---- Manoj Saxena
INS Kora (right) escorts PLAN Weifang in the Bay of Bengal as a measure of courtesy during the visit of Chinese Rear Admiral Han Xiaohu to the Indian Eastern Naval Command in May 2014 (Image: Wikimedia Commons).
On January 1, 2016 Chinese and Indian troops celebrated the new year with a ceremonial gathering of security personnel from the two countries in Chushul sector, Ladakh. After the usual pledges to maintain friendly ties and tranquility along the Line of Actual Control (LoC) the ceremony in Chinese-administered territory saw a rather spirited cultural program with soldiers from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) performing Bollywood song and dance for their Indian counterparts.
The Indian side also hosted soldiers and officers from the Chinese army on the first of January in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh in another ceremony, where an Indian army band performed western style music for the PLA. Given the bonhomie, the casual observer would perhaps be surprised to know that both Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh are a part of an ongoing territorial dispute between the two Asian giants and the Indian side is planning to enhance its presence in the area.
New year on India's eastern border with Pakistan was rather different. India's massive Pathankot airbase was attacked by gunmen on January 2. The attacks claimed the lives of 7 Indian security personnel and 6 terrorists. The United Jihad Council—an umbrella organization of militant groups with headquarters in Pakistan administered Kashmir—claimed responsibility although early Indian investigation pointed towards Jaish-e-Muhammad, another Pakistani militant outfit.
Further east, the Indian consulate at Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan came under heavy fire on January 3 as gunmen laid siege to the diplomatic mission. Afghan Special Forces brought an end to the siege after a 25 hour encounter. A car transporting explosives near the Indian consulate in Herat was intercepted by Afghan security forces on January 8. Although the explosives in Herat may not have been intentioned for bombing the Indian consulate Pakistani security agencies have long been suspected of having a troubling record of attacking Indian diplomatic missions on Afghan soil.
Sino-Indian Rapprochement and Indo-Pak hostility
The Sino-Indian meetings to mark the new year with peace and bonhomie are not an outcome of recent efforts. They are a part of a series of wider Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) between China and India, which have a long and distinguished history of their own. The origins of these CBMs date back to the 1970s when proposals for rapprochement from the then Indian External Affairs Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee were favorably received by Premier Deng Xiaoping of China. Prior to these CBMs the two countries had fought a brief but bloody border war in 1962 in which the Chinese side withdrew from Indian territory only after the threat of a US intervention.
However, since 1989 there have been virtually no gunfights or outbreaks of armed violence between the two Asian giants along the disputed border. The Sino-Indian annual trade volume was expected to cross 70 billion USD per annum last year. The border itself has remained calm for much of the past quarter of a century even though the two countries have an ongoing territorial dispute, which both have pledged to solve through negotiations and not force.
It should be noted that the relations between China and India are far from perfect. The territorial dispute is still alive and neither side has forsaken its claim over the other's territory. The Chinese side has repeatedly sought to empower Pakistan and the Indians have been 'acting East' to lend their tacit support to Vietnam and Japan. However, it should also be noted that by doing so the two countries are hardly violating international law in their attempts to contain the other through alliance building and diplomacy.
Indo-Pakistani violence, too, has a long and distinguished history. The Pakistani idea of sending mujahideen for jihad has its origins in the First Kashmir War of 1947-48. However, it was the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in 1989 which meaningfully fueled Pakistan's proxy war in Kashmir. The Pathankot and Mazar-i-Sharif attacks will be viewed by hawks in New Delhi as a continuation of Pakistan's policy to 'bleed India through a thousand cuts'. Peace efforts from Simla Agreement (1972) onwards have largely failed as Pakistan has repeatedly reneged on its commitment to resolve issues solely through peaceful bilateral dialogue.
Since 1989, over 75, 000 Indians have lost their lives due to the violence in Kashmir. Most of these unfortunate casualties have been Kashmiri civilians—who are supposedly held high regard by the Pakistani establishment. Trade between the two countries is anemic and people-to-people contact minimal, especially given the stringent Indian visa restrictions following the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. The Indo-Pak border itself remains restive.
Any bilateral attempt to pursue rapprochement and, indeed, normalization is invariably followed by provocative attacks on Indian soil. The recent Pathankot and Mazar-i-Sharif attacks came shortly after the Indian PM Narendra Modi made a surprise visit to Lahore to meet his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on Christmas Day, 2015. A more notable example of peace being disrupted by Pakistan's military establishment is that of the Kargil invasion in 1999 following Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's signing of the Lahore Declaration. Pakistan is entitled to disagree with India on Kashmir and, indeed, dispute its claim over the territory. However, the manner in which the Pakistani establishment has pursued its ambitions in Kashmir has often shown little regard for international norms and law.
Progress through Peace; Instability through Violence
Sino-Indian rapprochement and tranquility along the Line of Actual Control (LaC) have yielded peace dividends for both China and India. Bilateral trade is on the upswing and cultural contacts have generally been on the ascendancy. Peace along the Sino-Indian border also allows China to focus on South China sea and Taiwan whilst allowing India to take care of its own insurgency issues. The two sides have cooperated in international forums such as BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Overall, hostility has declined due to an increase in cooperation.
Violence, however, remains a part of daily life along the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan. This pursuit of asymmetric warfare has tarnished Pakistan's image on the world stage. Since 2006, Pakistan has itself had to pay a heavy price in terms of civilian casualties as the very groups that it created to wage jihad on India turned their guns on its own civilians. Pakistan's disregard for international law has also seen it being transformed into a pariah state in terms of international flights, sports, and investment.
Ultimately, both China and Pakistan have outstanding border disputes with India and both contest India's claims over lands that they perceive as their own. However, the contrast in the manner in which the two sides have pursued their differences with India could not be starker. China prefers to speak through its diplomats and sees no reason to not engage in trade. Pakistan's territorial claims often surface in videos and media floated by terrorist organizations while its generals indulge in bravado ill-suited for such a fragile state.
Needless to say, China with its policy of restraint even in face of clear disagreement has become a great power while Pakistan with its costly pursuit of asymmetrical warfare has often been cited as a classic example of a failing state. However, despite all this it may yet be too early to assume that all is lost in the Indo-Pakistan equation. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has shown a willingness to seek out and punish those involved in the Pathankot attacks if their complicity is proven. This step, if followed to its logical conclusion, may yet pave a path to rapprochement between the two estranged neighbors.