Pakistan, India and the view from China

June 25, 2008

File photo of India Pakistan border at Wagah/Munish SharmaThe People’s Daily does not run editorials very often about Pakistan and India, so when it does, I pay attention.  It just published an op-ed about the latest talks between India and Pakistan on counter-terrorism. The talks themselves appeared to yield little in actual results. Yet according to the People’s Daily, it was an “important step towards mutual political trust”.

“The efforts for peace once again prove that dialogue is the sole path to resolving differences between countries,” it says. “India and Pakistan’s steps on this road are not big yet; but they are moving, in a positive direction.”

Is this an example of China taking on a U.S.-style role of regional policeman? Would India and Pakistan feel uncomfortable about such a role?

Maybe not. India and China decided years ago to put the bitterness of their 1962 border war behind them in order to concentrate on winning a place at the top table in the global economy. India’s nuclear deal — the centrepiece of its rapprochement with the United States — appears to be running into trouble at home – leaving it all the more in need of friendly neighbours on its own doorstep.

Pakistan has always seen China as a more reliable friend than the United States, as underlined in this Yale Global Online backgrounder. With relations between the United States and Pakistan getting tetchier by the day, you would expect Islamabad to turn to China for help.  Plus China seems to be pumping investment into Pakistan, of which this story in the Daily Times about it offering Chinese skilled labour to build a dam is just one example.

In the Nubra valley on the road to Siachen/Pawel KopczynskiSo is the United States losing its place in South Asia? And is China stepping in to fill the gap? It’s worth remembering that China, India and Pakistan all have a stake in Kashmir since all of them control parts of what was once the former kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir.  And the Siachen war is the only conflict in the world to have been fought in a place where three nuclear-armed powers meet.  If these three countries are now trying to pull together, what kind of role does the United States have left in the region?

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