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India-Pakistan relations: China must introspect when it offers mediation over Kashmir

As India’s problems in the Kashmir Valley continue to get messier and further complicated, it seems as though the world can’t get enough of the K-word. Now on the heels of the offers by the US and Turkey to be part of some sort of ‘mediation’ or ‘third party-initiated dialogue’ between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue, a recent report in the Chinese Communist Party’s English language mouthpiece Global Times has argued for Chinese mediation in the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan.

The report had the following to say: “China has always adhered to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, but that doesn’t mean Beijing can turn a deaf ear to the demands of Chinese enterprises in protecting their overseas investments. Given the massive investment that China has made in countries along the One Belt, One Road, China now has a vested interest in helping resolve regional conflicts including the dispute over Kashmir between India and Pakistan. By playing the role of a mediator between Myanmar and Bangladesh, China can gather experience, which could perhaps serve as a prelude to future efforts by China to engage in regional affairs in South Asia and Southeast Asia.”

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

On the face of it the argument about China playing the role of a responsible status-quoist power in its neighbourhood seems appealing. After all, given the Chinese influence — cultural, political and economic — in some of the smaller Southeast Asian countries, the idea at least seems plausible as has been argued in the report, between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Unfortunately, when it comes to South Asia, this idea seems a bit of non-starter and unfair, especially when that mediating role is expected to benefit one of the parties in the conflict.

And that is precisely the case when one looks at India-Pakistan and Kashmir issue.

At the risk of repetition, it needs to be asserted that just like Pakistan, China also illegally occupies a part of Jammu and Kashmir — 37,240 square kilometres of Aksai Chin in Ladakh. China may consider this territory that it received from Pakistan through a bilateral agreement in 1963, as a done deal. However, from India’s point of view this illegal occupation of Aksai Chin is very much part of the Kashmir problem. Therefore, it is a bit rich on Beijing’s part to offer mediation to resolve the Kashmir issue.

Not to mention China’s growing profile in other illegally-occupied Indian territories — Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. China’s infrastructure projects in this area have been touted by Beijing as a showpiece of the ‘China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’ project, as part of the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative. This growing presence — economic and some say military too — has been taking place even as India has repeatedly flagged its security concerns and opposed any sort of international presence in the region.

If the growing investments in Pakistan are a factor through which the Chinese are hoping to get their ‘mediation proposal’ some traction in India, then Beijing is grossly mistaken. If the ‘third party mediation on Kashmir’ proposal from the US seems to be a bizarre idea for India, despite the growing strategic proximity between New Delhi and Washington, then clearly the Chinese offer will be seen even with more suspicion and scepticism in South Block and rightly so.

Imagine a recalcitrant neighbour who has illegally occupied a part of your home, offering to resolve your dispute with your tenant! If that idea appears to be an odd one, then this is exactly what China is trying to propose in case of India and Pakistan over Kashmir issue.

In fact, if the Chinese investments in Pakistan is what leading China to think of mediation, then India should use the same logic to argue that it is precisely for the sake of multi-billion dollar — $62 billion at last count — investment in Pakistan, that Beijing should prevail upon Islamabad and Rawalpindi to change their revisionist behaviour for good rather than trying to change the status-quo through promoting cross-border terrorism in India. In fact, the idea should be taken further to urge upon China to cease its cross border advances in the Ladakh sector, because they vitiate the regional security environment, which then adversely affects investments.

China should restrict its efforts for mediation to some of the smaller countries in the region and take steps to address India’s concerns. How about showing willingness to stop blocking attempts to designate Maulana Masood Azhar of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) as a terrorist by the United Nations?

The Chinese always cite ancient and medieval history, to justify their actions. So it would do no harm to them to look at this piece of recent history: JeM cadres used to frequently roam in the compounds of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid — the same place that later became the scene of a bloody crackdown by the Pakistan Army on militant groups, after the Chinese were accused of running a prostitution racket in the area.

Hope some better sense prevails in Beijing.

Updated Date: May 03, 2017 07:46 AM

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