Why do nations distrust/dislike China? 6 July 2014

Why do nations distrust/dislike China?     6 July 2014

Some people and nations appear to be suspicious of, or actually to dislike, China’s rise. I am wondering why. There are historical reasons: China was the major, unchallenged power in its region for thousands of years to which ‘lesser’ nations near and far—indeed, as far away as Hunza (now in northern Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir)—had to submit and pay tribute. China’s superiority and other kingdoms’ palpable inferiority entrenched two factors. First, strongly-held Chinese certainty—or arrogance, if you prefer—that the divinely-sanctioned Middle Kingdom should be paramount regionally and beyond. This was the natural order. Second, some of China’s neighbours have bad memories of being under Chinese suzerainty, which brought stability, but not necessarily freedom, mutual endearment or fraternity.

Things have changed dramatically since a popular revolution overthrew the Imperial Qing/Manchu dynasty in 1911. Thereafter, a divided China endured political, social and economic turmoil—and was weak. From the 1920s, Nationalists and Communists fought; in the early 1930s, Japan invaded Manchuria and created ‘Manchukuo’; from 1937, Chinese forces fought with the Allies in World War II. Following its 1949 victory, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) consolidated its control of China, often brutally. This included Mao Zedong-inspired actions such as the Great Leap Forward and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution—which were diabolical, not great. For non-Chinese, such destabilising actions beneficially kept China politically unstable, internally focused and economically weak. Even so, the CCP’s concurrently-held belief that Communism would inevitably triumph worldwide, plus the export of revolution to help this process, did not endear China to others. And, while nations like Vietnam benefitted from Chinese (and Soviet) support against the United States, the 1979 China-Vietnam war showed that, ultimately, national interests always trump ideology. Equally, as China’s neighbour, Vietnam has long sought to avoid Chinese domination.

Matters started to change with, and for, China in the 1970s. The United Nations recognised the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the official government of China, after which the PRC obtained the General Assembly and permanent Security Council seats. In 1979, following Richard Nixon’s groundbreaking 1972 trip to ‘mainland’ China, the United States established full diplomatic relations with the PRC and severed relations with the Taiwan-based Republic of China. Most importantly, from 1978, led by the tenacious twice-purged Deng Xiaoping, China pursued a ‘socialist market economy’ that allowed capitalist practices and activities to flourish. China’s economic progress admirably has lifted millions of Chinese out of poverty, with China now being the world’s second largest economy (although in GDP per capita terms, it lags). Arguably, ‘CCP’ now stands for the ‘Chinese Capitalist Party’.

In recent years, a rising China has been seeking to convert its economic strengths into strategic and foreign policy gains. Most analysts consider that China has ambitions to become a great power, an aspiration that reflects China’s history, self-perception and its so-called ‘Middle Kingdom’ syndrome. Certainly, many Chinese want their nation to be able to resist actions by Western ‘imperialists’, many of whom formerly obtained concessions or took significant portions of Chinese territory when China was weak. Contemporaneously, China also dislikes being encircled by aggressors or enemies, actual or potential, and is trying to break out, and free itself, from this military and maritime containment. Equally, the need to secure economic resources is a driving factor.

While China is emulating the actions of other rising powers that have sought to change or enhance their geo-strategic situation, it is the way that Beijing is going about instigating these changes that worries others. China’s economic rise is clear but its strategic ambitions are not. This situation relates to a significant Chinese strength and weakness: authoritarian rule. Since 1949, various CCP and PRC organs have controlled, manipulated or suppressed all Chinese citizens, not just Tibetans and Uighurs. Since 1978, this has allowed China to advance economically, a happy development for most Chinese. Politically, however, there has been no genuine or inclusive political debate, while dissent has been suppressed. While China has other political parties, they are weak, controlled and ineffectual. According to a friend of mine, ‘it’s easy to be a martyr in China—just publicly criticise the CCP’. The most publicised and negative example of China’s authoritarian rule was the harshly suppressed 1989 Tiananmen Square protest. Other examples of state heavy-handedness apparently have gone unreported.

The weakness of China’s authoritarian rule is that, because the regime itself needs to concentrate and retain power, it is excessively secretive, self-seeking, non-consultative, extensive, and often brutal. China’s rulers paternalistically pursue policies and national interests determined by them in camera and without broad consultation or genuine or popular agreement. Elite CCP rule is difficult to influence or bend, unless it chooses to bend itself—as China pragmatically did economically in 1978. Before 1978, such ‘about turns’ were difficult to anticipate and endure.

China’s inability to tolerate dissent stifles its citizens, their creativity and China’s greatness. This authoritarianism also appears to be a major reason why China currently is mistrusted. Nations of the world, particularly those used to the rough and tumble of consultative democracy—which now comprises many of China’s near and far neighbours—want to engage in a discussion or dialogue, and not be told, or compelled, to do things China’s (authoritarian) way or not at all. China’s current excessively aggressive stance to regain, as Beijing sees it (which is partially correct in relation to its dispute with Japan), sovereignty over disputed territories in the South China Sea is antagonising Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, and others.

