Once again, falling prey to short term tactics, India has lost sight of the big picture. Following the highly condemnable, cold-blooded murder of three policemen in Shopian by the Hizbul Mujahideen and the issuance of a commemorative stamp by Pakistan government in the memory of Burhan Wani, the government of India has called off the talks between foreign ministers Sushma Swaraj and Shah Mehmood Qureishi.
Clearly, the government still seems to believe that it was doing a favour to Pakistan by talking with it. Ironically, the truth is the exact opposite of what the government seems to believe. Talking peace with Pakistan is no longer a matter of choice but necessity. Few in India realise that peace with Pakistan is essential for India's geopolitical rise. And the current circumstances leave India with no other option.
For example, for the first time in Pakistan's history, Islamabad and Rawalpindi are on the same page on foreign policy. There is intense pressure on India from China to abide by the April 2018 Wuhan understanding reached between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping. The Wuhan understanding has the potential to smear Modi's diligently crafted foreign policy successes by another Doklam close to the 2019 General Elections. Abiding by the understanding, however, might ensure peace on both the military lines: No or minimal terrorism from across the Line of Control, and zero Chinese intrusion on the Line of Actual Control.
For this reason, The Express Tribune newspaper of September 18, published from Islamabad, had the top-header on page 4 with my picture and quote: 'Key to India's rise rests with it making peace with Pakistan.'
At the same high-profile seminar where I spoke, Pakistan's senior-most army officer, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, General Zubair Mahmood Hayat said that the solution for global problems (read Kashmir) is not war, but peace. Peace was clearly in the air at this two-day (September 17 and 18) seminar attended by top retired Pakistani generals (including the just retired Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman) and diplomats who are plugged into the new establishment headed by the Prime Minister and his army chief.
What is the Wuhan understanding? After India concluded that military build-up by both sides after the 2017 Doklam crisis was not in its interest, Modi had reached out to Xi for an informal meeting. The summit held in Wuhan decided that both sides would exercise strategic restraint by the two militaries, and work together on regional connectivity and development projects. Within days, the Chinese ambassador to India, Luo Zhaohui spoke about a trilateral summit between India, China and Pakistan for regional peace, adding that it was into the future.
While India was quick to dismiss Luo's statement as his personnel opinion, the diplomat was not kite-flying. He was drawing attention to a plausible scenario perhaps less than a decade away. Consider this: Once the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) gets completed, both Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan would see unforeseen development and prosperity. This might spur the people of Kashmir to decide upon the presently blurred political options (beyond the United Nations 1948 resolution) of joining Pakistan, staying with India, or opting for independence. With the disputed border with China becoming India's Achilles Heel (China is politically, legally and military better placed than India), and China's core national power (economy, technology and military) growing faster than India's, what deters Beijing for becoming a partisan judge (favouring Pakistan) in a trilateral summit.
A question often asked in India is how intense is the relationship between China and Pakistan? As the nucleus of China's ambitious tri-dimensional Belt and Road initiative (land, sea and digital), Pakistan today is in an enviable position. For far too long it has been striving to turn its geography into a strategic asset. Its long and sustained partnership with China, despite the opprobrium of being a lackey, will finally give it the stature it has feverishly craved.
Today, as it is seen as being integral to the future of Afghanistan (whatever shape it takes) Pakistan is critical to all countries which have or wish to have a stake in the landlocked but mineral-rich country, from the US to Russia, China, Iran and the Central Asian Republics. With its nuclear weapons (also a key instrument of its foreign policy), it is the pride of aspirational Middle Eastern Islamic countries. Pakistan has long coveted the leadership of the Islamic world. With China by its side (to whom it is opening the doors to the Gulf), it may well achieve this goal. Thus, the relationship between China and Pakistan became a mutually supportive endeavour in 2013 when China announced the BRI with the CPEC as its flagship project.
What does India get out of resolving Kashmir? Unfortunately, India no longer gets to choose whether to resolve Kashmir or not. China and Pakistan's physical link-up in POK and Gilgit-Baltistan has taken away that choice. Now that the CPEC has become operational with the first Chinese trade convoy arriving at Gwadar Port in November 2016, it's only a matter of time before the pressure, including military pressure, will build on Kashmir.
With Kashmir settled, China may find a mechanism to address the concerns of the restive population of Xinjiang, which borders both Gilgit-Baltistan and Afghanistan. After all, China would want the One Belt to traverse the old Silk Route through the Wakhjir Pass into the Wakhan Corridor onwards to Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and beyond. China closed the pass, a shorter route to Iran via Afghanistan, two decades ago to prevent the Uyghurs of Xinjiang from having access to the Afghan Taliban. This route would also help China establish a closer land link with mineral-rich north Afghanistan.
Given all this, India had two choices. To continue doing counter-terror operations and eventually court disaster by an unfavourable Kashmir solution. Or, to go back to the basics of geopolitics. Geopolitics, as the term denotes, is fundamentally about respecting one's geography. To draw a military analogy, a military formation must secure its home base before it ventures out. Thus, India can only become a major power (given its geography, young demographic profile and enormous potential) if it makes peace with Pakistan and China, two neighbours with which it has disputed borders. Since there is deep distrust between India and Pakistan and India and China, perhaps the key to India's geopolitical rise lies in making peace with Pakistan first; the rest would follow.
Unfortunately, India has chosen the path of political expediency over pragmatism and national good. The consequence of this will inflict more pain.
The writer is editor FORCE newsmagazine