By MR Josse
KATHMANDU: Is India bracing for a showdown, in the not too distant future, with China? That is a timely hypothetical question which our soi-disant foreign policy experts and self-styled strategic whiz kids would do well to address – if for no other reason than that a drastic escalation of tension between Nepal’s two immediate neighbours would have profound, perhaps even fraught, repercussions here.
CONNECTING THE DOTS
In my column last week I had referred in passing to the possibility of India clambering aboard a full-speed-ahead, anti-China bandwagon – in the event that the new American president, throwing caution to the winds, chooses to challenge China frontally across the Taiwan, South China Sea and Tibet fronts, possibly in conjunction with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and Australia.
In the interregnum, a number of revealing geopolitical ‘dots’ have surfaced in the Asia-Pacific region – marking
intriguing, fascinating moves that need to be ‘connected’ so one may clearly absorb the big picture that emerges from such an exercise. To begin: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump spoke over the phone; during the call, as per agency reports, the two discussed, inter alia, “opportunities to strengthen the partnership between the United States and India in broad areas such as the economy and defence.”
Soon thereafter, at the Republic Day parade in New Delhi, India chose not only to put on conspicuous display a fulsome panoply of her military hardware, including her Agni-V and Agni-IV ICBMs that were test-launched in December 2016, but gung-ho Indian commentators could not resist engaging in outlandish braggadocio, underlining among other things that the whole of China comes within their lethal range.
In a related development, after Pakistan successfully test-fired its submarine launched cruise missile (SLCM) – Babur 111 – Indian strategic pundits were quick to belittle its significance, as indicated by BBC Hindi Service New Delhi correspondent Mohammad Ali’s statement: “India has expressed doubts over Babur-111 missile testing and questions are being raised by its defence experts.” (vide article by Hali, Weekly Mirror, 20 January 2017).
To go back a little, India’s new Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Bipin Rawat, had hardly assumed his new office whence he proudly disclosed that not just that the Indian Army had not abandoned the ‘Cold Start’ strategy of limited war, against Pakistan, but, indeed, claimed that the Indian Army had the capability of going on the offensive in a two-front war against both Pakistan and China!
However incredible such jingoist assertions may sound to our ears – not least to those of us who still retain fresh memories of the Indian military debacle against China in 1962 – no less worthy of our attention is that India’s increasingly assertive anti-China postures in the military realm are matched with those in the political-diplomatic amphitheatre.
In any case, we are informed via the Indian press that New Delhi has, of late, been busy “reevaluating” its China policy having, in that regard, moved on two planes: one, in strengthening “ties with the US, Japan, Vietnam and Australia”; and two, “geared up” in defence of the Sino-India border and preparations for a two-front war which involves “ramping up” the capability of its air force and submarine fleet.”
Even more importantly for us in Nepal is that there has been a marked toughening of India’s Tibet policy, as reflected in its decision “to bring it back into the bilateral equation” with China, manifested, among other places, in projecting Lobsang Sangay, prime minister of the so-called Tibetan government-in-exile, at a recent international conference in Goa.
There, as most readers may recall, NC president Sher Bahadur Deuba met with Sangay – an encounter captured in all its glory in widely circulated posts on the social media, but subsequently – and predictably – denied by Deuba when it proved to be a scalding hot potato. Given the complexion of the current government under Prachanda, and conscious of how it came about after toppling the K.P. Oli-led coalition that had made remarkable strides in deepening relations between Nepal and China, the significance of those political shenanigans speak for themselves.
It is hardly coincidental that Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar – awarded a very rare one-year extension by Modi, after having served two full years following his nomination to that position just on the eve of his retirement – in a keynote address to the Raisina Dialogue confabulation in New Delhi the other day, according to The Hindu, lectured China “to respect” India’s sovereignty – in a direct challenge to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project which passes through Pakistan-administered Kashmir claimed by India as her territory. Was it purely coincidental, one wonders, that Nepalese Foreign Minister Prakash Sharan Mahat was invited to that particular talk-fest?
Finally, against that arresting backcloth, is it not extremely worrying that, into the maelstrom of Nepal’s foreign interest-dominated politics, should now be injected the ‘two-nation theory’ toxin that resulted in the partition of British India? This has been performed by pro-India Madeshi politico Mahanta Thakur – vide Ritu Raj Subedi in The Rising Nepal, 29 January 2017 – via his outrageous statement
“The hill has its own life style, art, culture and tradition while Madesh has a different one. It will not be surprising if a new state is born when the centralised power fails to work for the benefit of all.”
Plainly, India is readying itself, not only in India but in Nepal too, for what seems to be a looming clash with China – riding piggy back on the broad shoulders of the United States!
While it admittedly still remains to be seen if Trump does decide to take on China despite all the obvious risks and costs, if such an eventuality were determined by Beijing to be imminent, as speculated last week, we could very well experience a pre-emptive armed intervention in Nepal by a China determined to stop and rollback any such sinister plot against Tibet.
Is India bracing for showdown with China?
By MR Josse