Chinese economic corridor

Political turmoil is rampant on both sides of the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. China and Pakistan have held joint military exercises in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir with absolutely ineffectual posturing by the Government of India.

Expecting the Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP to assert its sovereignty over the whole of Jammu and Kashmir (inclusive of the PoK) is a bit too much to ask.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar found it more expedient to flail at those who have objected to the intolerance unleashed by Right-wing vigilantes evidence of whose activities are glaringly visible to the world at large in Una, Dadri, Bulandshahr and many other places.

His threat to ‘teach a lesson’ to those who make such complaints is in keeping with India’s historic proclivity of indulging in internal dissent in the face of external aggression.

To the question of what India should do to protect its vital national interests in Jammu and Kashmir as a whole (inclusive of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) in the face of the emerging China-Pakistani Economic Corridor the obvious answer is that the first step must be to set one’s house in order even while blunting the thrust of the “baazu-e-katil” at the LoC itself.

For those who peddle the belief that accommodating Pakistan with dialogue will help foster peace and stability in the region STRATEGIC AFFAIRS had made the suggestion that there should be reciprocity in the economic exploitation of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir with India given access to Afghanistan and beyond even as the China-Pak economic corridor becomes a reality.

The Government of India has maintained a studied silence on the issue and the end result may well be that all westwards access to India will be shut even as what it calls its ‘attoot ang’ is exploited to the full for Chinese aggrandizement.

Meddling act

That the Chinese are willing to use military might to push the economic corridor through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is apparent in the joint military exercise with the Pakistani Army.

China has long been known to have inducted more than 4000 troops of the PLA disguised as technicians and laborers to create deep tunnels along the course of economic corridor with the intention of preventing the kind of disruption of the Karakoram Highway caused by a landslide that created a 20 km lake in the Gilgit region.

The joint patrol conveyed several messages: The first being to the people of the region-the Gilgit-Balawarsthanis that their opposition to the economic corridor will be crushed without compunction.

The second is aimed at the indigenous Uiyghur Muslim population of the troubled Xianjiang Province who have made several suicide attempts deep into the Chinese heartland to draw attention to their opposition to Chinese domination of their homeland-several hundred Uiyghurs are believed to have joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The third message is to India that it had better pipe down on the issue of the South China Sea or face consequences along its eastern and northern Himalayan frontiers. The Barahoti intrusion and the joint China-Pak exercise indicate this collusive intent.

India has made some attempts to bolster its defences along the Line of Actual Control with China by deploying T-72 tanks in the central sector where there is room for manoeuvre warfare around the sources of the Indus and the Brahmaputra.

The tanks can be backed up by mobile Pinaka batteries that have a range of between 40-60 km and can saturate wide swaths of territory with heavy metal.

There are also indicators that the Block III versions of the BrahMos missile with steep dive characteristics will be brought into the Arunachal sector where forward air bases have already been activated.

Nonetheless it is the Pinaka, if deployed in sufficient numbers that can be a game changer given its massive firepower and area of coverage per salvo of 12 missiles of 214mm caliber.

Indian security forces will need to have a clear objective that is to be achieved at the shortest possible time.

Willing to assert

Taking territory in the Aksai Chin salient has little meaning without the ability to disrupt traffic on the Aksai China Road which was the reason for the 1962 hostilities.

It will heighten Chinese fears of an upswing in the Uighur uprising which was one of the reasons for the joint China-Pakistan patrol.

Concurrently, the Indian external Intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing needs to create linkages that will help heighten Chinese susceptibilities be it in Xiangjiang or the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

In Jammu and Kashmir India faces the prospect of increasing activities of Pakistan-controlled Fifth Columns of the Burhan Wani type.

Indian security forces have no reason to be apologetic in killing Wani because he was a self-proclaimed terrorists working at the behest of handlers in Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

The Indian security must seek out and neutralize all the others in the photograph of about a dozen fully armed terrorists that Wani had uploaded on the Internet.

Apart from the stone throwing mobs the security forces have, indeed, achieved significant success in disrupting terror cells and nabbing ringleaders.

The glaring deficiency lies in the inability to confront the mobs with less lethal weapons than the pellet gun.

The use of this weapon has undermined all the good work that had been done under the Sadhbhawana programme.

Rubber bullets and pepper spray with appropriate colouring to mark ringleaders of the mobs would not have given so much grist to the militant mill. Pakistan is utilizing this lapse to the maximum.

There is a correlation between what is happening in the Valley and the Sino-Pak plan for an economic corridor through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

The anger among the local Gilgit-Balawaristan population against the willful interference by Pakistan in changing the demography of the region by the settlement of Pakhtoon tribals with Taliban-Islamist orientation has erupted time and again.

Simultaneously, with this is the ire against the Chinese for leaving the locals out of the economic benefits of the Karakoram Highway and the emerging economic corridor.

This has been going on for decades and India should have been able to make contacts with the disaffected leaders in the Gilgit-Baltistan-Balawaristan region and lay the foundations of a movement strong enough to put an effective spoke in the economic corridor.

The Chinese are aware of this vulnerability and have brought in the PLA soldiers in disguise. Delays and disruptions will raise costs for the Chinese much in the manner in which the Baloch tribals have taken their toll of the Sui gas supply to the rest of Pakistan from gas fields in their territory.

Pakistan is not going to give India access westwards to Afghanistan (the route through the Iranian port of Chahbahar is a well-thought alternative) but China’s economic corridor is intended to disrupt India’s traditional and centuries old links with the Central Asian Republics on the one side and Iraq and Syria on the other. India cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the emerging prospects.