Ultimately, China’s authoritarianism makes China look like an oppressive, self-interested regime lacking altruism that domestically dominates its people and which internationally is aggressively trying to bully other nations. This hardline approach is not endearing China to others. Conversely, it is bringing nations together and inspiring them to strategically encourage the US to stay militarily engaged with Asia—factors clearly not in China’s interests. Given its past, its size, and its one-party dominated state, it will be exceedingly difficult for China to genuinely change this way of operating.

The opinions in this blog are mine. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any organisations, professional or otherwise, with which I am involved or associated.

Christopher Snedden
6 July 2014


‘Good’ Taliban, ‘bad’ Taliban, and a need for stability 1 July 2014

‘Good’ Taliban, ‘bad’ Taliban, and a need for stability     1 July 2014

The Pakistan military has finally decided to confront anti-social elements located in North Waziristan, one of the seven tribal agencies of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). This military action has been named ‘Operation Zarb-e-Azb’, which apparently means a ‘sharp and cutting strike’. This refers to the sword that Prophet Muhammad used in two significant battles while attempting to consolidate Islam. This historic term seeks to refute those hardline elements in FATA who consider themselves more religiously pure, or Islamic, than most Pakistanis, and who consider themselves above Pakistan law. They are now being ‘struck’ by a stronger, more capable, Islamically-inspired force. One hopes they see the irony.

To date, military activity has included air strikes against militant strongholds and ammunition dumps in North Waziristan. These actions follow a ‘convenient’ strike by a United States’ drone that killed a high-level Haqqani operative and which, while condemned by the Pakistan Government, was surely welcomed by the Pakistan military, and possibly done in conjunction with it. For some time, Pakistan has publicly complained about US drone strikes while privately welcoming their results that have eliminated some significant anti-Pakistan militants.

Ground forces apparently are waiting to move into North Waziristan once the Pakistan Air Force completes its work. However, to avoid the fighting, actual or potential, some 430,000 Waziris have fled to Bannu and other parts of Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, or in lesser numbers—some 65,000 people—to Afghanistan’s Khost and Paktika provinces. Unfortunately, some of the elements that the Pakistan Army is trying to subdue or kill may have been part of this human exodus. It is very difficult for all security forces—Afghan, Pakistani or those in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)—to determine which men are actually hardline, anti-social elements. Most Pukhtoon/Pushtoon males, who predominate in FATA, dress in a similar way. They certainly don’t wear uniforms that identify them as ‘terrorists’.

The agitated human ‘collateral damage’ fleeing the military action hopes to return to North Waziristan once the Pakistan Army has cleared their region of ‘rebels’. Many of these refugees will likely have to rebuild their homes on their return. These displaced people add to the large numbers of Afghan refugees still located in Pakistan and to refugees from the 2009 military action in Swat. This is an enormous economic, social and emotional burden for Pakistan to bear, particularly as its economy currently is very weak. Afghanistan now has a similar problem, although not of the same magnitude as Pakistan’s.

In a positive development for both Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Pakistan military has finally decided that it will attack all anti-social elements in North Waziristan, regardless of whether they either are, or previously have been considered, ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Generally, ‘good’ elements have been Pakistanis and other pro-Pakistan men allowed to live in Pakistan and who often have been used in Afghanistan, either against its government or against Indian assets. These armed elements include the Afghan Taliban (based around Mullah Omar and the so-called ‘Quetta shura’ that he leads), the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (the Pakistan Taliban), al Qaeda, and the Haqqani network. Lesser elements include Uighurs from the East Turkestan Islamic Movement  and Uzbeks from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. China, particularly, will be happy to see Pakistan striking Uighurs, who have been causing it problems in Xinjiang. Similarly, Afghanistan and India will be pleased to see the disruption of the notorious, capable and long-lived Haqqani network.

Conversely, ‘bad’ elements comprise those Pakistanis who have been brutally and incessantly attacking the Pakistan state and Pakistanis. These elements now chiefly comprise the Pakistan Taliban, whose strongholds are largely in FATA. The military has lost control of this extra-legal element—its ‘good Taliban’ have increasingly been morphing into ‘bad Taliban’—as most recently highlighted by the attack on Jinnah Airport, Karachi. This is a problem that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate presumably did not foresee: when one creates or supports a monster, it may develop a life of its own and seek to devour its creator. Regardless of their characterization as good or bad, Taliban elements clearly have their own agenda. This overrides that of the Pakistan or Afghanistan governments and their militaries—which the Pakistan Army now has finally realised.

A further factor in the current operations is cross border relations with Afghanistan. In a complete reversal of roles from a few years ago, some Pakistanis now are blaming Afghanistan for not doing enough to patrol, control and conduct surveillance along the (notoriously porous) Afghanistan-Pakistan border in order to limit the ability of anti-Pakistan elements to obtain sanctuary in Afghanistan. To control, then destroy, the menace that groups such as the Taliban pose, both nations will need to genuinely coordinate their efforts. Should this occur, it will be good for both nations and their citizens—and bad for the Taliban.

