Is There a Possibility of an Indo-Pak Peace Brokered by China?

A frontier defense regiment of the PLA in Xinjiang, along with a border police force from Pakistan, carry out a joint patrol along the China-Pakistan border. (Photo courtesy: People’s Daily Online/2016)

A response to Riyaz Wani’s article “An India-Pak Deal Midwifed by China?”

By Anuraag Khaund

IN the backdrop of the March 10 détente between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East brokered by China, an opinion piece authored by Riyaz Wani in Kashmir Observer of 15 March 2023 explored the possibility of a similar détente or peace deal between the South Asian rivals of India and Pakistan mediated by Beijing. While such a sentiment is laudable in its own merit for the prospect of ending the long history of antagonism and enmity between two of the largest South Asian countries, yet the history and geopolitical equations between New Delhi, Islamabad and Beijing would hardly make the above prospect even worthy of cursory consideration. The following article is a response to Wani’s piece and aims to highlight the difficulties and complications marring the possibility of such a détente.

The first major lacunae in the article by Wani is the attempt to draw similarity between the animosities of Saudi Arabia & Iran and India & Pakistan. Keeping aside the different political histories and nature of both the conflicts, the former is a clash between two rival sects of the same religion, the latter is one between two separate religious systems and identities with seemingly intractable differences which exist between an Abrahamic monotheistic faith and a non-Abrahamic one. Furthermore, in the case of India and Pakistan, this religious conflict also takes the form of a civilizational clash whose origins can be traced to the ideology of two- nation theory emerging in the British Raj culminating in the Partition of 1947.

To illustrate the civilizational nature of the theory, one can only look at Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s comments during his address to the Lahore session of the Muslim League in 1940− “…Islam and Hinduism. They are not religions in the strict sense of the word, but are, in fact, different and distinct social orders; and it is a dream that the Hindus and Muslims can ever evolve a common nationality;…The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, and literature[s]. They neither intermarry nor interdine together, and indeed they belong to two different civilisations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. Their aspects [=perspectives?] on life, and of life, are different. It is quite clear that Hindus and Mussalmans derive their inspiration from different sources of history. They have different epics, their heroes are different, and different episode[s]. Very often the hero of one is a foe of the other, and likewise their victories and defeats overlap. To yoke together two such nations under a single state, one as a numerical minority and the other as a majority, must lead to growing discontent, and final. destruction of any fabric that may be so built up for the government of such a state”.

The statement quoted earlier only highlights the deep-rooted civilizational differences which greatly influenced the imagination and self-perception of the two nations, especially Pakistan − a fact which remains alive till date. This can be seen in the latter’s uneasy relationship with pre- Islamic and non- Islamic past as well as figures such as Maharaja Dahar, Maharaja Ranjit Singh etc similar to India’s own revision of its Islamic era of the Delhi Sultanate and Mughals. Given the pervasiveness of the two-nation theory view of civilizational clash across both sides of the Radcliffe Line, it would foolish to compare the India- Pakistan divide with that of North and South Koreas and the East- West Germany (as done by pacifists often) given the diametrically opposite natures of the conflicts− the latter two being Cold War era political divisions and the former being rooted in religious and historical antagonism as per Pakistani journalist and author Haroon Khalid. The same applies to the comparison between Iran- Saudi tensions and those between India and Pakistan. It may be relatively easier to solve and reconcile between different sects of the same religion (Shia and Sunni respectively), applying the same methods to inter-religious differences would not be feasible. At this point, one can counter with the example of the 2020 ratified Abraham Accords which brought together Muslim Arab states and Jewish Israel, yet it should be kept in mind that this is an understanding between religions hailing from the Abrahamic or Semitic monotheist family sharing origins in today’s West Asia. Forging such an accord between Islam (Abrahamic) and Hinduism would be an uphill and seemingly insurmountable task to begin with.

Secondly, Wani’s belief that a China-brokered deal would be acceptable to India and Pakistan, especially New Delhi, is itself questionable to begin with. That too, despite Wani’s recognition in the article of China’s irredentism in Galwan since 2020 and Beijing’s attempts to infiltrate India’s neighbourhood in South Asia as well as the Indian Ocean. In this case, while Wani lauds China’s geographical proximity with India and Pakistan as an enabling factor in brokering a peace deal between the latter, yet as the earlier examples show geography itself has become a bone of contention between Beijing and New Delhi. Again, it is geography which binds China and Pakistan together given the latter’s shared borders with the restive Xinjiang and the presence of the BRI’s flagship project China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) stretching from Kashgar in China to Gwadar port in Pakistan vital for Beijing as an alternative energy supply route. This geographical situation has translated into Beijing and Islamabad’s relationship of being ‘higher than the mountains and deeper than the sea’− a relationship which China has used time and again to bind India down and confined within its land boundaries. This is no brainer that while Beijing has not actively supported the proxy war and militancy along the LOC, yet it often prevents international bodies like the UNSC and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) from putting enough pressure on Pakistan to crack down on its own home-grown militants used by the latter to foster instability in Kashmir. Such incessant proxy warfare along the India- Pakistan border plays to China’s advantage as it keeps New Delhi engaged in the continental space as Beijing tries to deepen its maritime footprints in the Indian Ocean− a fact often mentioned by strategic analysts and thinkers such as retired Rear Admiral Raja Menon. Since, an unstable India- Pakistan border benefits China, why would Beijing be interested in brokering a peace deal at the cost of its strategic benefits? Moreover, given Pakistan’s importance for Beijing’s own interests as mentioned above, the latter would think twice before putting out any deal which would not be to the liking of its ‘iron brother’.

Even if Islamabad does concede to Beijing’s demands on such a deal given the former’s dependency on the latter, would the deal be acceptable to India? It should be remembered that the success of the Iran Saudi détente lay in China’s position as a neutral mediator vis- a vis both the parties concerned. However, in the case of a China-India-Pakistan trilateral deal, in the eyes of New Delhi, Beijing is its current strategic rival and also an ally of its nemesis Pakistan with both having a history of indirect and tacit collusion during conflicts such as the Indo- Pak wars of 1965 and 1971 and in the decade long militancy in Kashmir. In such a scenario, would India even believe in the idea of an Indo- Pak détente mediated by China? Besides, any such deal would invariably involve the question of Kashmir− the most significant and major issue between the two countries since 1947. In this background, it is difficult to see how New Delhi would allow for China (strategic rival and ally of Pakistan) to intervene with any peace deal on such a vital matter as Kashmir.

While one can understand and empathise with the sentiment expressed by Wani in his article as coming from a resident of a region (Kashmir) which has the borne the brunt of Indo- Pak rivalry for a long time and hence any kind of peace prospect would be a welcome relief, yet one cannot be swayed by idealist notions in the face of such a complicated and conflicted reality.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

  • Anuraag Khaund is a student of International Politics (IP) from Central University of Gujarat (CUG)

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