although intently watching the India-China conflict, Islamabad’s contribution has not extended beyond the ceasefire violations to some significant ratcheting up the temperature at the Line of Control. If anything, there is the concern that New Delhi may initiate some form of fighting to assuage any domestic concerns regarding the Narendra Modi government’s inability to strongly stand up to China. While responding to Beijing in Ladakh or other places where China has critical interests may take longer for India, the domestic embarrassment could be minimised by increasing temperature with Pakistan. The idea of India starting a limited conflict with Pakistan instead is presented in two articles published within a week of each other from sources that have the ears of the military establishment. This in itself indicates how the military either sees the situation or would like the people to understand it.

Many in the Indian media say that some grand conspiracy is afoot between China and Pakistan in which the latter has amassed about 20,000 troops in Gilgit-Baltistan and is frantically consulting with Chinese generals. Besides some in the Indian media, such a story is close to the heart of Pakistan’s retired Lt General Asad Durrani.

In a recent article, the former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief talked about a combined China-Pakistan effort against India with the hope to solve the Kashmir issue. However, the article expressed a wish that the two countries should have collaborated before the launch of the crisis in Ladakh. But the fact of the matter is that there is no indication of any extraordinary movement by Pakistan at the Line of Control (LoC) or the northern areas. Of course, there are troops in Gilgit-Baltistan in anticipation of any possible tension and to organise elections next month in August, in which the army will play its role of ensuring its favourite candidate wins, but not the kind of numbers that intelligence reports published in the Indian media present. In fact, given the tension in the area, it would be odd for Pakistan not to ramp up its security, but an aggressive intent is not visible.


Also read: PM Modi sends message to China from Ladakh: ‘Age of expansionism is over’


What’s in it for Pakistan

Surely, there is a general excitement in Pakistan on the demonstration of the Modi government’s relative weakness vis-à-vis China. From the late 1990s, when Beijing-New Delhi relations had picked up to a degree that it had become a matter of concern for Islamabad, bilateral relations between Pakistan’s two big neighbours have nose-dived in an unprecedented manner. I remember my conversations with some Pakistani diplomats in 1998-99, who were worried about China no longer wanting to play a zero-sum game in South Asia.

Beijing had remained neutral even during Kargil when it encouraged Islamabad to withdraw its troops. When I spoke with him a few years ago, then air force chief, Air Marshal Pervaiz Mehdi Qureshi, talked about his visit to Beijing with the official delegation headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with the expectation that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force will lend material help as it did during the 1960s. However, he returned disappointed when the PLA Air Force chief told Qureshi that he was ready to help if the Chinese political leadership agreed to it.

Unless China and India find a way around their mutual anxieties about each other’s intent, a new strategic scene has been set after Ladakh from which it is difficult for both to get out while keeping semblance of their respective strength. For Pakistan, this conflict is a strategic balancer that has greater potential of keeping New Delhi engaged, especially if India and China are tempted away from finding a solution to their ongoing tension towards a ‘Siachinisation’ of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Asserting power and indicating intent to protect territories where ‘even grass doesn’t grow’ by both China and India (or as in the case of Pakistan and India in Siachen) is likely to escalate operational military expenditure and human cost on both sides. This is a battle that Rawalpindi would let China fight itself, and in which it may keep adding to the temperature in relatively small proportions.

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Also read: India can’t afford to be defensive against China like it has been with Pakistan on terror


Bigger battles in Pakistan

Surprisingly, there seems to be a dearth of analysis on the ongoing India-China conflict. Barring some carefully expressed views, there is nothing much to go on. This is probably due to the shrinking of the strategic community. Despite the military’s interest in promoting and building a security studies community, a debate is missing because the general curbing of alternative voices has reduced the organic nature of the conversation. However, the relative silence can be equally attributed to analysts being overly engaged with Pakistan’s domestic political crisis.

Some of the sources I spoke with were of the view that even the military’s attention is diverted to the bigger question of how to deal with the economic and general political crisis generated by Prime Minister Imran Khan and his ministers. The damage that the government and its aviation minister single-handedly brought to the country’s aviation industry is a real crisis that has not only resulted in the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) blocking Pakistan’s national carrier from flying to Europe but will also have long-term repercussions for the country. Clearly, the hybrid-military/democratic model is failing and Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa and his cabal are unable to find a quick and credible replacement for Imran Khan. Even if an internal change within the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is brought, it will be short-term with little likelihood of eradicating issues of governance.


