Conflict in South Asia

Dr Shahida Wizarat

India dissolved the Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir in November 2018 and embarked on illegal annexation of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh (JK&L) by clamping down on civil liberties in the state. All the leaders were placed under arrest, telephone, internet and communication networks were disconnected, tourists were ordered to leave, curfew was imposed and the state literally locked down. Additional troops were brought in, making JK&L the most militarized zone in the world. On 5 August 2019, Indian President issued Presidential Order C.O. 272 which abolished the autonomy and special status of the valley through abrogating Article 35-A and Article 370 from the Indian Constitution. This unilateral and illegal act of the Indian government failed to draw attention of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and others. In fact, it appeared that most of them had been consulted by India prior to embarking on this criminal act. Even the Government of Pakistan (GOP) gave only verbal statements on closure of Indian TV channels and stopping the export of pink rock salt to India. But these statements were not followed by actions, with the result that the Indian channels continue to be viewed and rock salt continues to be exported to India even today.

In 1962 during the Sino-Indian war Pakistan lost a golden opportunity to settle the Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh (JK&L) problem by heeding US advise not to send troops to JK&L. Although Pakistan was a key US ally at that time, but the US did not try to resolve the conflict, even though on its advise the Government of Pakistan was restrained. After a lapse of 58 years the opportunity to settle the JK&L conflict is once again knocking on our door. This is a very opportune time to settle the issue for once and for all. It is because India is presently faced with serious economic and political turmoil. It is at war with all its neighbors. India has enraged China by its unilateral actions in Ladakh and obstructing CPEC. Nepal is also not willing to allow its sovereignty to be violated by India any more. India’s unilateral actions in J,K&L, stopping the flow of rivers to Pakistan and obstructing CPEC have angered the people of Pakistan. The people of JK&L have also got tired of the atrocities committed on them for the last 72 years, the tortures, the losing of loved ones, the annexation of their land to India, the demographic changes and the plan to settle foreigners on their land. At the same time India has been targeting its Muslim, Dalits, Christian, Sikh minorities. The gang rape of Muslim women, cutting body organs of Muslims, the Citizenship Act depriving minorities, especially Muslims of their rights have both hurt and angered them. There are several separatist movements going on currently in India and the break up of India appears imminent.

The worsening socio political situation in India is made worse by the incompetence of the Modi government on the economic front as the meltdown of the Indian economy gathers pace. Goldman Sachs has forecast the Indian economy to contract by 5 % in 2020, but the actual percentage might be even higher. It is expected that the Indian economy will fall out of the top ten economies by 2021. There are reports of Indians eating cats and dogs, while cannibalism is also on the rise. If in spite of India’s economic collapse and political chaos Pakistan can not move to liberate the people of JK&L, then its performance appears to be even worse than that of the Indian government, that is spearheading the economic and political collapse of India. There won’t be another such opportunity when India faces both economic and political collapse and simultaneously taking on its neighbors. So if the JK&L conflict has to be settled it is now or never. Having settled this conflict the countries in the region can finally get on with development and other businesses of the state.

What is the possibility of expansion of the conflict in South Asia? Will heavens fall if Pakistan were to cross the Line of Control (LOC) in JK&L ? Will it involve other powers in the conflict? Will Afghanistan attack Pakistan? Will the US attack Pakistan? Will the US attack China? If in spite of massive investments in state of the art armaments and possession of nuclear technology Pakistan cannot take on Afghanistan, then it is a sad reflection on our preparedness. The more serious question to ponder about is whether the US will attack Pakistan? According to my observation, world powers embark on adventures only if the other party is incapable of retaliating, because otherwise things can get messy. They bomb from a distance of thousands of feet because those armed with guns are unable to do anything about ruthless bombings. But what if the country you are contemplating to attack is armed with state of the art weapons? What if they possess strategic and tactical nuclear weapons? Will a power that could not stand up to the Taliban like to get into such a mess? And it has been ten months since India illegally annexed JK&L. During these ten months one expects that the GOP might have done its homework.

Let us ponder on the possibility of US attack on China. If attack on Pakistan is bound to get messy because of Pakistan’s strategic and tactical nuclear weapons, how much more messy will an attack on China get? Will the US be prepared for total destruction by daring to take on China? China is a country that has spent decades preparing for what it is doing today. In his book “Inheritance” David Sanger writes:

“It is no surprise that the People’s Liberation Army spent the past two decades focusing on America’s heavy dependence on the intelligence, computer and communication technology that give American military forces global eyes and global reach. Chinese military planners quickly began searching for inventive ways to shut it down, investing in cyber warfare and sea-skimming ballistic missiles that could threaten, from hundreds of miles away, any American carrier fleet that might one day head to the Taiwan Straight ………..”

