SRINAGAR; NOV 21: Spectre of rising profile of China in the Asian region is bound to dominate the thoughts of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as he left New Delhi on Sunday for his scheduled White House ‘encounter’ with President Barack Obama on Tuesday. Obama’s identification with Chinese interests and concerns, particularly relating to the bilateral sphere of India-Pakistan relations, marks the return of the ‘hyphen’ in the US foreign policy. Obama’s predecessor, George Bush had de-hyphenated it by establishing separate strategic relationships with the two South Asian countries. Obama’s statements made during his recent China visit suggest that the US-India relationship might need to be re-defined or, at least, clarified to remove serious apprehensions in India.
Three main points of deep concern to India are: (1) Does the US visualise some sort of a monitoring role for China in this region? (2) What scope is there for China to step into the bilateral domain of India-Pakistan relations? (3) What is China’s locus standi in the resolution of the Kashmir dispute?
Going by the American reports, comment and analysis of the Obama-Hu Jintao joint statement a new factor is sought to be introduced into the emerging scenario: It is that a ‘regionally acceptable solution’ to the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan is an important element of Obama’s Afpak strategic plan which is pivoted on stabilising Afghanistan-Pakistan in order to achieve wider stability in and around the Asian region. The US president appears to have got China on board during his recent visit and also sought its co-operation in achieving Obama’s another pet objective of nuclear non-proliferation. Asian region is rated to be a tinder box with China, India, Pakistan and Israel already possessing nuclear arsenal and North Korea and Iran on the way to achieve that capability. America has secured China’s help in restraining Iran and North Korea from pursuing their nuclear weapon ambitions in return for conceding China’s monitoring role in the region. That is where the US objectives come into direct conflict with those of India.
Given the troubled history of Sino-Indian relations and their super-power ambitions, America cannot have both on board without some balancing act. There is now a cut off point beyond which the US cannot afford to stand astride both the boats. Having evolved the paradigm of US-China relations, it is most unlikely that Obama would be in a position to allay the apprehensions and concerns of the Indian Prime Minister when they sit together on Tuesday. India, on its part, having gone so far in working out its own strategic relationship with the US, particularly after the nuclear treaty, is also not in a position to press its China-centric concerns beyond a point. That is where the need for defining the relationship is likely to arise.
Kashmir is emerging as the worst sticking point in this bargain. Need for resumption of Indo-Pak dialogue is not only becoming more strident but it is also being voiced by a wider spectrum of global forces. Hard on the heels of the US-China joint statement came the NATO statement exhorting India and Pakistan to start talking Kashmir. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton in her widely publicised press comments said the same thing. The US policy makers seem to be convinced about Pakistan’s ‘genuine’ fears about its security along its eastern borders with India in the face of India’s unwillingness to resume the dialogue route. Pakistan has shifted three army divisions and one full brigade for deployment in anti-terrorist operations along its western borders. It is reluctant to commit any more force deployment at the risk of exposing its eastern borders. The US is pumping monetary and hardware aid but depends on Pakistan for manpower resource to combat Al-Qaeda and Taleban along Afghanistan border. China seems to have endorsed this line as its own Xinjiang region is seething with extremist-fuelled unrest emanating from Pak-Afghan border region.
Clash of Indian interest with the US-China interest also comes from their divergent assessment. While America and China are focused on stabilising Pakistan from their ‘shared’ perspective India has serious doubts about Pakistan’s intention as well as ability to deliver because there is deep suspicion that a section of the Pakistani establishment continues to be hobnobbing with the terrorist outfits. US and China do not rule it out altogether, though. But they feel it can be contained in pursuit of the ultimate objective of stabilising the region with the stabilisation of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Although the demand for resumption of India-Pakistan dialogue on Kashmir is becoming louder by the day there is as yet no indication of any immediate third party intervention. Indian susceptibility on this account continues to be acknowledged by all. However, China has lately started taking an independent inimical line. These developments point to the probability of early resumption of the stalled composite dialogue between India and Pakistan. It is obvious that if and when that happens the effort is most likely to be result-oriented, unlike in the past. Basic parameters of a possible settlement have more or less been agreed upon by both India and Pakistan: (1) No redrawing of borders, (2) Line of Control is not acceptable, (3) war is not an option and (4) borders must be rendered irrelevant. God bless Pervez Musharraf, father of this formulation.