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June 26, 2000


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E-Mail this column to a friend Kuldip Nayar

Friend and all-weather friend

When I inquired from a Pakistan foreign minister how India could improve relations with China, he said that the road from Delhi to Beijing passed through Islamabad. What he said some 30 years ago still holds good. President K R Narayanan must have realised this during the state visit to China, although President Jiang Zemin welcomed him as Lao Pengyu, 'an old friend'.

The anti-India attitude may have struck an equation between China and Pakistan to begin with. But they are so close today that the policy of one towards New Delhi is the carbon copy of the other. Recall the intemperate language used by Beijing after the Pokhran-II blast in 1998. Pakistan rushed to China with a high-powered delegation to denounce India in equally strong terms.

All the resolutions in the UN and observations at international fora show that Pakistan is always on the side of China, whether voting or running down India. In fact, Beijing uses Islamabad as a sounding board for tirades against New Delhi.

Perhaps Beijing feels indebted to General Ayub Khan who parcelled out the 200 square metres of territory from the disputed Kashmir under Pakistan and gave it to China. That firmly connected Sinkiang and Tibet. Strange, the transfer of the territory took place in 1962, when India was fighting a war against China, over the road Beijing had stealthily built in the Aksai Chin in the Ladakh region to link Sinkiang.

The contrast between New Delhi and Islamabad was too glaring to leave China unimpressed. The territory in the north was a lifeline for China's integrity. Even otherwise, India represented to Beijing at that time the intersection of interests of the Soviet Union and the US, something anathema to China. Since it no longer saw New Delhi as a potential partner in the process of confrontation with the super powers, Beijing's strategy was to undermine the strength and influence of New Delhi by military, political and economic pressures.

After the end of the Cold War, the situation could have been different. But the mistake which India has continued to commit is to rub into China that it prefers Islamabad to New Delhi. Of course, it does. India should accept it and try to build a relationship which, China feels, should not be at the expense of Pakistan.

It is no use pointing out to Beijing again and again that it is helping Islamabad in the nuclear field. America and some other countries in the west have also been saying so. This has had no effect. China probably honestly believes that in Pakistan it has in the region a country which will stand by it even when Beijing is in the wrong. "Pakistan is our all-weather friend," the Chinese leaders say repeatedly.

Islamabad's political dependence on Beijing too is not a secret. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif first flew to China and then to Washington to help him retrieve the situation in Kargil. General Pervez Musharraf, after he took over, went to Beijing to explain the circumstances and to seek its blessing. The two countries are in constant touch.

Narayanan's reference, if not the plea, to India's membership to the Security Council during the talks with the Chinese leaders, was a mistake. New Delhi should have anticipated the reaction from the strong opposition Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar voiced two weeks earlier. Islamabad has also its own reasons to oppose the proposal. But it is primarily Beijing's objection that has weighed with Pakistan's policy-makers.

New Delhi unfairly compares Narayanan's visit to China with the one he made to France. President Chirac offered full support to India's seat in the Security Council. This was because France considers New Delhi a friend. So much so that Paris stopped the supply of Mirage aircraft to Pakistan at India's bidding.

In contrast, China has reportedly supplied to Islamabad M-11 missiles, which are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. This should not surprise New Delhi because it is Beijing's way of restoring parity with New Delhi, which possesses such missiles.

Narayanan did not succeeded in having even a loose kind of understanding to fight terrorism. China is not against it, but it does not want to hurt Pakistan's susceptibilities. After all, New Delhi singles out Islamabad. Unlike Washington, Beijing does not wish to give the impression that it too holds Islamabad responsible for encouraging terrorism in the region.

What India fails to realise is that it could perhaps find common ground with China if it did not bring in its differences with Pakistan. This is evident from Beijing's enthusiastic response to Narayanan's suggestion for more commerce and closer culture ties. New Delhi should concentrate on those.

The border problem is, however, the core issue for New Delhi. There is no Line of Control between India and China. Beijing does not accept even the Line of Actual Control which some non-aligned powers at Colombo indicated after the cessation of hostilities in 1962. The Agreement on Maintaining Peace and Tranquility on the LAC was signed in 1993 during the visit by then prime minister P V Narasimha Rao to China. But Beijing has been refusing to define or demarcate it since.

Beijing claims chunks of Indian territory as its own. Whenever New Delhi has pointed out the errors in the Chinese maps, the reply has been that they are of the Kuomintang government days and that the Communists have had no time to correct them. This is what then Chinese prime minister Chou En-Lai told then Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1954 and 1957 and this is the stock reply by the Chinese team which meets Indian officials to discuss the border every now and then.

New Delhi's case is that from the sixth century onwards it was known that the southern limits of Sinkiang lay along the Kuen Lun ranges. The Aksai Chin Plateau and the Lingzi Tang plains were never a part of China or Sinkiang. India has produced 600 pieces of documentary evidence to establish that these areas were utilised by the people of Ladakh and administered by the governments of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. And therefore, they are India's.

That Narayanan has been able to impart urgency on the delineation of at least the LAC is an achievement of sorts. If after signing an agreement with Narasimha Rao China has not demarcated the LAC, there is no guarantee that it would do so now. Beijing has disputed certain areas on the Indian side of the LAC. In the face of it, the drawing of boundary between the countries looks too distant. China has not resiled from the position it took in the Fifties.

India, on the other hand, feels embarrassed even to talk about the sad developments in Tibet. After having recognised China's suzerainty over Tibet, New Delhi has washed its hands of Tibet. Does it mean that India endorses every move of China on Tibet? Narayanan was directly asked by the Chinese leaders about the future of the 15-year-old Tibetan boy who has taken refuge in India.

Narayanan did not say anything beyond that India had given him rights to live for the time being. This was an opportunity to ask China why the conditions obtaining in Tibet were such that even after more than 45 years of its integration with China, people want to leave Tibet.

When China has not officially accepted Sikkim's integration with India, nor India's hold over Arunachal Pradesh and some parts of Assam, why should New Delhi keep silent on Tibet? The Dalai Lama wants only an autonomous status within China. India is unnecessarily on the defensive. Narayanan should not have minced words. As a person who is considered a friend in China, he would not have been misunderstood. Beijing would have least known the depth of the hurt among Indians.

The President in China

Kuldip Nayar

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