Thursday, July 9, 2020

India-Pakistan clash may affect China’s South Asia policy

Tensions between India and Pakistan kept raging on Saturday as an exchange of fire between their troops killed at least six civilians and two Pakistani soldiers along the Line of Control (LOC) on their fiercely disputed Kashmir border, The Guardian reported.

Relations have dived dramatically between the two rivals since a suicide attack by a Pakistan-based terrorist group killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary troopers. India accused Islamabad of harboring what New Delhi calls militant camps housing the group behind the attack, and carried out airstrikes inside Pakistani territory on February 26. Pakistan denied the existence of any such camps, and retaliated with its own aerial mission the following day, which led to both sides claiming to have shot down each other’s fighter jets.

It is because of extreme mutual distrust on security issues that the flare-up between the arch foes has escalated. Regardless of the complexity of the incident, both New Delhi and Islamabad believe the onus of escalation lies on the other side.

India blamed Pakistan for the February 14 suicide bombing, and retaliated by launching air raids inside Pakistan in a bid to force Islamabad to change its security policy. India’s dangerous move exacerbated the crisis.

India’s domestic politics has also influenced the hostility with Pakistan. Facing upcoming elections, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has had to take these pressures into consideration. Strong measures against Pakistan are now regarded politically correct in India’s political circles.

Hence, New Delhi seems unlikely to step back and soften its policy against Islamabad. As a result, such low-intensity confrontation may last for a relatively long time.

Even so, the crisis is still manageable given that both countries possess nuclear weapons, which would act as deterrents. In addition, intervention by the international community can lower the tensions.

If India continues to impose pressure on Pakistan, the situation could turn critical, but this seems unlikely. New Delhi will eventually adjust its response after a more objective understanding of the consequences that escalation in the crisis may lead to.

Bilateral hostility has not only threatened regional peace and security in South Asia, but also affected the international community. The Kashmir dispute is intertwined with complex ethnic and religious issues. If the crisis continues to worsen, the flow of international extremist forces and armed support for Kashmir militants may rise.

In addition, the disputed Kashmir is contiguous to China. Though the region has been a long-lasting problem between India and Pakistan, the current crisis may influence China’s policy on South Asia.

Both neighboring powers are China’s important partners. As a pivot of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, Pakistan has all-round friendly relations with China. In particular, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a key project playing an essential role in pioneering new approaches to exchange and cooperation between the two sides.

As a newly emerging power, India has an important impact on the international order and globalization. China and India, two significant strategic partners, are involved in various international organizations including the G20, Shanghai Cooperation Organization and BRICS. New Delhi is an indispensable part of Beijing’s great-power politics.

Therefore, it is tough for China to take sides. In general, Beijing will adhere to the mediation policy. In the long run, if tensions continue to rise, China may face a greater impact; but despite that China is facing difficulties in mediating between the two neighbors, in the current scenario, the influence on China is limited.

The author is a research fellow with China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. This article first appeared in the Chinese national daily, The Global Times. 


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