The attention of the world has finally turned to, once again, the threat of nuclear war in India and Pakistan.
But one country which Pakistan considers perhaps its greatest strategic asset, China, has barely spoken. Apart from, exasperatingly for the Pakistanis, issuing a bland statement condemning terrorism, little has been heard from the Chinese. The Chinese have traditionally blocked Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar from being designated as a global terrorist in the UN Security Council. After the Pulwama terror strike that killed more than 40 Indian soldiers, the biggest on Indian armed forces by citizens of a foreign country since 1947, there is another proposal led by the U.S., the United Kingdom and France to push Azhar on the list, and China has mostly made non-committal noises.
The sense is that the Chinese are not as strident on this point as they used to be – though, for now, they might still go with status quo. But the sign of Chinese ambivalence agonises Pakistan. China, after all, is the lifeline to their sinking economy and never-ending military demands.
There has been none of the kind of support that Pakistan might expect from its so-called all-weather friend and which is said to be investing anywhere between $46 - $62 billion, depending on who you ask, in a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.
Because much that the Chinese would like an unstable India and a dependent Pakistan, the action is now a bit close to home. An unstable India helps China tie-down an emerging rival and keeping Pakistan as a proxy state is helpful to counter American influence in South Asia. But this strategy is getting cloudy as major Chinese money is at stake in Pakistan, and projects come under attack there from local militants.
Also, CPEC cuts right through the Pakistani side of Kashmir and the more the conflict rises between India and Pakistan, the more the threat that the flames could reach Chinese investment.
Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is an old terrorist training hub. Who is to say that after the next terror attack on India by jihadists from Pakistan, the next Indian Air Force bombing would not happen on or near a CPEC installation? India would never risk targeting Chinese assets, but can anyone really guarantee that there would never be any spill over bushfire or collateral damage?
This might be a jihadist dream come true to draw China into a war with India but with a slowing economy and a trade war with America, the last thing the Chinese would want is to get dragged into any major military confrontation with India. It makes no sense for them like it makes no sense for India to go to war with Pakistan – unlike Pakistan, both China and India have real economic might, and both understand that real power comes from economic success.
This is an opportunity for India. It simply means that the Pakistanis can no longer push the moth-eaten Four Point Formula, which is, in essence, a long- term recipe for demographic disaster for India as I have explained here.
The plan also no longer works for Pakistan because China would never allow CPEC to be incessantly open to a floating population from the Indian Kashmir side as envisaged in the free passage across the Line of Control (LoC) across the two sides of Kashmir clause in the four- point formula.
It means that Pakistani opposition to the LoC being converted into the international border would be weaker in future than ever.
The Chinese have significant problems brewing on Islamist radicalism in the Uighur areas and now they find themselves committed to a major investment in an area which could easily become vulnerable in any conflict.
The solution of the LoC converted to the international border would be ideal for India – and it might just have become more ideal than ever for Pakistan, and most importantly, China.
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