By Vikram SoodIt was a very perturbed Sardar Patel who wrote to Jawaharlal Nehru on November 7, 1950, pointing out that by our silence at the UN we had accepted Chinese suzerainty over Tibet.
In a forceful letter, the Sardar, not a man to mince words, warned that “The Chinese Government has tried to delude us by professions of peaceful intention” but in fact “it is not a friend speaking in that language, but a potential enemy.”
He then detailed ten steps that needed to be considered to strengthen our internal border security and defences, especially in the north-east. The tragedy is that this letter was apparently never discussed. Till 1950, India had borders with Tibet not with China and by accepting China’s suzerainty we became direct neighbours. Also, this concession in effect gave China a border with Bhutan, Nepal, India and Pak-Occupied- Kashmir. China now had the potential to be a player in South Asia.
Mao’s China was turbulent. The Korean War was followed by the disastrous experiments of the Great Leap Forward and the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution. The revolt in Tibet in March 1959 leading to the Dalai Lama’s flight to India added to China’s paranoia. The Chinese thought it necessary to warn India through its Ambassador Pan Tzu-li in a letter to Prime Minister Nehru in May 1959, saying that China would make common cause with Pakistan. This would force India to face diplomatic and military pressure on two fronts. Therein lay the beginning of an all-weather affair that is deeper than the oceans and higher than the mountains.
1962 and 1965 were landmark years when India was involved in conflicts with both her neighbours.
This provided an opportunity for Pakistan to get closer to China and the two have remained locked in a warm usually unquestioned embrace. For China, becoming Pakistan’s largest arms supplier to match Indian acquisitions — conventional, delivery systems and nuclear weaponry was a convenient hedge against India, and Pakistan thus strengthened by American indulgence and Chinese connivance felt emboldened to hone its assistance to terrorists as a low cost, highly effective foreign policy option.
Revived by Deng Xiaoping’s four modernisations, China has used Pakistan’s hostility towards India as a bridge for accessing West Asia not just as a counter to the US. It seeks geostrategic space and the rich mineral deposits of oil and gas, copper, gold, zinc, lead, iron-ore and aluminium in these countries including Afghanistan and Central Asia. There have been reports of a Saudi-Pakistan-China tie up on nuclear issues as well.
A Chinese official once told US officials that Pakistan was China’s Israel. Pakistanis see China as an assured guarantor against India. The Deep State of Pakistan, run by its military-jihadi combine, has to realise that the hard state of China is using Pakistan as a stepping stone for regional dominance and not as an end in itself.
Chinese ambitions extend beyond using Pakistan as a low cost secondary deterrent to counter India. Ayesha Siddiqa, one of Pakistan’s better known analysts, makes a very valid observation when she says that China is an “empire by stealth” which is “growing steadily without necessarily taking on the socio-political or economic liabilities of its client states.” China will invest only in the extractive industries of Pakistan, not in the country’s development.
Gwadar on the Makran coast has significance and importance for China only if it has unimpeded access through Gilgit and Baltistan. There has been increased Chinese presence and activity in this region. The additional manpower is ostensibly meant for the several infrastructure projects in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Over time, as India has progressed, China’s stance has hardened. It has played up issues like paper visas to residents of J&K or not granting visa to the Northern Army Commander and continued intrusions into Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh. It has continued with its concerted attempts to keep both Myanmar and Pakistan under its influence to cover both Indian flanks.
Had India heeded Sardar Patel’s advice in 1950 we would not perhaps been in this state of feeling surrounded by China in our backyard and the prospect today that Pakistan could become China’s Somalia instead of its Israel is no consolation to India.