It is said that Afghanistan has land borders with six countries – China, Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Well, whoever says this has forgotten India and Balochistan!! Borders of two countries which have been devoured with stealth and devious means.
In the earliest known epics of Indian history, the Mahabharata, Gandhar (present-day Afghanistan) was ruled by King Subala whose daughter Gandhari was married to King Dhritrashtra nearly five thousand years ago. Our culture and ties to that region are so old !!
Later, invaders came from much further and extended their empires in our country. As a corollary, the mixing of cultures and relations extended even further away from India. In Afghanistan and many Central Asian Republics there reside some very influential and respected families, with very clear lineages, who have a profusion and history of affection for India.
This piece is not about Afghanistan, but, China. The reference to Afghanistan and the Central Asian region needs to be understood before we go into the context of China. Posturing by China and the US with Asian powers like India, Japan, Australia etc has been going on for long in the South China sea.
However, something seems to have changed of late. The posturing has been padded by muscle and bulk, China is giving veiled threats to nations questioning its dominance over this region, opposing voices are louder, the buzz pasts closer, the rhetoric stronger and by and large it appears that China’s bluff in the South China Sea is about to be called!
China has a finger in every pie in Africa! Till 2019 all was well. But changing world opinion on issues, against China, and the lack of ease of doing business on its own terms if nations of the world decide not to let it, have started indicating that Africa may be a continent too far! Suddenly, China, which seemed to have a strategy or answer mired in some ‘Confucius-istic’ thought, doesn’t appear to be so certain at all!
In an election year, it is now very clear that America has made China an issue! Whether it is intellectual property rights, theft of technology, taking away American jobs, escalating tensions and threatening freedom of movement on the South China Sea, it seems, that China is at the core of all things which are detrimental to all interests American!
To cap it all, is, in the words of the President of the USA, the ‘Chinese Virus!’ America has emerged as the nation which is very bluntly and persistently asking questions about the efforts to suppress news of the emergence of the new virus, delayed sharing of its capability for a human to human transmission, using the WHO to propagate its own narrative of the issue, allowing the virus to spread to a pandemic stage across the world yet being able to contain it’s spread to Beijing!
For the first time, in a very long time, China is under pressure from countries who themselves, nor in the eyes of the Chinese, were capable of questioning its conduct. And the holy of holies, the galloping Chinese economy now doesn’t seem to be too full of wind! Unprecedented times in the world where nations seem to be making an effort to collectively ‘quarantine’ China! A time which will bring a paradigm shift to everything we have seen in the world till now. And, yes, like the rest of the world China will also not be the same again.
The Standoff in East Ladakh
It is being said that China is not comfortable with the infrastructure developments being carried out by India near the LAC. But these infrastructure projects did not start overnight. They have been going on for years with the impetus given in the last five years. So what has happened that suddenly the Chinese moved a larger than ever before a number of troops and tried to stop work? The ‘tipping point’ appears to be the completion of these projects which will take away the advantage the Chinese have held till now.
All across the LAC, due to better roads and infrastructure, superior operational logistics and swifter capability to deploy and redeploy troops, the advantage of options to apply pressure was with the Chinese. Not so any more! The improved infrastructure on own side of the LAC and a steelier resolve have taken away this advantage from them. It is this realisation which seems to have pushed the Chinese into acting in the way they have. They cannot allow the status quo to change.
America seems to be eager to be an intermediary in this issue. India has very correctly reminded it that there are systems and procedures in place between the two countries, and, that this would be resolved diplomatically between India and China. In disturbing times with pressure from unimagined sides, China has a very mature call to make.
In the long run, to break free of these attempted shackles by China and Pakistan, India has to have freer access to Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics, and through them to Europe.
We have a centuries-old relationship with them which we need to revive and reap. Not only will it open up their markets to India and vice versa, but it will enable us to shape the outcome of geopolitics to include our interests (ironically India was kept out of the group trying to find a solution in Afghanistan because we did not share a border !!). The route for this to happen lies through Chabahar in Iran.
India needs to build upon its ties and trust with Iran, keeping away from its dispute with the US, who is known to change partners when their interests differ. The sooner this is done the better it will be for India. In the current impasse, it would augur well for both India and China to deescalate and defuse the situation peacefully and at the earliest.
— Maj. Gen. Jitendra Singh Yadav/Lucknow
(The writer is a gallantry award winner veteran, with nearly 38 years of service in the Indian Army, is an alumnus of St Francis College. He is currently enrolled as a PhD scholar at Lucknow University.)