Last evening on India Today news show at 7:30 PM, I said that (1) Delhi’s eagerness to brand Mohammad Masood Azhar Alvi a “global terrorist” is more symbolic in wanting to restore the country’s reputation on account of the hit it took after the humiliation in Kandahar than because this man is any more of intrinsic importance to Pakistan’s management of the asymmetric war it has successfully waged against India over the last 30-odd years, (2) even if China were provided with “smoking gun” evidence, Beijing would be disinclined to accept it because it treasures Pakistan’s utility in keeping India shackled, and (3) it was time to ruthlessly cut off access to all ‘Made in China’ products to the Indian market in the name of “balancing trade”. More generally, I also wondered out aloud why it is that the Indian government simply won’t do the obvious thing and start imposing costs on China for such repeated provocations when Delhi wastes no time in puffing out its chest, ordering minor counter-strikes, and promising Pakistan retribution, even as the Indian press and media hurrah the government along?
In this context, does Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s promise to “go to any extent for our national pride” mean nothing at all, or is it Delhi’s reflex of stopping dead in its tracks when a contemptuous Beijing heaps insult on top of injury? (For Rajnath’s remarks see his interview to a pink paper — https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/government-will-always-respond-on-terror-attacks-and-do-its-best-for-the-people-of-kashmir-says-rajnath-singh/articleshow/68401413.cms
The Modi government swears by the “Wuhan spirit”. Whatever it is, Beijing has shown no signs of abiding by it but is happy as long as Delhi does. And still the Indian government hopes, prays and acts like the impotent entity it is proving to be every time a confident China bumps up against it, banking on diplomacy to persuade Beijing. Modi and MEA seem undeterred by failure upon failure — that’s optimism for you! Indeed, our Man in Beijing who recently demitted office as ambassador, Gautam Bambawale, outlined the MEA’s softly-softly approach in an interview. ( https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/interview/india-must-work-slowly-on-china-so-that-it-aligns-itself-with-us-on-terror/article26514702.ece ) “India must”, he said, “work slowly on China so that it aligns itself with us on terror.” By this reckoning, Delhi, it would appear, is seeking a favour. Like a beggar daily importuning a rich person in the hope that the latter will some day relent and drop a coin or two in his bowl.
It is not cued to the fundamental aspect of international relations that diplomacy works best when backed by the fear of cost in terms of real and serious economic loss and/or political-military and security disadvantage and discomfiture. It is a principle the Foreign Office mandarinate particularly abhors, which was proved in the wake of the Pulwama attack. It wasted time “burning the wires”, as a newspaper headline reported, to get major countries to side with India on the Azhar issue. We have learnt, yet again, just how much good this sort of activity does India.
(As an aside, the Indian rep at the UN, Syed Akbaruddin, compounded the Chinese veto with a diplomatic faux pas of his own — tweeting gratitude to “all the small and big” states in the 15-member UNSC for supporting India, thus no doubt upsetting small and sensitive developing countries and temporary members of UNSC, such as Ivory Coast, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait, and Peru. Six months hence, should the new government in search of symbolic victory want to get India’s nose rubbed in the dirt one more time, Akbaruddin, having dismissed these countries so callously, may find it harder to convince them to fall in line.)
Cutting off market access to Chinese trade and goods is the most obvious and natural thing to do considering the horrendous negative balance of payments that this country has borne for the last decade and more. Delhi can follow up by banning Huawei from selling its mobile phones here, again an entirely defensible action on the basis of the suspicion and fear of these devices being cyber Trojan Horses, which, in fact, they actually are. It is reason why the US and several West European countries have already banned government agencies from buying Huawei stuff. It is such a ban that I have been advocating since this Chinese telecom giant was first given permission to sell in India.
The more substantive costs India can impose on China lie in facilitating the diversion of the Central Asian jihadi traffic that is turning into a small flood in the extended region after the Islamic State’s decimation in Syria to East Turkestan that China expropriated and calls Xinjiang. The strategic idea here being to render the Muslim Uyghur dominant western province more attractive to Islamic extremists as a bigger challenge than Kashmir by secretly mobilizing and providing them with financial, material and moral support. China will then face a Kashmir-like terrorist-armed insurgency but on a far grander scale, one which many countries, including US, Russia, Japan and Taiwan may be keen covertly to stoke. Delhi could begin by having some RSS arm or the other semi-formally and publicly promote the cause of freedom for the Uyghurs, which will also burnish its secular credentials.
The ideal long term riposte to keeping China militarily distracted and unsettled is to conjoin India’s clandestine backing for the ETIM (East Turkestan Islamic Movement) and the East Turkestan Liberation Organization that Beijing has labeled terrorist, with more open support to the cause of freeing Tibet from Chinese occupation. It will be a bold stroke, to begin with, by inviting the Washington- area-based Uyghur exile Rabeeya Kadeer, leader of the nonviolent World Uyghur Congress, to receive the Jawaharlal Nehru Peace Prize. (Isn’t it ironic that no noodle-spined Indian government has so far thought it fit to confer this award on His Holiness, the Dalai Lama — the ultimate peacenik when some very odd people such as Barbara Ward, Bruno Kreisky, and Giuseppe Tucci, have won it ?)
There are nervous Nellies galore in PMO, MEA, academic outposts like JNU, and in the commentariat in the press and media who will counsel against the hard options. They have long been taken in by the wrong things in Nehruvian thought, such as accommodationism that Jawaharlal was cured of only after PLA ran over the Indian Army in the 1962 War. It is not too late to inject correctives in the present China policy, however, one that emphasizes paying Beijing back in its own coin and no nonsense about it. Alas, the Modi-Doval combo is simply not up to it, they don’t have it in them to do something really meaningful, they lack mettle. All the steam they readily blow off is only against that great big bad bone chilling bogey — Pakistan!!