Let us make this very short for those in a hurry. No, India CANNOT attack Pakistan without risking a World War III and this is why India WILL NOT attack Pakistan. For those interested in knowing details, read along.
Those who have been exhorting India to go to war with Pakistan on social media and TV channels ever since the terror attack on an army brigade in Uri which left 18 Indian soldiers martyred need to note the Chinese equation.
A couple of days ago, Pakistani media reported that China has extended its unequivocal support to Pakistan against “external aggression” – a reference to India. In August, an influential Chinese think tank had stated that Beijing “will get involved” if India does anything to disrupt the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
By not letting India enter the NSG and by blocking India’s demand for labelling Pakistan-based Maulana Masood Azhar a global terrorist, Beijing has sent clear signs that Pakistan is VERY important to it. And you don’t need more reasons to say that China will militarily support Pakistan in case India retaliates.
But why, you ask. What exactly does China got to do with a country that produces nothing but terrorists? How can a principally atheist Beijing find in an Islamist Islamabad a friend? What exactly is this CPEC that has made China so aggressive that it is issuing such blunt statements directed against India?
CPEC means a lot to China – perhaps everything
CPEC is a $46 billion investment in Pakistan by China to build a trade route all the way from Kashghar in China’s Xinjiang province to Gwadar port in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. Gwadar is a port city by Arabian Sea, which means that China will have a direct access to the sea itself through a route much shorter – and safer – than the existing one.
To understand this better, take a look at this map.
The black line at the right end of the map shows the current sea route that China takes to reach the markets of Africa and Asia. See the dark pink line cutting through Pakistan almost vertically? That is the CPEC.
How CPEC provides a faster (and safer) access for China to markets in Gulf and Africa
Once fully constructed, it will help China transport its goods overland from manufacturing facilities located in the country’s east to Xinjiang over an already established high-speed railway and highway network at a very short time. From Kashgar, the goods will cross Pakistan and reach Gwadar over an improved roadways network. From Gwadar, the Chinese goods will reach anywhere in the Gulf and African countries through a sea route that is much, much shorter than the current one.
And the same route will help goods reach China quicker than they currently do on the longer sea route over the Indian Ocean.
At the same time, CPEC ensures that Chinese business interests do not get hampered in case Western powers, India or their allies in Southeast Asia block the Malacca Strait between Indonesia and Malaysia for Chinese ships, which could be the case in times of tensions.
What is China’s business interest in Africa?
Because of oil, the Gulf is already an important business region for nearly every world power, but it is Africa where China has established something like a colony of its own.
China has heavily invested in Africa. In December 2015, at the China-Africa Summit in Johannesburg Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged $60 billion for the continent. That investment is important for the continuation of China’s growing influence in Africa. Of the 58 countries in the continent, China has heavily invested in at least 26, with Nigeria and Ghana having attracted the largest share.
To maintain its hold on Africa, China needs far more robust trade routes to ensure smoother and speedy access to the markets in the continent and around. Thus the need for CPEC.
How CPEC is strategically important for China
The CPEC is not just an all-business deal for China, it also provides the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) a foothold in all of South Asia.
Chinese submarines will certainly dock at the port at Gwadar because Pakistan will of course have no objection. China will do so claiming that security of their new sea route is integral to them – which is a right of any country anyway. Yet docking of Chinese naval ships so close to India’s coastline is a security risk New Delhi can’t ignore.
China is building its first overseas military base in Obock, Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa to secure Chinese trade routes to Africa and, perhaps, Africa itself. Given Chinese pace of construction, expect them to complete and start the base very soon.
Djibouti is also home to a US military base, making it the only country in the world to have both Chinese and US militaries on the same soil – a strategically noteworthy thing given that both are competing at a very high level on nearly every sphere.
And why Gwadar?
Gwadar port was always a target for China but the port town became everything for Beijing only after trouble started in the development of Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port. That port, located south of the island nation, was a very important stop in Beijing’s Maritime Silk Route plans. While the Sri Lankan government under former president Mahinda Rajapaksa favoured China, things changed when his successor Maithripala Sirisena, who is more inclined towards India, came to power.
China’s activities in the construction of the port hit a roadblock with Sirisena’s arrival. Though there are reports that Sri Lanka, a weakening economy, and China are still talking about developing the port, the relationship between Colombo and Beijing is not as warm as it was during Rajapaksa’s reign.
How does CPEC benefit Pakistan?
Consider CPEC to be the final ray of hope for Pakistan’s economic growth. Countries which were once close allies of Islamabad have either left or drastically reduced their investment because of the State’s own sponsorship of terrorism, participating in human rights violations in Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan, and ignoring the suppression of minority groups at the hands of Islamist radicals.
It is only China which has remained steady with Pakistan, not because it has any love for the rouge State but for its own interests.
While China has virtually turned Pakistan into a vassal state, Pakistan too is benefitting from the relationship. Projects under the CPEC include building of four- to six-lane highways, constructing power plants (basically build the entire sector for power-starved Pakistan), and railway networks all across the country. Heavy investment has been done in infrastructure building of Gwadar and other places around it to facilitate China’s trade route. Three to take note of are these:
$3.7 billion – 1,681-kilometre Karachi-Lahore-Peshawar rail line.