Also read: India keeps tight watch on Pakistan as ceasefire violations rise at LoC amid China standoff


Islamabad is no Kathmandu

The military’s political engagement at a time when temperature in the region is boiling is also a reminder of the Siachen crisis in the mid-1980s. While both India and Pakistan were busy shopping for high-altitude warfare gear and equipment, New Delhi overtook Pakistan in occupying the glacier as Rawalpindi was too busy with domestic politics. A similar situation prevails now, especially if the concern regarding possible Indian aggression is real. Given the concentration of forces in Ladakh, Pakistan’s main concern is about the security of Skardu in Gilgit-Baltistan, an area that may be on India’s focus, especially after the revocation of Article 370.

It’s not that Pakistan can’t defend itself since, for Islamabad, the takeaway from Pulwama-Balakot is that it has a fair chance of surviving in a limited conflict. However, deploying the military is more of a defensive option. And the offensive option, in the form of a substantial increase in cross-border militancy, continues to have its limitations because of the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) growing pressure on Pakistan. Those restrictions have not gone away, which is one of the reasons for General Bajwa’s continued carefulness in not excessively aggravating the situation at the LoC. As a senior journalist that I spoke with argued, “If Bajwa didn’t escalate soon after India’s revocation of Article 370 when there was visible anxiety in the armed forces, then he may not do it now when he is in a more stable position”.

India must look cautiously at its neighbourhood where patronage from China will make things more difficult as is obvious from the case of Nepal. Notwithstanding Pakistan’s security relations with China, it is not becoming another Kathmandu and shouldn’t be treated as one. New Delhi may be anxious about the possibility of a two-front situation, but must also recognise that Islamabad has not entirely tilted towards Beijing for its own needs that are totally unrelated to India. In fact, if anything, Pakistan would like to keep a balance between the big powers and other states strategically important to it. While driven by the desire to demonstrate its strength against China, India must think more cautiously about the behaviour of its neighbourhood. Showing Beijing intent to defend may be important but its equally necessary to keep the regional temperature down.

The author is research associate at SOAS, London and author of Military Inc. Views are personal. 

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30 Comments Share Your Views

30 COMMENTS

  1. India’s revocation of Article 370 was first collaborative move against China Pakistan Economic Corridor, this was supported by a number of imperialist countries, but unfortunately China proactively engaged India immediately after it formulated Quad war council with US, and waged a diplomatic war against china

  2. She is known to be biased and her views r for sale. Whosoever can offer money, air time or print space may get a bargain.

  3. India Need Not Bother About Pakistan.This Terror State Will Die It’s Own Death All The While Promoting Terrorism And Crushed By Chinese CPEC Debt.We Need To Be On Guard Always Against The Unreliable Virus Country.

  4. Although Pakistan has military pacts with China and close defence relationship, still it is not totally cut off from US. May be US has asked Pakistan to keep away from Sino-Indian conflict. Moreover if it takes advantage of the present India Chinese conflict, Pakistan will be viewed as a proxy of China. Also Pakistan is of the opinion that India with increased military strength in Ladakh, may take on Pakistan and the world will block China to act on Paks behalf as in the past.

  5. Why are we worried of what Pak views on Art 370 ? It is an internal matter and any outside view on 370 or CAA or NRC should be ignored and we and media are ourselves blowing it up. All these will be suitably taken care of by our MEA.
    Kashmir is a Hindu land open for all sects and groups and no one group has any claim on it. It will remain in India for ever.
    What is important is China’s hunger for area not belonging to it and right now they need to quit not just from Indian land but also from Tibet. We from India have no border issues with China but only with Tibet.

  6. There it is. Not only Indians perceive Modi government’s response to Galwan carnage by China as weak, internationally also that is the perception. While this government swiftly punished Pakistan twice, it is not even naming China nor condemning the barbaric attacks by the PLA. The question of this government punishing China doesn’t arise. India will pay a dear price for its timidity.

    • Mr Gururaj: So do you want India to attack China to show that she is not timid ? Do you think that war will end well for India given the fact that the country is reeling from economic mismanagement thanks to Modinomics and a health crisis?

  7. The real reason is the gift that Pakistan has received from it’s higher then Himalayas friend China. A gift that even it’s worst enemy India could never have thought of giving viz Covid 19. Make no mistake the only reason Pakistan is quiet is because all it’s energies are focused on sorting out this. With Covid 19 on a rampage the economy which was already tottering is now on the verge of collapse. In such a scenario leave alone creating trouble Pakistan is facing an existential crisis.

