The long speech of President Xi Jinping at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on the occasion of the CPC’s centenary celebration on July 1 and the address of US President Joe Biden to the joint session of the Congress earlier on April 29 provide significant inputs on the contemporary global scene that was marked by a developing bipolarity between US-led West and the residual of the world of Communism of the Cold War era now led by China.
In that equation the present profile of Pakistan is important for India in determining the latter’s strategic framework. The two Presidents were expansive about defining their domestic and international policies that makes it easy to identify the thrust areas of their future approach and have an idea of how in their own ways the two countries were visualising their role as a superpower. Pakistan’s current strategy is to be on the right side of the Biden regime without allowing any let up on its closeness towards its ‘all weather friend’, China. India has all pieces in place to firmly decide not only upon its strategy for South Asia but its long-term approach towards the developing global scenario, as well.
At Tiananmen Square, Xi Jinping attired in Mao suit declared that the Chinese nation — comprising ‘Chinese people of all ethnic groups’ — had achieved the first centenary goal of building a ‘moderately prosperous’ society resolving the ‘historical problem of absolute poverty’ and was now moving to the second goal of making China a great ‘modern Socialist country’. Recalling how salvos of Russian October Revolution brought Marxism-Leninism to China and how CPC was born in 1921 to seek ‘happiness for the Chinese people and rejuvenation of Chinese nation’, Xi contended that establishment of People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949 was a victory of the ‘new democratic revolution’ over ‘imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism’. He warned that time when the Chinese nation could be ‘bullied and abused’ by others was gone and any attempt by anyone to do that would ‘run into the great wall of steel forged by the Chinese people’.
The Chinese President talked of ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’ that believed in rule-based governance and a sound system of intra-party regulations. In tracing the history of CPC he put only Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaping on the top and evidently identified himself primarily with these two ideologues. This found reflection in Xi’s proposition that ‘China transformed itself from a highly centralised planned economy to a Socialist market economy taking the country from isolation to one that is open to the outside world across the board’. Xi asserted that China leapt to world’s second largest economy raising the living standards of people from ‘bare subsistence to an overall level of moderate prosperity’.
This confirms the view that Xi Jinping continues to pursue the economic route to becoming a superpower while maintaining a strong military position. The Chinese President presented Belt and Road Initiative as China’s new achievement in providing ‘development opportunities to the world’. He emphasised on the acceleration of modernisation of national defence and the armed forces and asserted that ‘a strong country must have a strong military’. On Hong Kong, Xi accepted ‘one country two systems’ but on Taiwan he reiterated the call of ‘one China’ secured through ‘peaceful reunification’.
President Joe Biden’s address to the Congress on the completion of hundred days of his administration also devoted more to the US domestic scene and while defining the American stand on various aspects of international relations, laid emphasis on US responding to threats ‘jointly with its allies’. The speech avoided any aggressive overtones. Biden talked of rebuilding the nation after the worst economic crisis caused by the pandemic and spoke at length on American Rescue Plan, Family Plan and the Jobs Plan — the last one in particular was described as a ‘blue collar blueprint to build America’. He laid emphasis on ‘revitalising our democracy’ and declared upfront that ‘white supremacy is terrorism’. He called for unity ‘to heal the soul of the nation’ and strongly recommended gun control.
On the world scene, Biden christened President Xi Jinping of China as an autocrat who was ‘earnest about becoming the most significant and consequential nation in the world’ and warned China that while US welcomed competition it will do all to defend America’s interests across the board — he referred to unfair trade practices, theft of intellectual property and military defence of Indo-Pacific in this regard. In respect of Russia, President Biden stated that ‘we do not want escalation but there will be consequences for its actions’. Highlighting the importance of US alliance with NATO, Biden declared that ‘we are back to stay’ to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. Making a passing reference to ‘the forever war in Afghanistan’ he claimed that having degraded Al Qaeda, the US will now ‘maintain over the horizon capacity to suppress threats to homeland’.
Both President Biden and Xi Jinping used the term ‘rebuilding our nation’ and ‘rejuvenation of Chinese nation’ as their respective theme points giving the impression of a preoccupation with their domestic scenario. However, their speeches also suggested a slow but definite ideological polarisation between them as world powers, based on the rival systems of a pluralistic democratic order on one hand and a one-party dictatorship, on the other. Xi Jinping did not mention India and Biden was silent on Sino-Pak military alliance. The Chinese President glorified the role of PLA that is now strengthened in Ladakh sector under an independent General — this can be read as a message for India. President Biden talked of ‘terrorism having metastasized’ — saying that Al Qaeda and ISIS were still there — but he made no reference to Pakistan whose patronisation of Islamic extremists was globally acknowledged. It can be presumed that the Biden Administration attached an overriding importance to Pakistan as a helpful factor in dealing with Afghanistan. This should cause India some degree of concern.
It is in this context that the recent TV interview given to a prominent Afghan journalist — in which Shah Mahmood Quraishi, foreign minister of Pakistan, spoke at length about Afghanistan — becomes important. Saying that Pakistan desired a stable, peaceful and sovereign democratic Afghanistan for regional connectivity and economic progress, Quraishi significantly remarked that it was for the people of Afghanistan to decide what will be the ruling dispensation there, adding that Pakistan will deal with the government so established at Kabul. He highlighted the role of Pakistan in facilitating the peace process at Doha between US and Taliban and participating in Afghan reconstruction and regretted that the Afghan leadership was not able to sit with all others and work out a peaceful resolution. He talked of Islamic bonds between the two countries and predictably remarked that Indian presence in Afghanistan was larger than what it ought to be. The Pak foreign minister warned that President Ghani must learn to reconcile with Taliban if Afghanistan was to be kept from heading into a civil war.
If in President Biden’s scheme of things Pakistan’s strategic partnership with China is of no consequence for the US in terms of the American global objectives, then the Sino-Pak axis that opened up the prospect of these two hostile neighbours planning some joint acts of aggression on our borders, is a threat which India would have to face alone and plan for it. The axis would create difficulties for India in Afghanistan and add to India’s concerns in Kashmir. Quraishi dismissed the June 24 meeting of the Prime Minister with the leaders of mainstream parties of Kashmir — the first such interaction since the annulment of Art 370 of the Constitution by the Indian Parliament — as a PR exercise and alleged that the Prime Minister did not give any reply to the demand of the Kashmir leaders for restoration of full statehood to their state. He claimed that US had appreciated Pakistan for its role in the Afghan peace process. Pakistan has been trying to create a lobby against India’s action in Kashmir in the UN and in the Muslim world- Turkey, Malaysia and Qatar have spoken against India on Kashmir. President of UN General Assembly- Volcan Bozkir- who is from Turkey, told pressmen at Islamabad some time back that Pakistan should take up the case of Kashmir ‘more strongly’ at UN. He asked all concerned to refrain from changing the status of the ‘disputed territory of Kashmir’.
In the prevailing global scenario, India is required to be on the side of the US as a leader of the democratic world against an advancing China and be an active member of QUAD, maintain strong bilateral friendship with Russia, insist on having a place on Afghan round table, deal with Pakistan with a strong hand on LOC and develop the capability of stretching China all along LAC in the event of that country indulging in aggressiveness. While diplomatic support of the friendly countries would be expected, India has to muster military capability to deal with the Sino-Pak axis, particularly in the Ladakh sector on its own.
(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)