$2 billion – Natural gas line between Gwadar and Nawabshah. This line will eventually be linked with Iran.
$230 million – Construction of Gwadar International Airport.
Technically, Pakistan knows that it is either the CPEC or it can bid goodbye to its economic dreams, if it has any.
So you see, the CPEC will be like a high-speed trade route for China provided other factors such as political instability in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region, Balochistan, and Gilgit-Baltistan do not interfere with it.
And this is EXACTLY why Beijing technically warned New Delhi to keep its hands off of Pakistan. That India is now openly supporting Balochistan is in itself a worrisome thing for China because losing Balochistan would mean losing the entire CPEC.
This is why China will attack India if India retaliates against Pakistan. Plain and simple.
If China helps Pakistan, will not the US help India in case of a war?
Perhaps, no. The simple truth is that the US economy will be overshadowed by Chinese economy by 2018. China’s investment in the US too is only going northwards. Economic analysts at the Rhodium Group, a US-based economic monitor, reported that Chinese FDI in US hit a record $15.7 billion in 2015, which was up by 30 per cent from the year prior.
China holds over $1 trillion of US debt. And Chinese investment is spread over almost every district in the US, which is in itself a huge thing. So even if Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump wants to, he won’t be able to shake China off so easily.
In fact, even the Europe won’t be able to come to India’s aid because Chinese investment in European countries is steadily going northwards.
That investments matter to the US more than anything can be seen from the fact that Barack Obama vetoed a bill that would have given the families of victims of 9/11 tragedy the right to sue Saudi Arabia for its hand in the attack. Though the official reason given was something else, the truth is that Saudi Arabia threatened to withdraw $750 billion in US assets if the bill was passed.
India should therefore forget US help in case of a war.
What about others?
So who’s left? Russia? No, Russia will no longer come to India’s aid the way they came in 1971. Moscow has, for reasons best for Russia, gravitated towards China and is, unfortunately for India, getting militarily closer to Pakistan. This leaves Israel – the only trusted India ally that has the power and the will to come to India’s aid. But Israel too can be bogged down by problems in West Asia. They are surrounded by neighbours who have always been hostile to them since the formation of the country. It is very likely that despite India’s warm relations with the Gulf countries, some among the latter will either come to Pakistan’s aid (note Pakistan is a member of all Islamic groups, economic or military) or simply stay neutral, but definitely not side with India.
So, what now?
India cannot fight a war on two fronts. It is impossible given the fact that India lacks the firepower needed to fight on two fronts and China has vastly superior numbers in every wing of the defence forces. If India attacks Pakistan, China will threaten India’s northeast from Arunachal Pradesh, a state which it already claims as its own, and the north from Ladakh. And if – that’s a BIG IF – anyone comes to India’s aid, it would trigger World War III.
So India will certainly not make a military move against Pakistan. What it is doing, instead, is making diplomatic moves against Pakistan, which may or may not produce the result as desired by New Delhi because international diplomacy is a different ball game and requires a focused long-term strategy.
So those fearing an outbreak of war should rest easy. Those baying for the enemy’s blood should remain quiet.
Does this mean India will never be able to act against Pakistan?
It is not so; India can defeat both Pakistan and China at the same time without firing a single bullet. To do so India will have to present itself as the biggest market to the world so that the world’s stake in India increases. If they think that India is essential to their survival they will certainly take steps to ensure India’s safety.
But at the same time India will also have to build its own defence infrastructure on its own. It has to equip its defence forces with the most effective weapons, not the costliest. India will also have to build a robust manufacturing sector (actually ‘Make in India’) to generate more employment opportunities. China has become a world leader because of this reason. Only a self-sustained country commands respect at a global level. Yet an economy-focused restructuring is not all, a social and political change is needed, too!
How can a country with vote banks of myriad colours become a world leader? How can a nation where people go on an arsonist spree demanding one or the other benefits from the state expect a bright future? How can a land hope for a unified future where in the name of secularism esoteric groups of ‘intellectuals’ are behaving in a myopic way? Casteism, communalism, poverty, unemployment and all such social evils have to be completely eradicated. But to remove all of this is a herculean task given India’s current political structure. No government has been able to do this in the past. On the contrary, politics in India has hit a nadir. Yet someone needs to overhaul this system from scratch because the truth is that enemies within are more dangerous than enemies outside.
China is the biggest problem for India – the real one which India cannot ignore. China and India together account for 16 per cent of the GDP of the world – that is about $13 trillion! And you know what, it is these two countries whose individual economic growth has kept the global growth rate from falling below 2.4 per cent, though the rate is “insipid” as per the World Bank.
So the real picture is that these two Asian giants are the drivers of the world economy. That both are competing in the same region, right next to each other, is what is at the core of every single diplomatic and strategic decision taken by them. They will not go to war, not as of now because of the stakes involved. But mark these words: the day either of them sees an opportunity, it will attack. (And given its understanding of the enemy’s nature, it won’t be India.)
Describing this in an analogy with a lighter vein, India and China are like two lions vying to establish supremacy over the same territory. And one lion (China) has a hyena as a pet (Pakistan) which it uses to keep the other lion (India) distracted so that it can go and mark every tree within the territory as its own.
Correction: An earlier version of this article mentioned that China had investments in at least 21 African countries whereas the number is 26. The error has been rectified.