When in trouble shoot out. Nations have a habit of using internal/ external policy overtures to deflect unwanted attention to underperforming areas. India’s latest conflict with China is not only untimely, but un warranted and unprecedented for a nearly half a century. With the whole world fighting a war with an invisible enemy and putting in all is attention, resources and policies to contain Coronavirus menace the last thing that they can afford digging up buried hatchets. However, political minds are very different species and respond in ways unexpected.
The start of the Coronavirus in March saw nations scrambling to absorb the shock of a world shutdown. Many felt that this tragic event where almost 7 billion people are being affected will bring the focus on one single issue, i.e., “how to find a cure and how to speed up a vaccine”. It was heartening to see the world of research collaborating to do multitasking, it was encouraging to see Taliban volunteering for helping corona patients, and it was nice to see cut-throat competitors like Google and Apple collaborating on various fronts. With a common vision and mission of getting the world out of this pandemic it was expected that the world leaders will rise to the occasion and extend a hand to their friends and foes to become a united force to fight the biggest danger they have seen in centuries.
Many people were quoting Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln as examples of taking the world out of wars and depression. Leadership is what steers any ship out of a storm. The bigger danger presently does not seem deficit of a vaccine to deal with this danger but the deficit of a visionary leader who can steer the world to become more secure, healthy and safer. America is being ruled by Donald Trump whose main problem with the virus is its impact on the presidential polls in November. Similarly, in India is finding it equally difficult to control the virus. As his country plunges to 100 million people thrown into poverty and the virus spiking, Prime Minister Narendra Modi does what he always does: he starts external conflicts to divert attention from internal conflicts.
The latest India-China crossfire at LAC (the Line of Actual Control) at Ladakh is a serious foreign policy maneuver for the region. India’s border wars are not just restricted to Pakistan. India and China fought a war in 1962 and the boundary dispute has been one of the biggest conflict areas in Sino-Indo ties. India and China developed five mechanisms to resolve border tensions. In 1993 an Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China border areas was signed. In 1996 Agreement on Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field along the LAC was made. In 2005 Protocol on Modalities for the implementation of the Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field along the LAC was agreed upon. In 2012 Agreement on the establishment of a working mechanism for consultation and coordination on India-China Border Affairs was established and in 2013 Border Defence Cooperation Agreement was signed between the two countries.
Despite these agreements there are huge disagreements. The latest one on the Galwan Valley is the most violent in nearly half a century. The immediate trigger for the tensions which began on May 5th seem to be India’s road construction in the Galwan region. China is objecting to a bridge and other feeder roads that India is constructing to connect the strategically important Shyok Daulat Beg Oldie road. Chinese defence ministry has now made its objection amply clear by stating that “China always owns sovereignty over the Galwan Valley region and the Indian border defence troops are inconsistent with their words and seriously violated the agreements both countries have reached”. A clash broke out on Monday 15th June night during the de-escalation in the Galwan Valley region of Eastern Ladakh. 20 Indian soldiers were killed. While both nations blamed each other they also decided to de-escalate tensions. India’s foreign policy is to cover up one loss with another brinkmanship on the other side of the border.
The real question is that what does this hold for regional stability and for Pakistan’s relationship and role in this conflict. While many in Pakistan are feeling a sense of satisfaction at India being given a taste of its own medicine, it is also an hour of introspection, anticipation and foreign policy pre-emptive planning and initiative. Pakistan needs to plan and respond based on the following foreign policy factors:
1. India‘s motive and agenda-India has a very clear political policy. When things get bad internally divert the media frenzy to external adventures in the neighbourhood. This happened near the Modi election time when they used the Pulwama card to attack Pakistan. This time due to the terrible handling of the lockdown and Covid-19 situation it is the Galwan Valley adventure. The killing of at least 20 Indian soldiers has made India rethink its strategy. That is why they have chaotically announced aggressive reduction in Pakistan High Commission staff blaming them for delusional espionage.
2. Regional Support and Cooperation- India’s regional designs have been a threat to South Asia. While in Kashmir they have carried out the worst atrocities they have also bullied smaller neighbours like Nepal into acceding territory. Conflict exists in a disputed land, which is about 372 square km (144 square miles) in area. It is strategically at the tri-junction between Nepal, India and the Tibet region of China. The upper house of Nepal’s parliament has approved a new map of the country, including land controlled by India. India is furious. In a row that has further strained ties between the South Asian neighbours.
3. International Appetite for intervention-With the world embroiled in fighting Coronavirus there is very little time and room for world bodies to have agendas driven by conflicts. However institutions like the WHO and the United Nations can be approached for de-escalating and bringing the focus back on the pandemic.
For Pakistan, this is a crucial time. Firstly, Indian economic hit and military humiliation at the hands of China will make it turn to Pakistan aggressively. Pakistan has done well in exposing and pre-warning the world about Indian designs of a false-flag operation. Secondly, Pakistan needs to call a SAARC Summit about Covid-19 phase 2 and also invite India. This summit will have members who can be lobbied to sign up to peace and stability. Pandemic situation agreements which if India signs will be a push on them and if it does not sign will expose them. Thirdly, Pakistan should send some high and medium level delegations to China, Nepal, etc., to create a perception of cooperative strength against any Indian designs. This is the time for big and small regional players to engage and unite against any misadventure that the Modi government may indulge as a cover-up for political follies home and cross border.ANDLEEB ABBAS, "India’s foreign policy follies," Business Recorder. 2020-06-29.
Keywords: Political sciences , External policy , Foreign policy , Chinese defense , Political policy , Pandemic situation , Modi government , China , India , Nepal , Pakistan SAARC , LAC