Subcontinental Drift: Rajnath Singh Heading To Pakistan; Nepal Warming Up To China
In the fifth instalment of this series, Ramananda Sengupta writes on the lukewarm attitude of Pakistan towards the Pathankot attack and the growing friction between Nepal and India— which has resulted in the Himalayan country turning to China.
He also writes about the accusations of the Indian media that three Chinese journalists are spys— accusations which are linked to the Nuclear Supplies Group (NSG) situation and incursions by the People’s Liberation Army, at the India-China border.
In January 2016, lapdogs of the Jaish-e-Mohammed attacked the Indian Air Force Base in Pathankot, killing seven guards before being taken out by Indian soldiers.
Pakistan, when accused, set up a special investigation team. In a first, this team was given visas to visit the airbase to examine the weapons used by the attackers, record statements of the victims and first responders, and were allowed access to other assorted evidence.
On its return to Pakistan, however, the team claimed that all the evidence indicated that the attack was set up by Indian agencies in order to discredit Pakistan. Islamabad then reneged on its offer to allow an Indian team to visit Pakistan to interrogate key suspects there.
On 29 July, a Times of India report stated that the United States had handed over evidence in the form of chat transcripts between the attackers and their handlers in Pakistan, clearly proving that the Jaish was involved.
According to the Times, “The proof shared by the U.S. through the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) will strengthen India’s case ahead of Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to Islamabad next week for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) interior ministers’ and home ministers’ conference. It can also help in India renewing its plea that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions Masood Azhar as a terrorist.”
But, I wouldn’t be too optimistic. Mountains of dossiers of similar evidence against Pakistani fidayeen, who can best be described as the north ends of south-bound swine— egged on from behind by porcine leaders like Azhar and Hafiz Saeed— have failed to have any impact whatsoever on Islamabad.
After all, Hafiz Saeed— the main accused in the 26/11 siege of Mumbai— is not just walking around free under Pakistani military protection. He is giving hate speeches, quite happily, on Kashmir and sowing the seeds of discord in the Indian media by praising an Indian journalist and the Congress party for their position on the strife-torn Indian state.
Not to be outdone, in a statement released earlier this month, Masood Azhar declared: “The strong Pathankot attacks lifted the spirits of Kashmiri youth and now the sacrifice of a Kashmiri has united the Kashmiri community, hence, it is our responsibility to stand behind the Kashmiri Muslims, our lives are wasted if we can’t help the jihad in Kashmir.” But Islamabad still remains in constant denial, insisting that the unrest in Kashmir is local in origin and that Pakistan provides only “moral” support.
Meanwhile, Nepal has beefed up security in and around the Koshi Barrage following an Indian warning that militant groups trained and/or sponsored by Pakistan could target the structure, a key element in water and flood management between India and Nepal.
Local media said the Indian warning had specifically mentioned outfits like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Indian Mujahideen, but Home ministry spokesman Yadav Koirala told the Hindustan Times that “the Indian side alerted us about the possible security threat in areas along the Nepal-India border, particularly in the Koshi Barrage area, but has not mentioned which group had issued such a threat.”
This warning comes at a time when the tiny Himalayan nation is struggling with political turmoil as well as flash floods and landslides, which have killed at least a 100 and displaced thousands. Aid agencies have warned of a spike in human trafficking from the country as families struggle to cope with the devastation.
India, which has promised all help to the landlocked region, has been accused by outgoing Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli of having “deprived Nepal of its sleep.”
Speaking at a function attended by several political leaders in Kathmandu on 29 July, Oli pledged that the he would strongly oppose any attempts to reverse the agreements reached with Beijing during his brief tenure. These agreements with China were signed at a time when “Nepal was pushed to the brink” and “many kitchens in Nepal went without fire, because of the blockade by a neighbour”, he said. “Does that neighbour want the Nepalese people to die?” he asked.
Veteran journalist Yubaraj Ghimire writes in The Indian Express that “Oli’s tone and tenure Friday in presence of senior leaders from the Maoist party as well as the Nepali Congress— the two major coalition partners in the government that is likely to replace him next week— also indicated that Oli’s policy, especially his stand-off with India and proximity with China, has takers across the parties.”
Meanwhile, said the Express, “Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” met Chinese ambassador Wu Xuntai to dispel any impression that his return to power would amount to ‘neutralising what Oli did’.”
New Delhi’s concerns over Nepal’s attempt to balance what it perceives as “Indian hegemony”, by moving closer to China, are easy to understand. A similar attempt is being made by India’s southern neighbour, Sri Lanka.
Though many see it as a retaliation against China blocking India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group and have JeM chief Masood Azhar designated as a terrorist by the United Nations, Indian authorities say the refusal to extend the visas of three journalists from Chinese News Agency Xinhua was due to their “conduct not being in conformity with the provisions of the visa rules”— a euphemism for spying.
Describing it as a “petty act”, the Chinese state run Daily Times said: “Some Indian media claimed that the three journalists are suspected of impersonating other people to access several restricted departments in Delhi and Mumbai with fake names.”
“There were also reports attributing it to the journalists’ meeting with exiled Tibetan activists. Moreover, speculation is swirling that India is taking revenge against China for the latter’s opposition to India joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). If New Delhi is really taking revenge due to the NSG membership issue, there will be serious consequences,” the report warned.
“Crowned by Western public opinion as the world’s biggest democracy, the Indians have a strong sense of pride. China should stick to a friendly strategy toward India, as we believe bilateral friendship is in the interests of India as well. On the visa issue, this time we should take actions to display our reaction. We, at least, should make a few Indians feel Chinese visas are also not easy to get.” said the unsigned editorial.
Days earlier, there were reports of incursions by the People’s Liberation Army and a Chinese helicopter which strayed into Indian territory in Uttarakhand, which shares a 350 km long boundary with China.
“The good thing is they (Chinese) have not touched an important canal there. This is a matter of concern. Our border has been peaceful. We have asked to increase vigilance. I am sure the central government will take cognizance of the issue,” said Uttarakhand Chief Minister,Harish Rawat.
New Delhi, however, preferred to downplay the incident with semantic jugglery, describing it as a transgression, and not an incursion.
“The India-China border is not formally demarcated. There are areas where both sides have differing perceptions of Line of Actual Control (LAC). Barhoti (Uttarakhand) is one such area. There was no incursion, just transgression which has been settled. There is a well-defined mechanism to settle such transgressions,” Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar told the Lok Sabha.
Though both sides claim to have quietly sorted things out, Sino-Indian relations— mired in a massive trust deficit— are likely to get a lot worse before they get any better.
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