Monday, 30th October 2017

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Trouble all around

Security concerns that India must address

By Kanwal Sibal
  • Published 3.10.16

Our regional security environment remains problematic. Pakistan is now structurally incapable of normalizing ties with India. The armed forces and the extremist groups nurture hostility towards India. The civilian government is not fully in control. Pakistan's use of terrorism as an instrument of State policy continues, as the latest attack in Uri demonstrates.

We cannot isolate Pakistan internationally if we do not rupture our own ties with it first. Our quest to have Pakistan declared a terrorist state by the United States of America or the United Nations will not succeed. We could not get even Masood Azhar declared a terrorist by the UN security council. Both China and the US will not let Pakistan be declared a terrorist state. The US cannot do business under its laws with such a state, whereas China's iron ties with Pakistan are known.

We can, however, expose Pakistan internationally even more for its terrorist affiliations and lay bare its narrative as a victim of terrorism. We have begun to do this much more aggressively than before. That we have highlighted Pakistan's brutalities in Balochistan and listed its problems even in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at the prime minister's level is unprecedented.

We will not succeed in our objective if isolating Pakistan means its ostracism by the international community through our diplomatic offensive in exposing its terrorist linkages. Pakistan as a large Islamic state with nuclear capability is also consequential geopolitically. China, of course, is an all-weather friend. Key countries remain unwilling to sanction Pakistan while fully aware of its truck with terrorism, notably its sheltering of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. The US decision to withhold some economic and military aid is a token step that Pakistan has learnt to absorb.

China-Pakistan nuclear cooperation is expanding in violation of China's own Nuclear Suppliers Group commitments, with the US silent on the matter. The latter even allowed China to administer a rebuff to India by preventing its membership in an organization set up and dominated by the US - the NSG. Pakistani leaders threaten India with the use of nuclear weapons without any condemnation by the US for dangerous talk. Pakistan is introducing tactical nuclear weapons without any serious response from the US within the non-proliferation framework.

China has now decided to invest far more than it has done before in its Pakistan relationship, which now goes beyond the India dimension and is inscribed in the larger geopolitical ambitions of China. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has serious implications for us as it consolidates Pakistan's ownership of this illegally occupied territory, besides making China a third party to India-Pakistan differences on Kashmir. The US is silent on the CPEC and Gwadar. In fact, it is encouraging China to expand its economic involvement in both Pakistan and Afghanistan as part of burden-sharing. The US has also encouraged China to play a role in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table, disregarding our concerns about the Taliban sharing power in Afghanistan under Pakistan's patronage.

China's uncompromising position on territorial issues in the South China Sea has lessons for us. Its position on historical rights and protecting at all cost the legacy left by its ancestors has no basis in international law. Its vilification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea award shows scant regard for international law if it invalidates its claims.

China's policies in our neighbourhood threaten our security interests. In Nepal it is competing with us much more openly than before, with the pro-China lobby in Nepal playing the China card more brazenly. The coming to power of the prime minister, Prachanda, is a favourable development, but it does not solve the structural problems of our relations with Nepal. China's strategic encirclement of India is evident in its Indian Ocean strategy, in which Sri Lanka is a pivot. Gwadar will most certainly become a Chinese naval base in due course. We have to be concerned about Chinese inroads into the Maldives.

The situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating with mounting Taliban activity. We have taken some steps to give substance to our strategic ties with Afghanistan, but we cannot supplant the US and provide military assistance on a large scale.

With the nuclear issue resolved, building closer ties with Iran is now feasible. Investing in Chabahar is a good strategic step; the North-South Corridor through Iran, when implemented, will open the doorway to Central Asia and Russia. But Iran is a difficult partner and its need to manage relations with Pakistan will place limits on its deeper strategic cooperation with us. It is also more focused on the Islamic State threat in the West than the Taliban threat in Afghanistan. Our relations with the Gulf countries are improving, with substantial progress on security issues with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

The rise of the Islamic State is a problem for the whole region, including, potentially, India. The Saudi-Iran rivalry, the sharpening Shia-Sunni conflict, as well as Saudi Arabia's adventurist policies that could destabilize the kingdom, can threaten our energy, financial and manpower interests in the region.

We have accepted the notion that the security of the Asia Pacific region is tied in with that of the Indian Ocean. We have thus effectively endorsed the US rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific, but without being able to get US support for our security interests in our own region. This marked imbalance needs redress. Our naval exercises with the US and trilaterally with Japan, as well as collective ones with Indian Ocean countries highlight the role of the Indian navy in safeguarding maritime security in the Indian Ocean.

No Asian security architecture exists, beyond that built around the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. But China is challenging the interests of key Asean countries in the South China Sea, besides clashing with Japan in the East China Sea. China has succeeded in intimidating and dividing Asean countries. The US response has been weak. Our Act East policy, connectivity projects with Southeast Asia, participation in security forums instigated by Asean are helpful in advancing our security interests eastwards.

Russia-China ties are deepening strategically, with Russia supplying advanced military equipment to China. China is expanding its influence in Central Asia and the Eurasian region at the cost of Russian power. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is dominated economically by China. The One Belt-One Road project will expand further China's geopolitical and economic influence in this vast region. China's economic muscle and Russia's economic difficulties have altered the Russia-China equation in Russia's disfavour. This affects the balance of power with the RIC and BRICS formats against India's interest. Russian defence-related overtures to Pakistan is a new factor linked to improved Russia-China ties and strengthening India-US relations that requires our attention.

Cybersecurity has become a major concern. There are no acceptable rules of conduct in this domain, in spite of the exponential growth of digital technology in governing our societies and the entailing vulnerabilities.

All in all, the challenging regional and global security environment that is emerging requires a rapid growth in our economic and military strength that must include a strong indigenous defence manufacturing base.

The author is former foreign secretary of India