While all of this activity is occurring in north-western Pakistan, some nearby developments pose some wildcards. First, India’s new government may choose to be assertive against Pakistan, although I think that Prime Minister Modi really wants India to develop economically before he becomes belligerent. However, given its current workload, the Pakistan Army’s ability to respond to any Indian provocations in Jammu and Kashmir, or elsewhere, will be limited. It could, however, deploy other proxies, such as the ‘good’ Lashkar-e-Toiba that still appears to be functioning largely unhindered in Punjab. Second, the result of Afghanistan’s presidential elections are still unclear—except that Abdullah Abdullah won’t accept any result in which he comes second. That, plus some resurgent Taliban activity, suggests there are plenty of issues yet to be resolved in Afghanistan.

The need of the hour in all three nations is stability—stability for India while it develops economically; stability for Pakistan while it deals with its unsavoury elements and an array of other issues; and, stability for Afghanistan as it enters its uncertain post-ISAF phase. This need might moderate the actions of the leaders in all three nations—except against their anti-social elements.

The opinions in this blog are mine. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any organisations, professional or otherwise, with which I am involved or associated.

Christopher Snedden
1 July 2014


Unravelling the acrostic—or the unravelling acrostic? 18 June 2014


Image: http://cache.pakistantoday.com.pk/2013/09/pakistan_word_map.jpg

Unravelling the acrostic—or the unravelling acrostic?      18 June 2014

The term ‘Pakistan’ is a manufactured acrostic in which the letters stand for various regions: ‘p’ for Punjab; ‘a’ for Afghania (the area around the former North-West Frontier Province (NWFP); now called Khyber Pakhtunkhwa); ‘k’ for Kashmir (the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K)); ‘i’ stood for nothing and was not in the original term ‘Pakstan’ coined in 1933 but was added later to make the term easier to pronounce, although some revisionists now claim that the ‘i’ stands for Indus; ‘s’ for Sind; and, ‘tan’ for Balochistan. Another meaning of the term is ‘the land of the pure’ in Urdu, Sindhi and Persian. More on that later.

Almost from its inception, this acrostic has proven to be problematic. Firstly, it did not include a ‘b’ for Bengal, a factor that may partially explain why Bengali-dominated East Pakistan always struggled to belong in the geo-political construction of Pakistan comprising two wings separated by a thousand miles of Indian territory. In 1971, East Pakistan separated violently and became Bangladesh. In retrospect, the demise of the unique, two-winged, post-colonial entity of Pakistan unified only by religion was not surprising.

Another problem area has been Balochistan. Since 1947, Balochis have struggled with the concept of their region being part of Pakistan. This may be because there is no ‘b’ in the acrostic ‘Pakistan’ that specifically represents Balochistan. The ‘tan’ in the acrostic, which term means ‘the land of’, does not relate strongly to Balochistan only. There were many others ‘tans’ in or near the British Indian Empire in 1947: Hindustan, the land of the Hindus, a popular pre-partition name for India; Waziristan, the tribal area adjacent to NWFP; Afghanistan; Cholistan, the desert area of southern Punjab; Baltistan, in northern J&K; Kohistan, in northern Pakistan; Nuristan, in Afghanistan; and, Central Asia’s Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan (formerly Kirghizia), Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan; etc. There also was India’s post-1947 agglomeration called ‘Rajasthan’, meaning the land of rajas or kings, with an ‘h’ in the ‘tan’, but close enough.

Another problem is the ‘a’ representing ‘Afghania’. This refers to Pakhtuns in Pakistan’s north-west. But the term also includes Pashtuns in Afghanistan, whose nation does not accept the British-imposed Durand Line border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and whose summer capital was Peshawar until they lost it to the Sikhs in 1834. Equally, some in ‘Afghania’ aspire to create a separate state of Pashtunistan/Pakhtunistan, which would displease Islamabad. Equally, the term ‘Afghania’ is inappropriate for ethnic Hazaras living in Khyber Paktunkhwa, some of whom now want their own state since following NWFP’s renaming in 2010. The same applies to people in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), although most of them are ethnic Pakhtoons. Would the creation of new states for Hazaras and FATA-ites require the insertion of an ‘h’ and possibly an ‘f’ into the acrostic ‘Pakistan’?

Conversely, the capital letter ‘P’ for ‘Punjab’ dominates the acrostic, as do Punjabis numerically dominate Pakistan. Punjabis comprise about 53 per cent of all Pakistanis—if Saraiki speakers in southern Punjab are included. (Pakhtuns are next largest ethnic group, comprising 15.5 per cent of all Pakistanis.) Punjabis are powerful numerically, politically and in the military. There is, however, talk of Saraiki speakers being given a separate state, which may not be problematic as the Pakistan acrostic already contains an ‘s’. But, Sindhis, who long ago lost control of their provincial capital, Karachi, to Urdu-speaking Muhajirs (refugees) from India and their descendants—which ‘interlopers’ also have no letter representing them in the acrostic Pakistan—may be displeased.