Sanger narrates that on 11 January 2007 China sent an anti satellite missile to blow up one of its own weather satellites which was five hundred miles above the earth, as it could pose a threat if it fell on a populated area. Sanger says the Chinese satellite was at a far higher altitude than the US satellites that run the US GPS systems, cell phones, precision weapons, detect troop movements and nuclear sites. He says the Chinese wanted to assure themselves that if they can target a satellite five hundred miles above the earth, they can surely target satellites closer to earth which can bring the US down on its knees. And this was thirteen years ago. And with their traditional persistence and affluence over the last thirteen years, China must have improved upon all these strategies and tactics and made them more sophisticated. Having done its homework China is now confidently facing up to the US.

Since China realizes that Indian attack on Gilgit and Baltistan is to target CPEC, Pakistani and Chinese security and economic interests have become intertwined. I believe China and Pakistan might have already discussed what needs to be done to protect our joint economic and security interests. The two countries have to work hand and glove to protect each other so that CPEC which is part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) progresses smoothly. The present heightened conflagration is a golden opportunity to settle conflicts in South Asia, so that future resources can be diverted to economic development. Chinese leadership has displayed its conventional wisdom by refusing to accept the offer of mediation and arbitration by Donald Trump. The US had offered to intervene to get India out of the present standoff with China. And since US is India’s strategic ally, its objectivity is compromised. It can not be expected to be a fair arbitrator or mediator. Moreover, by offering to arbitrate or mediate Donald Trump is trying to assert his super power role.

There are unconfirmed reports that if India restores the pre 5 August 2019 status of Ladakh by restoring Articles 370 and 35 A then China will withdraw from Ladakh. I am sure that Chinese policy makers are wise enough not to succumb to such an offer because the pre 5 August 2019 status of JK&L was one in which this area was under Indian occupation. India had subjugated the people of JK&L against their wishes and was committing crimes against the people. India was refusing to hold a plebiscite to determine the free will of the people or engage in negotiations with Pakistan and China to resolve the problem. So to undertake such strenuous efforts that

China is under taking only to return to the pre 5 August 2019 status doesn’t appear wise. China should try to settle all the outstanding issues with India, particularly the JK&L issue, if it wants CPEC to become fully functional and bring prosperity to the region.

The world order established by the US and Allied powers seventy five years ago when the Second World War ended is coming to an end. It was a world order which thrived on conflict, an order in which death and destruction in the Third World brought prosperity to rich countries. And the same countries that benefitted from conflict assumed the status of world leaders entrusted with making peace. This conflict of interest gave rise to innumerable conflicts around the world, Kashmir, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, and the list goes on and on. Has the US helped to resolve any of these conflicts that would inspire confidence in its ability to make peace? This decadent world order is finally dying and giving way to a new world order. And the super power leadership role is being passed on from the US to China.

And even before China has taken charge as the world’s super power it has given the world an economic order. A comparison of China’s world order with the prevalent world order is called for. As stated earlier, the present world order was established at the end of the Second World War by powers which included outgoing world powers and incoming super power. The outgoing world powers were former colonial powers and subscribed to the ‘divide and rule’ and ‘divide and quit’ policies as they withdrew from their colonies. The ‘divide and quit’ policies have turned the world into a war theatre, which necessitates the purchase of arms, which increases the gross domestic product (GDP) of these powers, which continued unabated for the last 72 years and has now climaxed. This industrial military complex model was conceived and implemented by countries which happen to be mostly Christians. This is not to suggest that this is a Christian model, as we are aware of the many good teachings of the Christian religion. Although current world powers have given a religious connotation to terrorism by terming it as “Islamic”. But the point I am trying to make is that some devout Christian states have given a world order that is very unethical and very cruel.

And compare this with the alternative world order which was conceived and is being implemented by a power that does not believe in religion. BRI is often referred to as a win-win model as both the host country and the investing country stand to gain. The economic order given by China is far more ethical as GDP is sought to be increased through building infrastructures. China is also proving to be a far more reliable ally, as it is standing behind countries like Pakistan and Nepal which are facing the wrath on account of being part of CPEC and BRI. This is unlike the US whose promise of coming to the rescue of its ally by sending the 7th US fleet never materialized. Comparisons of the outgoing super power with the incoming super power are inevitable. And previously Chinese persistence, hard work, honest leadership and development model impressed economists and policy makers around the world. But now the strategic tactics of the Chinese armed forces in Tibet and Ladakh are winning the hearts of the people even before China has taken over as the world’s super power !

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