  8. China and Pakistan must obliterate and decimate India to the ground because India as a country works as a proxy of the USA to occupy Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Srilanka, Maldives, and Afghanistan. Narendra Modi and BJP work with the principle of Hitler, Donald Trump to eliminate minorities from India. We all secular people across the globe must fight against Narendra Modi and BJP’s racism and White supremacy of Donald Trump. Please India doesn’t believe America if it becomes your friend it will destroy your entire family. Please revise your ideology of racism and occupying intention and make friendship with China and Pakistan. Keep in mind, historically Kashmir is not a part of India or Pakistan as well Arunachal is not a part of India and China. Whatever the possession you have please stay within the boundary of LOC/LAC. India you have 330 million absolute poor people please save them from poverty, illiteracy, and hunger.

    • We all secular people? Did you forget the Islamists are not secular. You islamists are not eligible to be called as humans, and you showed why on the recent temple fiasco in Pak. You Islamists can try to obliterate us but don’t cry we do it to you handsomely like in 1971

    • I appreciate your ideology but it appears like you are not committed or serious and only offer lip sympathy for the Kashmiri cause. If you were a true and loyal Muslim, you would have joined the Jihad.

    • Actually Pakistan is not sitting quiet. They are in constant touch with the Chinese and are waiting for an opportunity to join up and open a new front.

  9. Pakistan will do China’s bidding. People that think that Pakistan is not a Chinese colony are very wrong. The same goes for many other states in the neighborhood. China’s monetary influence is deceptive. This is the new colonization.

  10. This opinion is clearly biased. The author did not miss the chance of using word ‘MODI’ while comparing either with Pakistan or with China. Always the “Modi’s Government vs China”.
    Hope more unbiased opinion will be available as the bench mark set by The Gupta ji.

  11. Sometimes sitting in London or Washington, the research community seems to be living and moving in their own bubbles (just like glamour industry). They hear from same people and come to similar conclusions. There is no appetite on the ground India for any unnecessary fight. If they is indeed so much concern from Pakistani army about number of Indian army in Ladakh, just stopping LOC fire will indicate your intent and take away any excuse, if there is any, for Indian army. Pakistani authorities need to be clear in that mind that this is a Sino-India problem and they can chose to look other way. Even of you do not trust India, no reason to believe that India will open a new frontier while having trouble with another one. As for Kathmandu, India is much more relaxed and just like Sri Lanka and Maldives before this, can be brought to status quo ante in due course. The process has started already, is not it?

  12. China is a player of GO and not Chess and so never reacts in a knee jerk fashion. In the sixties it did not respond to Nehru’s forward policy until Russia and US were paralyzed by the Cuban crisis and then it acted decisively. When Russia unexpectedly chickened out China meekly withdrew and abandoned its aim of reaching the Bay of Bengal. It however like a skilled GO player managed to retain the vital Aksai Chin area and adroitly avoided defining its border with India treating it as an ill defined LAC. For a GO player timing rather than time is the key.The Kargil conflict again provided it with an opportunity to move a wee bit in the Lake area. Later it did not waste the opportunity in Doklam nor has it wasted the current opening provided by abrogation of Article 370 and perhaps the COVID. China would be quiet content to wait and grow at 7-8% while India’s GDP remains negative or much less than China due to the cost imposed on it by some tactical threatening moves which serve to tie down India while simultaneously protecting Aksai Chin area. China which in its play considers timing more important than time knows that in just 50 years an ecological disaster will overtake the subcontinent but spare China. Waiting 50 years is no big deal in the Chinese version of the game.

    • Lol, you have lot of expectations from China, let me make it clear to you a disaster going to happen PRC. Its old decade policy which stimulated economic growth is in for a toss very soon. The early the realise it the better

      • For those who would like more detailed info on the disaster that will overtake the subcontinent in 2070 here are two references:
        1.One billion people will live in insufferable heat within 50 years – study
        Jonathan Watts >The Guardian,5 May 2020
        and the original paper
        2.Future of the human climate niche, Chi Xu et al .Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences of USA May 26, 2020 117 (21) 11350-11355;

  13. Pakistan is in deep dodo, politically,economically,in the fields of Health and Education. Rampant inflation and declining income for average Pakistani,with no light at the end of this deep tunnel.
    The armed forces are wise enough to realize that the war clouds gathering in the neighbourhood have the potential to suck them in a unwanted conflict and could cause stresses strong enough to break up the country .

    Therefore the deafening silence.

  14. Mum?! They were the most vocal against India and talked of China Pakistan friendship till just a few days ago..It’s just now that they have hone mum…As expected from these foxies they have decided to betray China and back off to save themselves. Not a true friendship afterall…

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