As noted, the term ‘Pakistan’ also means ‘land of the pure’. When coined, this term represented a slight to twice-born, high caste Hindus seeking to obtain ‘moksha’, or liberation, from the cycle of birth and rebirth by engaging in virtuous activities to acquire spiritual purity. By using the term ‘Pakistan’, Pakistanis essentially were thumbing their noses at these Hindus and saying ‘we’ve already made it spiritually’. While most Hindus are often disinterested in Islam, in Muslim-majority Pakistan, some Pakistanis seemingly—and increasingly—are disagreeing that this nation is actually the ‘Land of the Pure’. Hardline Muslims, such as the Pakistan Taliban, now are seeking to impose their version of Islam and/or Sharia law, including by using violence, to make both Pakistan and Pakistanis, regardless of their sect or religion, more Islamic. Consequently, the self-perceived ‘Land of the Pure’ increasingly is becoming the ‘Land of the Intolerant’. This is tragic given that Islam is supposedly a religion of peace. Perhaps the ‘i’ in the acrostic ‘Pakistan’ should now stand for Islam, given how all-encompassing the struggle over which type of Islam should be imposed on Pakistanis has become?

The final meaning for the term ‘Pakistan’ comprises a different interpretation of the acrostic. Devised long after the original term, possibly in an attempt to maximise the size of the prospective Pakistan, this acrostic’s components stand for Punjab, Afghania (North-West Frontier Province), Kashmir, Iran, Sindh (including Kachch and Kathiawar), Tukharistan [which roughly equated to Turkestan], Afghanistan and BalochistaN. This represented a huge and ambitious claim that extended the proposed state of Pakistan well beyond the boundaries of British India. For this reason, it was totally unrealistic.

The current difficulties and troubles in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan suggest that the acrostic known as ‘Pakistan’ may be unravelling. Perhaps people in this nation need to contemplate changing their nation’s name to something more inclusive. One possibility might be ‘Indus-stan’, given how important this river system is to large parts of Pakistan—although India also takes its name from this waterway, which could cause confusion and provoke further rivalry. Another possibility is something geographic, like the accurate but inane ‘Western South Asia’. A third possibility is something that draws on the area’s glorious past, such as ‘Greater Harappa’ or ‘Greater Mohenjo-Daro’. While I am being somewhat flippant, names are important and have power—to both unite and divide.

The opinions in this blog are mine. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any organisations, professional or otherwise, with which I am involved or associated.

Christopher Snedden
18 June 2014


Name changes: POK or POJ&K? 12 June 2014

Name changes: POK or POJ&K?   12 June 2014

India’s new Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Government is apparently contemplating changing the term ‘Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK)’ to ‘Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJ&K)’. This move has upset some people, including Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah, who considers it an attempt to polarise the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K)—or J&K-ites, as I call this divided and disputed population. Terminology is an important issue, including in relation to disputed J&K, the nomenclature for which I have sometimes found to be confusing, unclear and problematic.

In my experience, when Indians and Pakistanis use the term ‘Kashmir’, they often mean different things. For an Indian, ‘Kashmir’ generally refers to the region known as the Kashmir Valley—or Kashmir, for short—which, along with Jammu and Ladakh, comprises what I call ‘Indian J&K’: the area of J&K actually under India’s control. For a Pakistani, ‘Kashmir’ often refers to most of the former princely state of J&K. I say ‘most’ as Pakistan has been able—very cleverly since General Zia’s time—to suggest via maps and diplomacy that the Gilgit-Baltistan region in J&K’s north (known as the Northern Areas until 2009) is neither part of J&K, nor of the Kashmir dispute. Pakistan’s tactic, in which India seemingly sometimes acquiesces, arises because the British directly controlled the Gilgit Agency from the 1880s and the Gilgit Leased Area from the 1930s. Islamabad’s suggestion is that the two areas were not part of princely J&K. This is incorrect. Both areas actually belonged the Dogra maharaja as part of J&K’s Frontiers District Province. Furthermore, as was publicly recorded, the British returned the Gilgit Agency and the Gilgit Leased Area to Maharaja Hari Singh’s direct control and administration on 1 August 1947. Gilgit-Baltistan therefore is part of the India-Pakistan dispute over J&K.

Confusingly, ‘Kashmir’ also is used by historians and international relations scholars in the term ‘the Kashmir dispute’ that has existed since 1947 between India and Pakistan over which should possess the former princely state of J&K. J&K comprises five regions: Azad Kashmir; Gilgit-Baltistan; Jammu; Kashmir; Ladakh. However, the former princely entity was popularly called ‘Kashmir’ after its highest profile, best known and most celebrated part: Kashmir. This famous region essentially was/is the Kashmir Valley. Because the princely state was popularly called Kashmir, so we have ‘the Kashmir dispute’. More correctly, this issue should be called the ‘Jammu and Kashmir dispute’, or ‘the India-Pakistan dispute over Jammu and Kashmir’, or ‘the dispute over the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir’. However, because these terms are a mouthful and given the former princely state’s popular name, the Kashmir dispute has come to be commonly used.

