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Mainstream, Vol XLVII No 11, February 28, 2009

26/11: Is China Important….?

Monday 2 March 2009, by Gunjan Singh


India has compiled a dossier of evidence regarding Pakistan’s involvement in the Mumbai terror attacks of 26/11. This includes confession of Ajmal Amir Kasab, the only terrorist arrested during the attack, satellite phone intercepts and record of logbooks recovered from a ship by which it is believed that ten heavily armed terrorists came from Karachi to Mumbai on November 26, 2008.

The Indian Government shared this information with various countries to bring the truth out and explain the situation to the world in order to generate international pressure on Pakistan. This was done with the hope that Pakistan will in the process accept that the terrorists were Pakistani nationals and that they were trained on Pakistani soil. Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon held a special briefing for the Ambassadors and High Commissioners of more than a dozen countries. These included the US, UK, Israel, China, France, Japan, Germany, Russia, Turkey and Canada. This was in order to update them on the evidence collected regarding the role of Pakistan in the Mumbai attacks.

The interesting question is: why did we decide to share this information with China? We just had a taste of the Chinese international standing and their commitment towards the ‘all weather friendship’ with Pakistan during the Nuclear Suppliers Group meeting with respect to the Indo-US nuclear deal. It is no secret that China even lobbied for a similar deal with respect to Pakistan despite the fact that the Pakistan’s nuclear record is not credible. Is it that we have not learned from our experience with the Chinese?

What we see from history is also that Pakistan and China have been very close allies. Pakistan was the third non-communist state and the first Muslim state to recognise the People’s Republic of China in 1950. Bilateral relations were further emphasised at the Bandung Conference in 1955. In 1961 Pakistan voted for a bill for the restoration of China’s legitimate rights in the United Nations further enhancing the relationship between the two countries. China has played a very important role in the development of the Pakistan’s nuclear as well as the missile programmes since the 1970s. China provided Pakistan with nuclear-capable M-11 missiles. They also signed a military agreement on December 15, 2008. China has always been committed to helping Pakistan safeguard its territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence. Another essential element of China-Pakistan friendship is the Kashmir issue. On this aspect it appears that China is highly interested in a peaceful settlement of the issue due to its own entanglement. This is primarily a result of the October 1963 Sino-Pakistani Border Agreement. India claims Aksai Chin (of approximately 35,000 square kilometres) as part of the territory in Ladakh, Kashmir. What appears is that a resolution of the Kashmir dispute could reopen the sovereignty issue left over in the 1963 Sino-Pakistani border agreement.

So it should not be a surprise to India when we see the Chinese media reporting about the Mumbai attacks in a certain way. Xinhua said in a report that the Deccan Mujahideen group launched attacks on 10 buildings and facilities” across Mumbai. This agency did not even mention that India has been claiming that Pakistan was involved in these attacks. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has been insisting throughout that proper investigation needs to be conducted before the nationality of the terrorists can be determined and there is no need to rush to any conclusion. During the attacks the Chinese claimed that the terrorist (Kasab) who was captured on the CCTV may have been a Hindu or rather an Indian national and this could have been a show of discontent on the part of the people against the Indian state. The think-tanks and academicians in China have been claiming that this act of terrorism is a manifestation of the internal contradictions within Indian society. During the visit by Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister He Yafei to India, he stated that the purpose of his visit is to “encourage both sides to find a way out through dialogue and consultation”. He asserted that looking at the current situation this appears to be the best policy for the region.

WITH this background do we expect China to accept that it was Pakistan which was involved in this attack? What is noteworthy is that intelligence officials from the United States, United Kingdom and India believe that the Pakistan based militant groups were the masterminds behind the Mumbai terror attacks that killed some 179 people. But China has not shown any inclination to accept any such claims. What is apparent from this is that China is seeking to play a mediatory role in the middle of the ongoing Indo-Pak conflict while India wants China to exert pressure on Pakistan and not mediate.

To get China to influence Pakistan to accept its role in these attacks appears to be a futile effort as Pakistan has openly rebuffed this dossier as merely being information and not proof of its involvement. It will not be wrong to conclude that this is an opportunity which China will try to exploit to the maximum in order to reduce the United States’ influence on Pakistan and in the region. This will also help the Chinese to play a more important and indispensable role in the South Asian region than ever before. It is a known fact that China has always tried to use Pakistan in order to balance out India in this region. If a situation arises that Pakistan is alienated in the region and if the Chinese show more commitment towards its friendship then this might help in bringing a dent in the role of the United States in South Asia.

With these factors in the background is it necessary for India to share information with China? China has always tried to use Pakistan in order to balance India in the South Asian region and it helps China if the western borders of India are unstable. It has all along tried to put pressure on India in some way or the other. Since the war in 1962, India-China relations have not been smooth. China has tried to use the unresolved border issue whenever it felt the necessity. In recent times the Chinese stand on Arunachal Pradesh has proved to be quite disturbing as well as humiliating for the Indians. Another argument which China might be advancing is based on the belief that this attack hints towards the internal weaknesses of India. An internally weak India is definitely in Chinese interest.

Pakistan, with its geo-strategic location and size, will always be important for China. Thus in addition to China, India should have made efforts to go to other countries in the SAARC region. Because what India has seen in the past is that any effort to get China to influence Pakistan is pointless in the long run. The approach which India should have applied was to get in touch with countries in the South Asian region as well as others whose support India can be confident about.

The author is a Research Assistant, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

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