China’s Azhar Volte Face Well Worked Strategy

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SUBIR BHAUMIK |

CHINA’s lifting the ‘technical hold’ on the UN 1267’s committee’s resolution to declare Jaish–e–Muhammed chief Masood Azhar a ‘global terrorist’ is a well thought move on the South Asian chessboard, part of a much larger diplomatic effort to preserve peace in the region to avoid any major adverse impact on its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative . Protecting this signature trillion dollar initiative from the ‘dogs of war’ and conflict is the highest Chinese foreign policy priority at the moment, especially on two of the six BRI routes (China–Pakistan and China–Myanmar

 

Both Pakistan and Myanmar provides China with important land–to–sea access that helps Beijing get round the Malacca ‘chokepoint’ and hugely reduce transportation cost for its energy imports at a time of economic slowdown, likely to worsen due to a trade war with United States

 

corridors) threatened by durable disorder. Both Pakistan and Myanmar provides China with important land–to–sea access that helps Beijing get round the Malacca ‘chokepoint’ and hugely reduce transportation cost for its energy imports at a time of economic slowdown, likely to worsen due to a trade war with United States. The Chinese live in the dread of a US naval blockade of Malacca straits in the event of exacerbated conflict — hence the determined effort to cultivate Pakistan and Myanmar for seeking an outlet to the Indian Ocean. China geo–strategic weakness of a small East Asia focused coast (contrast to India’s location in middle of mainland Asia with large coastline in both west and east) has influenced much of its current foreign initiatives, BRI included, in recent years.

■ Gwadar Port

Having interacted with large number of Chinese academics, business and political leaders in recent weeks, many of them with close links to decision–makers in Beijing, I got the feeling that China was almost desperate to avoid an escalation of the India–Pakistan conflict post–Pulwama. If Kashmir, including the Pakistani part of it, became a battleground post–Balakot, the Chinese would not be able to operationalise the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which begins in that area. Until such time India was not retaliating terror strikes by direct military action, the Chinese could afford to look the other way. The Balakot airstrikes and Pakistan’s retaliatory air raids, that raised the spectre of an India–Pakistan war, left Beijing worried, because that would unsettle the CPEC at its point of origin. Would one believe that Chinese maps put up at the April 25–27 BRI conference showing  the whole of Kashmir as Indian territory (and also Arunachal Pradesh as Indian territory) were a mistake !  It may be one subtle effort to signal to Delhi that BRI would not undermine its sovereignity concerns on Kashmir. And why such a move just when Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale visits Beijing amidst the humdrum of the BRI conference that India boycotted a second time !

■ Masood Azhar | Archive

The Chinese see possible Indian tit–for–tat covert operations inside Pakistan is waiting to intensify. Indian intelligence

 

China geo–strategic weakness of a small East Asia focused coast (contrast to India’s location in middle of mainland Asia with large coastline in both west and east) has influenced much of its current foreign initiatives, BRI included

 

has assets in POK amongst the Shias who resent resettlement of Sunni Punjabi ex–servicemen in Gilgit and Baltistan — and a serious effort to get them to attack Pakistani assets (funded by China as part of CPEC) is not a threat that Beijing can wish away. Especially because such action has intensified in the restive province of Balochistan — the point where CPEC ends. The April 18 ambush in that restive province, in which Baloch rebels dressed in Pakistani military uniforms pulled out bus passengers, segregated military personnel, and shot fourteen of them, has raised heckles in both Islamabad and Beijing. The Baloch Raji Ajoi Sangar (BRAS), an united platform of three separatist rebel groups, have stepped up the heat in Pakistan’s most endowed province, beginning with the attack on the Chinese Karachi consulate late last year. That attack showed the Baloch rebels were now willing—and somewhat capable — of hitting even outside their province.

 

Baloch rebels dressed in Pakistani military uniforms pulled out bus passengers, segregated military personnel, and shot fourteen of them, has raised heckles in both Islamabad and Beijing. The Baloch Raji Ajoi Sangar (BRAS), an united platform of three separatist rebel groups, have stepped up the heat in Pakistan’s most endowed province, beginning with the attack on the Chinese Karachi consulate late last year

 

With huge investments in Balochistan’s mineral resources and in the deep sea port of Gwadar, the Chinese surely don’t fancy a powerful Baloch separatist movement that India (and now Iran) may back to square off on Pakistan ‘terror export’ in Kashmir. Early in his tenure, Modi had raised the Balochistan issue and his National Security Adviser Ajit Doval had even threatened that Pakistan would lose that province if another 26/11 type attack happened. That India used its assets in Sindh in the late 1980s to force Pakistan to pull out of mischief making in Punjab has been forcefully argued by the late B. Raman of R&AW in his book “Kaoboys of R&AW”. History could repeat itself.

■ An official checks a bag belonging to an attacker outside the Chinese consulate in Karachi, November 2018 | Archive

The Jaish–e–Adl ambush on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (in which 27 died), a day after the Pulwama suicide bombing, has left Iran fuming. The Revolutionary Guards chief even threatened Pakistan with ‘dire consequences’ if such attacks continued. Pakistan has recently alleged that the Baloch rebels who murdered 14 Pakistani military personnel at Ormara “came from Iran, where they now have bases.” This is Pakistan’s (and China’s) worst nightmare — a joint India–Iran covert effort to arm and shelter the Baloch rebels. Pakistan has already announced its plans to fence its border with Iran. Insurgencies in POK and Balochistan does not augur well for the smooth functioning of the CPEC — and the one way to prevent India and Iran from backing them is to restrain the Pakistani deep state from its terror exports.

 

National Security Adviser Ajit Doval had even threatened that Pakistan would lose that province if another 26/11 type attack happened. That India used its assets in Sindh in the late 1980s to force Pakistan to pull out of mischief making in Punjab has been forcefully argued by the late B. Raman of R&AW in his book “Kaoboys of R&AW”. History could repeat itself

 

Withdrawing the technical hold on the UN resolution against Masood Azhar is Beijing’s first symbolic gesture to placate India and signal Iran that Beijing will try rein in the Pakistani terror factory is some meaningful way. Pakistan itself has to do much to escape FATF blacklisting — grey listing is costing its economy nearly $ 6 billion annually.

The Chinese are also making a serious effort to get the Burmese peace process going. The Burmese army recently declared suspension of operations for two months against Northern Alliance rebel groups in Kachin and Shan state. Of them, the Kokang group MNDDA is a Chinese surrogate. Peace is north Myanmar is crucial for the Chinese to implement their projects under the BRI plan and exploit the region’s considerable natural resources. That the Burmese army announced suspension of operations after its chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s visit to Beijing (followed by Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to the BRI conference) is significant. China now has a huge interest in regional peace to ensure that its BRI routes are not affected by conflict. ■

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