Ethnically-speaking, differences also exist. For an Indian or someone from Indian J&K, a ‘Kashmiri’ is a resident of the Kashmir Valley. Most, but not all, ethnic Kashmiris in J&K live there, although Azad Kashmir also has some small populations. For a Pakistani, a Kashmiri could be anyone from the former princely state of J&K. In Azad (Free) Jammu and Kashmir—or Azad Kashmir, for short—as this region has formally called itself since 1947, a Kashmiri is a person from Azad Kashmir who, most probably, is not an ethnic Kashmiri. Azad Kashmiris call themselves ‘Kashmiris’ because their forebears were subjects in the former princely state of J&K commonly called ‘Kashmir’. Similarly, some ‘Pakistanis’ in the United Kingdom, a large percentage of whom actually are from Mirpur in Azad Kashmir, increasingly are calling themselves ‘Kashmiris’ in order to distinguish themselves from other British Pakistanis. These Mirpuris are not ethnic Kashmiris. Their links arise from the former princely state.

Then we get to the loaded terms, such as India’s ‘Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK)’ and Pakistan’s ‘Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK)’ or ‘Indian Held Kashmir (IHK)’. (Another term for New Delhi to consider is ‘Chinese-Occupied Kashmir’, which refers to Aksai Chin and Shaksgam.) Confusingly, when an Indian uses the term ‘POK’, he/she can be talking about three things: ‘POK’, which I call ‘Pakistan Administered J&K’ (comprising Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan); Azad Kashmir; or Gilgit-Baltistan. Such unclarity is made worse because some Indians cannot bring themselves to use the term ‘Azad Kashmir’. It sticks in their craws that these pro-Pakistanis are ‘free’, particularly as both Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan supposedly are an ‘integral part of India’ due to Maharaja Hari Singh’s accession to India in 1947. Interestingly, Azad Kashmiris do not consider themselves free in the sense of being independent. Rather, they became free from the maharaja’s control in 1947, then, post-accession, they were free from Indian control.

The terms ‘IOK’ and ‘IHK’ also confuse, chiefly as many Pakistanis don’t appear to be interested in obtaining possession of Indian J&K’s Jammu or Ladakh regions. Remembering that the ‘k’ in the acrostic ‘Pakistan’ stands for ‘Kashmir’, Pakistanis want the Kashmir Valley. Here there is an important aside: despite what many Indians and others believe, Pakistan does not officially claim all of J&K. Rather, it wants the United Nations plebiscite held so that the people of J&K can decide whether J&K, in its entirety, will join either India or Pakistan. Meanwhile, Islamabad is administering ‘its’ portion of J&K until this poll is held. Pakistanis’ hopes for a plebiscite are forlorn, however. Since the 1950s, India has been unwilling to have this poll held.

And, finally, to India’s proposed use of the term ‘Pakistan Occupied J&K’. It is easy to change a term, although the change may not have much relevance. However, for two reasons, the term ‘POJ&K’ is more correct than ‘POK’. First, as noted, the India-Pakistan dispute over J&K should actually be called ‘the Jammu and Kashmir dispute’, not just ‘the Kashmir dispute’. Second, most of Azad Kashmir comprises western areas of the former Jammu Province, chiefly Mirpur, Kotli and Poonch. The problem remains that, whatever term New Delhi decides to use, it does not reflect the confusing fact that ‘occupied’ Gilgit-Baltistan also is part of the Kashmir dispute. We need a new, more inclusive, term for this dispute!

The opinions in this blog are mine. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any organisations, professional or otherwise, with which I am involved or associated.

Christopher Snedden
12 June 2014

India-Pakistan: changes and challenges 27 May 2014

India-Pakistan: changes and challenges   27 May 2014

The good news is that Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, has attended the inauguration of India’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Apparently, the two leaders also met outside this significant event. This is a positive start, particularly as their nations are estranged with a poor-to-parlous relationship.

One of Modi’s greatest challenges will be managing expectations. He and his party’s massive majority have dramatically raised many Indians’ hopes and desires—even though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP; Indian People’s Party) only received slightly less than one third of the total national vote. (Nevertheless, India’s first-past-the-post voting system translated this into a massive electoral win.) Whether Modi can satisfy his euphoric victory tweet that “India has won! We’re approaching the good days” remains to be seen. However, given human nature and the nature of politics, his leadership and rule almost certainly won’t satisfy and please all Indians.

Some Pakistanis now have increased hopes or expectations of improved India-Pakistan relations. These are not well founded. Apart from new governments in Pakistan last year and India just recently, little else has changed in India-Pakistan matters. Both nations still have (at least) eight issues to deal with, as per their Composite Dialogue which essentially has been suspended, or piecemeal at best, since the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008. Some of these issues are particularly difficult, strategic and emotional, chiefly Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen Glacier, and terrorism and drug-trafficking. There is one further highly significant issue not part of any regular India-Pakistan dialogue: the little discussed matter of water and water-sharing, with Pakistan at a significant disadvantage because of its downstream position and suffering because of its burgeoning, now excessively large, population for which it can only blame itself. There has been increasing angst about this vital commodity, particularly in Pakistan. Arguably, this is the most serious India-Pakistan issue of all.

