The Chinese Rebuff!

The recent incident in Pulwama which drew condemnation from all over the world was attributed by the Indian authorities to Masood Azhar, the head of the Jaish-e- Mohammad organization in Pakistan. It was alleged that the suicide bombing had been masterminded and executed by the said organization from across the border. Earlier also the incidents in Pathankot air base and the Uri Army camp were attributed to this organization allegedly patronized by the Pakistani intelligence. In fact, an across the border air raid claiming to have destroyed the training camp of the organization had virtually become a flash point for a larger and dangerous conflagration. Fortunately, the disaster was avoided by the intervention of US, UN, China and others.

This incident gave another chance to India to raise the issue of declaring Azhar Masood as a Global Terrorist in the UN Security Council. However, China again, in fact, for the fourth time vetoed the proposal! The episode has been described by Shekhar Gupta the well-known journalist in the Print, “Earlier this week, China delivered a nasty kick to India’s shin by blocking Pakistan’s Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar’s designation as a global terrorist by the UN Security Council.

Not only did China block it for the fourth time, much inspired commentary in Chinese state or party-controlled media held out admonitions for India. The rudest was a commentator in the Communist Party-owned Global Times who, with pictures of angry BJP workers in the background, accused Narendra Modi of exploiting the situation for his election campaign, and concluding with a final insult: China is India’s friend, not a hostage to its nationalism”.

Shekhar Gupta has given a detailed analysis about this episode detailing the various drawbacks in India’s Foreign Policy Doctrine. He has specially pointed out the personalised foreign policy and mixing of the foreign policy with the domestic politics.

However, apart from these problematic areas in India’s Foreign policy Doctrine, there are some other important factors which have virtually made China a serious contender in the Kashmir Dispute lingering on for last 70 years or so.

The first and the most important is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor which apart from being a $ 60 billion economic enterprise represents China’s direct and shortest link to the Gulf Area through the port of Gawadar.

The major strategic part of the link passes through Gilgit-Baltistan which used to be the part of the erstwhile state of J & K and remains as such even though under the administrative control of Pakistan. Any final solution of the Kashmir problem will affect this area also. China also has a long stretch of border with India in Ladakh.

A majority of the Ladakhi population, the Buddhists are religiously and spiritually aligned to Lahasa, the original home of the Dalai Lama in Tibet than to any place in the Indian mainland. The strength of the relationship can be judged by the fact that a squadron of Chinese Air Force F-17 jets are participating in the aerial fly past to be held in Islamabad on March, 23, the designated Pakistan Day!

Incidentally, the ancient Kashmir has also had a strong relationship with China. There used to be regular trade caravans between Kashmir and Chinese provinces of Turkistan.

The earliest reference to Kashmir dates back to A.D. 541. This relates to the arrival of a Kashmiri Envoy in China during the early part of the reign of Tang dynasty. Kashmir is described as a country “enveloped on all sides like a precious jewel by the snowy mountains, with a valley in the south which leads up to it and serves as a gate of the Kingdom”.

Almost all other Chinese accounts of Kashmir give a similar description. Ninety years after this first mention of Kashmir in Chinese records, Hiuen Tsang visited the valley and stayed here as an honoured guest for two years. In fact, the Mahayana Buddhism which owes its origin to the Buddhist Council held in Srinagar spread to China from Kashmir.

In the seventh century A.D. Kashmiri King Laltaditya Muktapid of the Karakot dynasty (the builder of the Martand Temple) had signed a treaty of military alliance with the ruler of the Tang dynasty in China.

The alliance was against Tibet which had been attacking and harassing both China and Kashmir. The two countries had exchanged ambassadors. In fact, it is recorded that the bulk of the army of Laltaditya, also known as the Alexander of Kashmir, perished in snow blizzards in Ladakh while on way to Tibet!

All this points to the fact that the Chinese too are interested in the ultimate fate of Kashmir. They had earlier refused to recognise the Indian jurisdiction on Kashmir.

This was made evident some time back when they issued stapled visas to Kashmiris possessing Indian passports thereby refusing to recognise Kashmiris as Indian nationals.

Thus the recent Chinese rebuff in regard to Masood Azhar needs to be viewed in overall context. It was not simply to please or defend their ally Pakistan notwithstanding the fact that China has now a very strong and unbreakable relationship with Pakistan.

For all practical purposes Chinese participation even though in the side-lines, would be essential for any ultimate solution of the festering Kashmir problem. Thus the recent rebuff needs to be seen in a long term and a wider perspective!