Goodbye SAARC, Long Live Hindustan!
Credible media reports from America have revealed China’s latest thrust in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). China has tightened its grip on this region that was illegally ceded to it by Pakistan in 1963 in violation of UN Resolutions on Kashmir. China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has substantially increased troops in POK, is constructing rail and road links to the Gulf and Gwadar port, building residential complexes suggesting permanent stay for its troops, and 22 tunnels to which even Pakistanis are debarred that can be used for storage of missiles. This is a huge game changer.
The reactions of official spokesmen and media pundits may be ignored. If the foreign inspired leaders shaping India’s international relations are to be taken seriously one may as well write off the nation’s future. One must continue to think robustly in the certainty that one day India will be ruled by a government capable of independent thought. The far reaching implications of the Chinese move should be appreciated in the light of the following background.
In 1980 this scribe met with a Chinese leader for the first and last time. It was Qian Qichen who later became the foreign minister and vice-president of his country who sought the meeting. We met at my residence. We talked frankly for over an hour. I asked him that if China’s strategic concerns were met regarding access to the Gulf and from Xingjian to Tibet through Kashmir would China still give prime importance to Pakistan or consider it expendable. I reminded him that as a victim of imperialism China should appreciate the injustice of the subcontinent’s Partition in 1947. I suggested that a genuinely friendly Sino-Indian relationship could be established if India’s legitimate sphere of influence was respected. Qian was quite excited by the concept which he described as novel and worth considering. He neither endorsed it nor rejected it.
It might be recalled that this conversation took place almost five years before the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was set up. With the emergence of SAARC new prospects opened up. Subsequently it was advocated that the practical and sensible approach lay in creating a South Asian Union modelled on the European Union allowing India and Pakistan to have joint defence and a common market. To achieve it this scribe went even as far as to suggest self-determination for Kashmir leading to possible independence for the Valley provided it remained member of the proposed South Asian Union. From India’s point of view the only worthwhile rationale for SAARC was that it would evolve into such a union in order to create a cohesive and exclusive South Asian identity based on geography and history.
However Pakistan and Nepal had other ideas. Both nations wanted China to become an equal member of SAARC in order to cut India to size. These differing perceptions about the role of SAARC led to its growing irrelevance. China of course was egging on Pakistan and Nepal to further its own hegemonic ambitions by whittling down India. Successive Indian governments tamely acquiesced in this by overlooking China’s annexation of Tibet, its support to Pakistani aggression against Kashmir and China’s repression of the Uighurs in Xingjian. In other words India consistently accepted Beijing’s encroachments into India’s turf without any countering move in order to please its mentors in Washington.
The latest development by China in POK has irreparably altered the situation. Now there is not even the theoretical option of resolving the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan as this scribe had urged. China was not a part of the Kashmir problem. Now it has become an irrevocable part of any future Kashmir solution. It has become an irrevocable member of any future South Asian Union. It has irrevocably destroyed the prospect of creating a South Asian identity through the establishment of the proposed union. No doubt the government will continue to whistle in the dark and pretend nothing has substantially changed. Already official statements to that effect have started to surface. The mainline media is so heavily embedded that it will only echo the official view. But things will never be the same again.
SAARC is dead. The prospect of a genuine South Asian Union is dead. The prospect of India protecting its turf by the establishment of such a union is dead. So, as far as this scribe is concerned it is goodbye to SAARC. It is back to Hindustan as was hinted to Qian Qichen. That is why it is time for India to seriously consider the hardline suggested by this scribe. Diplomatic contacts with Pakistan should be ended. Trade ties with China should be cut. China will remain an export driven economy for at least two years more. India thrives on domestic demand. India must beef up security. The rich must learn to tighten their belts. Tibet should be recognized as a dispute between Beijing and the people of Tibet. Xingjian should be recognized as a dispute between Beijing and the people of Xingjian. India must recognize and extend moral support to the aspirations of Baluchistan. India must reach out to Pashtuns of all persuasion and support the implementation of the Durand Line Treaty by which Pakistan’s NWFP region must revert to Afghanistan. After all there is thrice the number of Pashtuns in the NWFP as there are in Afghanistan. As long as the Pashtuns do not participate in terrorism against India, New Delhi should least bother about how they conduct themselves within their own region.
This is a long, tough journey to undertake. It is fighting a war without firing a shot unless forced to shoot in self-defence. China and Pakistan gave provocation for such war long ago. This approach will be dismissed as being crazy and reflecting the views of one person among a billion. Let Beijing and Islamabad take comfort in this. But history will determine whether India will forever be ruled by foreign advice or get a government that protects the national interest.
By Rajinder Puri