In terms of changes in either nation, ironically we appear to have gone ‘back to the future’. The Pakistan Muslim League (PML) is again in power in Pakistan, just as it was when Pakistan came into existence in 1947. While Sharif’s PML (Nawaz) faction is less militant and driven to achieve than Jinnah’s original party, Pakistanis are still—and have been since 1947—dealing with the issue of how Islamic their nation should be and which interpretation of Islam is the ‘correct’ one for Pakistanis to adhere to—or be compelled to adhere to—via the imposition of Sharia Law, as hardline Taliban-type elements want. Conversely, with the BJP’s election, India is questioning what part religion should play, and seemingly is moving away from its entrenched and successful secularism. The BJP’s name arises from ancient Bharat (or India), with the party desiring more ‘Hinduness’ in Bharat/India, which geographic entity for some hardliners includes ‘lost’ areas like Pakistan and Bangladesh.

In some ways, therefore, we have reverted to 1947, with leaders and many people in both nations again trying to decide, both pacifically via political processes and violently via militancy, how Hindus and Muslims will cohabitate, and interact, on the subcontinent. In India, Hindus are feeling ascendant, with some acting accordingly, while Muslims, and sometimes Sikhs, are feeling nervous and considering their options. In Pakistan, Muslims are agitating, often violently, to impose their version of Islam, with some of Pakistan’s few remaining Hindus now fleeing for India or being forcefully converted to Islam. Publicly, people in both religious groups are using the other to shore up their own ideology and positions. Thus, religion used for political purposes is again dividing the subcontinent and its people—and stalling the improvement of India-Pakistan relations.

One major difference from 1947 is the current leadership. Nawaz Sharif is not of the same intellectual calibre as Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Similarly, Narendra Modi is no Jawaharlal Nehru. Conversely, Sharif seems more conciliatory than the often inflexible Jinnah, which aspect may actually assist India-Pakistan relations, as long as the Pakistan military agrees to any conciliation. Equally, Modi seems a less complex person than Nehru, with a clearer economic agenda for India that vicariously may help improve India-Pakistan relations if the two nations, particularly Pakistan, can agree their trade regime. Modi also will need to control recalcitrant states, such as West Bengal and Tamil Nadu seeking to influence India’s foreign relations. Hopefully, neither leader will have to face any devastating partition-type divisions, upheavals and bloodshed that confronted Nehru and Jinnah. Rather, their task is to resolve how India and Pakistan can normalise their relationship and to decide how Indians and Pakistanis will re-engage and, to some extent, even partially reunify, via closer trade, cooperative actions and other day-to-day cross-border activities, particularly travel, study and exchanges that ‘normal’ nations engage in. While both leaders possibly want improved relations, each seems to want it on his own terms. Neither seemingly has much genuine interest in, knowledge about, or deep warmth for, the ‘other’.

To normalise India-Pakistan relations will be challenging, and will take time. There is significant, deeply entrenched mistrust between both nations’ populations—a factor made significantly worse because there is such a paucity of direct contact between them. It is almost impossible for an ‘average’ Indian to meet an ‘average’ Pakistani in any easy, meaningful or ongoing way. Resolving the Siachen Glacier issue is the litmus test. If India and Pakistan’s leaders can solve this issue, then all other India-Pakistan issues are soluble. The Pakistan militaries’ veto power on all issues is obvious and well known. Unusually, the Indian Army has been very political on Siachen, with its generals wanting ‘iron clad’ guarantees that, should Indian forces withdraw from Siachen, their mistrusted foe will desist from capturing these vacated positions. Therefore, to resolve Siachen Glacier will require both prime ministers asserting themselves over their respective militaries. Overall, to improve India-Pakistan relations will require vision, leadership and both leaders asserting themselves over their respective nations—and getting on with each other. It’s still too early to tell how they will fare.

Christopher Snedden
27 May 2014

Is Kashmir actually the jugular vein for Pakistan? 13 May 2014

General Raheel Sharif, with stick, surveying the Line of Control, December 2013. http://kashmirglory.com/pak-army-chief-visit-loc/

Is Kashmir actually the jugular vein for Pakistan?     13 May 2014
Surprisingly, the leader of the Pakistan Army, General Raheel Sharif, once again recently talked about ‘Kashmir’ being the ‘jugular vein’ for Pakistan. Given that the ‘k’ in the acrostic ‘Pakistan’ stands for ‘Kashmir’—i.e., the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) popularly called ‘Kashmir’ after its most famous part, the Kashmir Valley—General Sharif’s statement appeared significant. But was it?

