Sino-Pak Axis

Given the international power-play, Pakistan hedged its bets on the regional support, the neighbour next door.
Sino-Pak Axis
Representational pic

Sino-Pak axis is deepening by the day. The axis had a gradual start post mid-fifties of 20th century. It deepened in sixties with Sino-Pak border agreement. It has widened over decades for strategic reasons. In recent times, Chinese Belt Road initiative (BRI) has added new dimension to it. It has mainly two components namely, 'Silk Road Economic Belt' (the belt) and the other the '21st Century Maritime Silk Road' (the road). The belt and the road are differently defined. Belt is an overland corridor connecting China with Europe via Central Asia and Middle East. Road on the contrary is a misnomer, as it is in fact a sea route linking Chinese southern coast with East Africa and Mediterranean. It entails dollar 900 billion initial investment, bound to increase. 

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the most important limb of BRI. Meant for infrastructural and energy development of Pakistan, it was initially slated to shape a port at Gwadar, which would provide a maritime link to trans-Karakorum highway. The highway links Chinese northwestern province of Xingjian to Gilgit-Baltistan and across Pakistan to Gwadar. It provides an outlet to Chinese exports and energy imports, a vital alternative. Pakistan is thus getting increasingly interwoven in Chinese strategic initiatives. China initially committed 46 billion dollars to CPEC; it has hiked to more or less 62 billion dollars. Many adjectives have been added to define the relationship-higher than the mountains, deeper than the seas, stronger than the steel. The huge Chinese investment has been questioned, in domestic quarters, as well as by foreign agencies. Domestic quarters question the rising debt and its servicing. Outside agencies raise questions on strategic objectives.  In a retrospective view, Sino-Pak axis had strategic objectives, right from the word go.

In mid-fifties, Sino-Indian relationship started developing strains, following Tibetan spiritual leader—Dalai Lama and his supporters seeking Indian asylum, with China assimilating Tibet. Some Indian authors of note record warnings from Sardar Patel and even Indira Gandhi sounding reservations, warning Nehru on China. Nehru had warmed-up to Chinese with Panch-scheel (five principles of co-existence) and Hindi-Chini bhai bhai.  In spite of the bonhomie, Sino-Indian border dispute—a legacy of British times remained. McMahon line delineating the border was not acceptable to Chinese, and they had made it known to British Raj in India. Nehru in order to ensure Indian delineation of the border agreed with the strategy of setting up forward posts. The forward posts however lacked logistic banking. As China struck in 1962, India met huge reverses. Nehru was appalled; the worldview he had shaped over years came apart. Indian strategists were loath to explain that Chinese were upset with Nehru's global stature. Whatever the reason Indian discomfort became Pakistan's opportunity. 

Strains over Kashmir had India and Pakistan pursue a totally divergent foreign policy. In the cold-war era following Second World War, US was seeking to encircle USSR with alliances. Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of allied forces in Second World War was elected US President in 1952. His Secretary of State—John Foster Dulles worked out alliances. It is related that India was approached; however Nehru had disdain for Dulles.  It showed in calling him—Dull, Duller and Dulles! Nehru worked out non-alignment with Yugoslavia's Marshall Tito and Egypt's Nasser. The critics however note that non-alignment had a pro-Soviet tilt. USSR supporting India on Kashmir in UN is quoted as an example. Pakistan on the contrary opted to get into US led alliances.  In 1954, Pakistan became part of the South East Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) that also included Australia, France, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand, apart from UK and the US.  In early 1955, it joined the Baghdad Pact along with Iran, Iraq, Turkey, UK and US. It provided Pakistan security, apart from ensuring arms supplies. 

In 1960 John F Kennedy was elected US President. In a redesigning of US policy, he opted for strategic parity in South Asia. It is said that he liked Nehru; however the liking was not reciprocal. Nehru doubted US intent. In 1961, as India took over Goa, Kennedy came up with the acidic, ''priest in the brothel'' remark on Nehru. It was said, given the moralistic posture of Nehru. In 1962, after Indo-China war, US offered help. Nehru could not but respond. US and UK prompted India and Pakistan to negotiate, in view of Chinese aggressive posture. Bhutto-Swaran talks proved fruitless. In drawn out six rounds of negotiations, no agreement could be reached on territorial exchange. Indian and Pakistani take remained wide apart. Even in her hour of peril, India did not budge on Kashmir beyond a point. And, US was not ready to pressurize India. USSR under Khrushchev was adrift with China on de-Stalinization process. The softening of communism did not sell with China, and during Sino-Indian was, USSR remained equidistant. India depended on USSR for arms purchases.

Given the international power-play, Pakistan hedged its bets on the regional support, the neighbour next door. Pakistan concluded a border agreement with China on March 2, 1963. Nehru stated in Lok Sabha that Pakistan's official claims of having given up just over 2,000 square miles of territory to China were not correct. China, indeed, had gained control over 13,000 square miles — almost all those parts of Xinjiang region which during the British Raj in India had been included in Kashmir. This, he said, became possible because Pakistan had surrendered "that part of the Indian territory in Jammu and Kashmir which is under Pakistan's illegal occupation". 

Over half a century later, India objects to CPEC on the ground that the corridor passes through Gilgit-Baltistan, which is under Pakistan's illegal occupation. Gilgit-Baltistan however sings a different tune, of that later. 

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]

iqbal.javid46@gmail.com  

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