China, Pakistan and India

December 13, 2008


According to Pakistani newspaper the Daily Times, Pakistan’s decision to crack down on the Jammat-ud-Dawa, the charity linked to the Laskhar-e-Taiba, came as the result of pressure from China. Jammat-ud-Dawa was blacklisted by a UN Security Council committee this week.

The Daily Times noted that earlier attempts to target the Jamaat-ud-Dawa at the Security Council had been vetoed by China. “It is the Chinese “message” that has changed our mind. The Chinese did not veto the banning of Dawa on Wednesday, and they had reportedly told Islamabad as much beforehand, compelling our permanent representative at the UN to assert that Pakistan would accept the ban if it came,” the newspaper said. “One subliminal message was also given to Chief Minister Punjab, Mr Shehbaz Sharif, during his recent visit to China, and the message was that Pakistan had to seek peace with India or face change of policy in Beijing. Once again, it is our friend China whose advice has been well taken…”

This is intriguing, all the more so given how much attention has has been focused on what the United States has been doing to lean on Pakistan to curb militant groups blamed by India for the attacks on Mumbai.  So what has been going on? Has China, with its growing economic power, become a pivotal player in global diplomacy even as the United States continues to hog the limelight?

We’ve always known that China has had a major role in South Asia. But in the past it was a seen as the ultimate all-weather ally of Pakistan, to be used if necessary against India, with which it has vied for influence in Asia and against which it fought a border war in 1962.  Is this call for peace an example of it taking on a U.S.-style role of regional policeman, as I discussed in a post back in June about India, Pakistan and China?

The Times of India quotes Shashi Tharoor as saying that there was a feeling in China that its opposition to India on the issue of terrorism would “no longer be compatible with its being seen as a responsible player in the system”.

The Asia Times Online, in a report datelined Bangalore, put China’s decision to support the crackdown on Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) in a more pragmatic context. “An official in India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), who spoke to Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity, said that in the wake of the international outrage triggered by the Mumbai attacks, the Pakistan government realized that whether or not the UN body designated JuD as terrorist, it would be compelled by the US to act against the group,” it said. “In the circumstances, it felt it would be better to be seen to be acting under UN orders rather than pressure from India or the US. Hence the Pakistan-China decision to go along with the other Security Council members this time,” it quoted the MEA official as saying.

Personally, I don’t really understand what is going on in the India-Pakistan-China equation (largely because I don’t know much about China). So instead, I’ve drawn up a list of questions on which I’d appreciate comments and which I aim to address in subsequent posts:

1) Has China decided that given its growing stake in the global economy, it has a greater interest in encouraging peace between India and Pakistan?

2) Has it become as important, or more important, a player in South Asia than the United States?

3) If it is aiming now to become an even-handed arbiter between India and Pakistan, why are there still so many problems along the Indian-Chinese border?

4) Why, if China was such a reliable friend of Pakistan, did it refuse to bail out its economy and leave the civilian government there with no option but to turn to the IMF?

5) What do we make of the fact that Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani made his first visit to China, while President Asif Ali Zardari went to the United States?

6) What is the long-term gameplan? And what does this mean for South Asia and the rest of the world?

Are there other questions out there that need to be asked?

(Pictures: Reuters October file photo of Presidents Hu and Zardari in Beijing/David Gray)


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