The jugular vein is important, even vital, to a human being’s wellbeing. It is a highly significant vessel that transfers a human’s blood between two major human organs, the brain and the heart. Sever this vein and a human being will die, or can be killed, exceedingly quickly. One way to sever the jugular vein is by cutting someone’s throat. A victim dies quickly after such a brutal action, with significant medical attention needed almost immediately in order to save them. The importance of the jugular vein therefore suggests a number of things re J&K and Pakistan. First, that they share the same, indeed identical, blood. Second, that they are part of the same body and are joined or unified by this important blood vessel. Third, that should this ‘vein’ ever be severed, both the ‘upper’ region of J&K and the ‘downstream’ or geographically lower nation of Pakistan will quickly die.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah possibly first publicised the seemingly biologically-significant relationship between J&K and Pakistan. He apparently first used the ‘jugular vein’ term to describe the inalienable link between princely J&K and the new nation of Pakistan. Allegedly, Jinnah said that “From the political and military
standpoints, Kashmir is the jugular vein of Pakistan. No independent
country and nation can tolerate the handing over of its jugular vein
to the enemy.” I say ‘allegedly’ as the founder of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, Amunallah Khan, contests this statement, claiming that Jinnah favoured independence for J&K. Khan is partly right: the All-J&K Muslim Conference, which was heavily influenced by, and ostensibly subordinate to, Jinnah’s All-India Muslim League, only came out in favour of J&K joining Pakistan as late as 22 July 1947, less than four weeks before the British left India. Beforehand, the (seemingly biologically-ignorant) Muslim Conference had favoured an independent J&K. Afterwards, in the minds of Muslim Conference and Muslim League members, J&K and Pakistan became vitally and inextricably linked. This transplanted the J&K-Pakistan relationship.

Thus, from late July 1947, pro-Pakistan J&K-ites and Pakistanis considered J&K to be of vital importance to Pakistan. Some reasonable reasons existed for this belief. First, J&K was a 77 per cent Muslim-majority princely state whose people Pakistani politicians (falsely) believed would naturally favour J&K joining Muslim Pakistan—not secular India, as finally happened, chiefly because the accession decision resided with the ruler of J&K, Maharaja Sir Hari Singh, not J&K-ites. Second, three of the major rivers that flow into Pakistan and provide it with vital irrigation water for agriculture and human survival flow through J&K: the Chenab, Jhelum and Indus. Third, on 17 August 1947, when the India-Pakistan border was officially announced, J&K obtained a long border with Pakistan and a short one with India, suggesting that J&K would unite with Pakistan. This situation changed dramatically when Hari Singh acceded to India on 26 October 1947, after which J&K in its entirety legally became part of the Indian Union. Actually, fighting that had started as early as August 1947, and which increased dramatically thereafter, had already divided the princely state into pro-Pakistan and pro-India areas. A few J&K-ites favoured independence for J&K. Post-accession, Indian J&K actually comprised Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh; Pakistan-Administered J&K consisted of Azad (Free) Kashmir and the Northern Areas (now called Gilgit-Baltistan). Since 1947—and despite J&K’s supposed vital importance to Pakistan—this nation has survived reasonably well politically, economically and socially without possessing all of J&K, or its most prized part, the Kashmir Valley.

How could this be? One major reason is because the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan has successfully regulated, and minimised, water matters between them. Basically, this treaty has taken the heat out of the water issue (to mix a metaphor), with upstream India consistently providing downstream Pakistan with agreed amounts of water annually, for over 40 years. This has largely placated Pakistani fears that India may turn the water off, or on, depending on the issue and time of year. A second reason is that, for both Pakistan and India, the area of desire, and contestation, has always been the Kashmir Valley—even though most Kashmiris probably don’t want to join either nation. Pakistanis have never really been interested in obtaining the Indian-controlled areas of Hindu-dominant Jammu and Buddhist-Shia-populated Ladakh. Thus, if ‘Kashmir’—by which Islamabad invariably means the Kashmir Valley—is the jugular vein, then these ‘lesser’ or non-Muslim-majority areas are expendable limbs the loss of which won’t kill the body.

This suggests that ‘Kashmir’ is Pakistan’s ‘jugular vein’ almost exclusively in Pakistani military minds. They demand such a scenario. Without the bitter, expensive India-Pakistan contest over Kashmir, Pakistan would not need to maintain an expensive, aggressive, politically-interventionist, essentially uncontrollable standing army of 550,000 soldiers and 500,000 reserves. Pakistan would still need an army, but this force would be smaller—and less influential. Therefore, General Sharif was using the ‘jugular’ term to remind three ‘constituents’ of the Pakistan Army’s importance, intentions/desires, and/or ‘spoiling’ power: Pakistani politicians, who need to remember their (inferior) place; Pakistani soldiers, who need to ensure their (superior) place; and India, which needs to understand that the Pakistan Army still desires Kashmir. In reality (and mauling some English), for the Pakistan Army, Kashmir is the ‘pugular’ vein (as in pugilism or fighting), ‘mugular’ vein (as in treating a person—in this case, the average Pakistani—as a mug, or idiot) or ‘tugular’ vein (as in a tug-o-war). Kashmir is not, and has never been, of vital life-or-death significance for Pakistan. The proof is that this region has been effectively and successfully separated from Pakistan since October 1947.

