Strategic relationships between nations evolved as a tool in geo-politics, mainly after the cold war. Countries till then had formed military alliances like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the WARSAW PACT, mainly with a strategic intent of protecting the ”world order” based on the ideology of – Communism v/s Capitalism. Such alliances were centred around the super powers of those times namely the Soviet Union and the United States.
The end of the twentieth century witnessed tumultuous changes in geopolitics and the political economy of the world. The Spread market economy model into traditional socialist economies like India and China resulted in the emergence of these countries as centres of growth. The spread of the internet and flow of talent added to this process. The Emergence of religious extremism, especially with a pan-Islamic appeal which engulfed the globe starting with the collapse of the world trade centre made terrorism a global threat. At this juncture, strategic alliances between nations became an effective tool in geo political manoeuvring.
It was on the basis of the above developments that International relations shaped the world order in the twenty-first century with India and China emerging as economic powers. The economic growth of India resulted in an acknowledgement of its democracy and shared values with the democratic west. The emergence of global terrorism with its epicentre in Pakistan – Afghanistan belt shifted the strategic dialogue between the US-led western world and India. China’s emergence as an economic power had a strategic significance due to its reinforcing its interests in the South China Sea posing a threat to Americas strategic interest in the Pacific. The Leverage of Chinese manufacturing in the US market with a burgeoning trade deficit in favour of China has also provided for a strategic re-thinking in US policy towards India. With the US tilting to India, China followed a balancing act of aligning with Pakistan.
Having set the background of a post-cold war Indo-US entente and its impact on Pakistan-China relations let us analyse the intent of an SINO-PAK Strategic engagement. Having failed all its military misdemeanours with India, the Pakistan policy of military engagement with India was through the proxy wars. This begins with engaging anti-India forces by providing Logistic and resource support to them.
Indian Islamic extremists, Kashmiri separatists and the growing web of a terrorist network in the Af-Pak region were directed by Pakistan into an anti-India engagements with the latest being the attack on the Pathankot airbase in the beginning of the new year. With a democratic Pakistan and its public policy having little say in its military engagements, India is gasping with an anti-terror proactive strategy with its only recourse being diplomatic dialogue.
On the background of its strained historic relationship and border problems, China considers India as a threat both economically and militarily with the Indo-US axis like – read the 2008 INDO-Nuclear deal – exasperating the same. This has resulted in a Sino- Pakistan strategic relationship as an effective counter strategy to contain India. Having tied up India in proxy wars, an alliance with China provided Pakistan access to Chinese nuclear technology enabling it to be capable in delivering nuclear-powered ballistic missiles at India. On the Chinese side, they did get access to the Karakoram range which resulted in a 1500 km highway between Gilgit region in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to the Xinjiang region in China referred as the new silk route which gives China access to Pakistan. Pakistan also has recently allowed China to access its Gwadar port. A pipeline connecting this port parallel to the silk route entering China is also planned which will enable China, ensure its oil supply in case of India blocking the Indian ocean region for Chinese supply from the middle east in case of a conflict. This Port led Strategic engagement with Pakistan and similar exercise of Chinese submarines docking in Colombo port should be of concern to India. This SINO-PAK strategic engagement with a win-win situation has an origin when Pakistan laid the foundation of diplomatic relations with China in 1951 and for China, this engagement is not only centred on India but also to contain growing US interest in the region.
The Significance of this relationship is manifold. On the strategic and military perspective in a conventional war with Pakistan, China can play a major support role in finance, logistics and diplomacy. China can also use Pakistani soil for a Pakistan military thrust into India in case of heightened tension between India and China. On containing the US influence in the region, China can use Pakistan in influencing its US Policy as a counter to US muscle-flexing in the South China sea. The recent involvement of China in the Pakistan – Afghanistan dialogues is a pointer.
The impact on India is both economic and military. While China is claiming that it will maintain a balanced approach in its relationship with India and Pakistan, for India such claims can’t be taken for granted. Securing of the Indian Ocean from Chinese and Pakistani influence and building up the Blue water navy should be a priority with an eastern and western fleet containing these two nations. The Build-up of strategic engagement with South Asian nations and Japan is another move which India need to harp upon. A decisive counter-terrorism policy against Pakistan with short pursuit options need to be worked upon.