Christopher Snedden
13 May 2014

Strategic possibilities in South Asia 29 April 2014

Strategic possibilities in South Asia   29 April 2014

South Asia’s strategic future is impossible to know. Based on what has transpired, however, and reflecting on current situations, the following appears likely: 1) India-Pakistan relations will remain poor to abysmal; 2) China-India relations will remain challenging, but will continue to improve slowly over time; 3) despite the South Asian Association for Regional Association (SAARC) being formed in 1985, which grouping Afghanistan joined in 2007, the nations of South Asia will have little sense of being part of a region; 4) India will continue to dominate this ‘region’ because of its sheer size, increasing economic power and growing international stature; and, 5) the other nations of South Asia will continue to strive to develop but may struggle.

What if some, or all, of these situations were to change? Given the right set of circumstances, India and Pakistan could normalise their relationship virtually overnight. This could then lead to all of sorts of positive developments. For example, Indians and Pakistanis could readily visit one another and their respective tourist attractions; trade could flourish; each nation could downsize their militaries, paramilitaries and nuclear capabilities and put the consequent savings into national development. The challenge is getting the right circumstances. The primary factor is having politically-strong statesmen concurrently in both nations who can deliver better India-Pakistan relations to desirous citizens. Such leadership has always been difficult to achieve or produce—nor have Indian and Pakistani voters demanded it. This situation is unlikely to change soon. Increasingly, coalition governments are governing India, with the prime minister politically being only ‘first amongst equals’. In Pakistan, the military has a veto over all significant politico-strategic decisions, including any that might lessen its power or influence—as improved India-Pakistan relations almost certainly would do. Certainly, both nations have not yet concurrently had leaders who could resolve their major issues. A lot of luck and synchronicity, not to mention overcoming some significant historical baggage and mistrust, are needed for such a leadership ‘bonanza’ to occur.

A more likely scenario is a further improvement in, even a strengthening of, China-India relations. Imagine if these behemoths developed a strategic partnership and closeness, after which they essentially divided Asia between them, with China overseeing North-East Asia and the South China Sea, with India supervising South Asia and the Indian Ocean, and with both ‘monitoring’ the rest of Asia. This idea is not far-fetched, particularly given pre-9/11 talk of China, India and Russia aligning against the United States, which then almost desperately was seeking an enemy to plan operations against. Think of the sudden and seemingly unthinkable US-China rapprochement in the 1970s and the Soviet Union’s demise in the 1990s. Furthermore, while Pakistan is currently a convenient ally for China, particularly in relation to India, China is concerned about Pakistan’s instability and economic problems and Pakistani support for Muslim Uighur ‘terrorists’ in Xinjiang. India offers China many more opportunities and advantages economically and strategically. Both are wary of an assertive, encircling United States and its allies; both understand that stability and cooperation are preferable to confrontation; both have similar energy and resources requirements, and economic opportunities in Central Asia, South-East Asia, etc. For a China-India partnership to occur, both nations would have to overcome the mutual suspicion that partly results from their unresolved border and territorial issues. Western nations doing something rash or untoward—as sometimes occurs when they take the moral high ground—may ‘encourage’ both nations to embrace. South Asians themselves might embolden such an arrangement from which they almost certainly would benefit, if only because a cooperative China-India relationship could provide an economic engine for national and regional growth.

Possibilities 3, 4 and 5 are intertwined. India is unable or unwilling to lead the disparate and inherently disunified South Asia region. India’s reluctance possibly comes from its longstanding desire to be non-aligned or to decline membership of military pacts like the former Middle East-based Central Treaty Organization (CENTO). Equally, India cannot lead South Asia because other nations fear or mistrust it. This mistrust is a major factor impacting SAARC and South Asian regionalism. But just imagine if South Asia did become a unified region like the European Union. This would create a community—and an economy or market—of over 1.6 billion people. It would necessarily dilute some of the bitter post-British legacies (all South Asian nations have a historical connection with the British) and divisions and the perceived need for armaments and large militaries and paramilitaries to defend sometimes contested territory and some of these legacies. Visitors to South Asia could land in, say, Karachi, Kathmandu or Colombo and receive Customs clearance and Immigration permission to visit any other SAARC nation/s, after which they, and trade, could travel via a unified transport system overland through South Asia to South-East Asia via Myanmar, or to China via Pakistan, Nepal or India, or to Europe via Afghanistan or Iran, as happened re this latter route before the Iranian revolution and the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Similarly, India’s remote seven north-eastern states, and Nepal and Bhutan could access sea ports via transport corridors across Bangladesh, while Afghanistan and Pakistan might use Pakistani and Indian transport links to access Indian ports. In return, India and other nations could access Central Asia via both nations. Borders would be less relevant and joint fishing, sea and water projects would be achievable. The possibilities are endless—and phenomenal. Meanwhile, lacking such cooperation and integration, South Asia’s nations continue to fall far short of their individual and collective potentials. They strive to develop, but struggle.

One day, South Asians may wake up and say to their leaders and governments: “Enough is enough. We need to overcome the antipathies and hindrances that have held us back as nations and as a region. Do the needful you politicians—immediately.” Since the British ended their Indian Empire some 65 years ago, much needs to be achieved. Thinking and acting differently would help. So too would some serious pondering of future possibilities and opportunities.

Christopher Snedden
29 April 2014