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Sino-Pak Interplay: Implications for India and Extremist groups in South Asia

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The significance of geo-strategic interests, overriding the conventional ideologies, become evident with the convergence of two distinct ideologies in Pakistan and China. While Pakistan, an advocate of political Islam, support a society based on Islamic principles, China has shifted from nationalism and populism to the ideology of pragmatism. Amid myriad issues, including Pakistan’s economic, political, socio-religious and identity crisis and China’s growing tensions with the US and its allies as well as questions arising over issues like its expansionist designs, Uyghurs, and Covid pandemic, stimulated both sides for an alliance. The shared animosity with the US and India, though with a different tangent, like Kashmir issue for Pakistan and expansion of influence over the regional states for China, provides a common platform to the two countries. In this context, jihadist groups in the South Asia, offer an opportunity to them for their usage as a pawn to promote their respective vested interests.

The declination in Islamic State (IS) and allied groups’ influence in West Asia, coupled with assumption of power by Taliban in August 2021 offered China a strategic tool to expand its influence in other states in collaboration with Pakistan and prevent eruption of Islamic movement in Xinjiang, with threats from the East Turkestan Independence Movement (ETIM) activists, based in the Af-Pak region. China moved towards forging a covert understanding with Taliban/AQ groups, in lieu of its covert support to them to help expand their activities in other South Asian countries. Being an Islamic host country to such groups, Pakistan, saw an opportunity in these developments to promote its Kashmir agenda. Moreover, China’s funding diplomacy offering Pakistan a shield from US’ economic coercion and India’s pro-active coercive diplomacy as well as US’ exit from Afghan quagmire facilitated their alliance. This nexus while working to marginalise Indian interest, also rejuvenated moribund terror groups in India.  With leverage over Taliban regime, Pakistan found an easy option to operate terror camps focused on Kashmir and other Indian states.

Meanwhile, with Taliban and IS-Khorasan Province (ISKP) fighting each other to further entrench themselves in the fluid situation in Afghanistan, Taliban overtly preferred, to desist from its engagement in Kashmir. However, on ISI’s behest, AQ and ISKP increased their activities in India. During last quarter of 2021, Al-Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), through a video captioned ‘Kashmir is ours’ tried to allure local Kashmiris, though it conveniently ignored the plight of Uyghurs in Xinjiang from their agenda. Meanwhile, IS-Hind Province (ISHP), carrying out attack against non-Muslims in Kashmir, conveyed their intent to cooperate with Kashmiri groups. While China wants Pakistan as its proxy to keep India engaged in multi-dimensional conflicts, Pakistan, piggybacking China, wants to enhance its standing among Islamic states including OIC. Both sides intend to leverage Islamist groups against the potential rival countries. Hence, the deployment of few Pak Army officers in the Western and Southern Commands of China may seek infiltration Pak based terrorists through the Eastern Ladakh.

The spurt in killing of civilians, security forces and threats to women to observe Islamic principles coupled with enhanced usage of drones by Pakistan, to smuggle arms/ammunition in J&K and other border states, including Punjab signifies Pakistan’s bold attitude. One cannot gainsay the fact that sudden upsurge in anti-government attitude under the garb of of various movements, including Farmer’s agitation, Article 370, anti-Citizenship legislation or intemperate attitude towards Muslim community, somewhere, owe its roots to Sino-Pak nexus. It was manifested by the recent involvement of Pak-backed Khalistani elements, in the farmers’ agitation and ‘Sikhs for Justice’ involvement in the recent blockade incident of PM Narendra Modi’s convoy near Firozepur. Amid renewed efforts to infuse militancy in Indian north-east sector and West Bengal state, China’s unexplained behaviour to resort to ‘Salaami slicing’ strategy to grab Indian territory, particularly in Arunachal Pradesh is inexplicable. Moreover, China’s refusal to withdraw forces at reasonable terms at the Hot Spring / Depsang Plains indicate towards the ominous designs of Sino-Pak nexus in South Asia, for those, not falling in line with Sino-Pak interests.

Maldives forms an important part of China’s Belt & Road Initiative and ‘string of pearls’ strategy. However, pro-China President Abdulla Yameen‘s defeat at the hands pro-India Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in 2018 upset the Chinese plans. China would be keen to utilise Pakistan and Maldives’ common religious identity and OIC membership. In May 2021, a bomb attack by Islamist elements on Parliamentary Speaker Mohamed Nasheed (former President of Maldives), a severe critic of Chinese activities, indicates an attempt to rejuvenate the fundamentalist elements, the scenario, apparently offering China a chance to exploit the situation in this strategic Island country. Earlier, in March 2020 a Police surveillance speedboat in the harbour of Thundi District of Gan in Laamu was set afire, followed by an incident wherein, IS elements set afire in Cheval Blanc Randheli, a luxury hotel located in Noonu Isle. Subsequently, in April 2020. Five speedboats, were damaged in an arson attack at Mahibadhoo Harbour on the Alifu Dhaalu Isle. In November 2020, Maldives police had arrested eight people, linked to IS, who were training to carry out terror attacks in the country.

Sri-Lanka, another link in China’s BRI and ‘Pearl’ strategy, was left disenchanted following loss of Hambantota port in 2017 for 99 years lease over Chinese debt trap and was gradually recalibrating its relations with India to China’s discomfiture. On October 5, 2021, India’s ‘National Investigation Agency’ arrested one Satkunam alias Sabesan, a Sri Lankan national and former member of the LTTE’s intelligence wing for arms/drug trafficking from Pakistan to Sri Lanka, to revive LTTE activities in Sri Lanka.  Earlier, a series of suicide bombings in Colombo and Batticaloa on Easter Sunday in April 2019 by local Islamic extremists (National Thawheed Jammath (NTJ) and Jamaat-al Mullathu Ibrahim (JMI)), inspired by IS was a precursor to Islamist elements’ design of expanding their activities into Sri Lanka. Such a planned attack needs lot of logistic and moral support as well as expertise. It raises suspicion of involvement of some elements, who prefer Sri Lanka vulnerable and in a weaker state. Despite overt decrease in Islamists linked terror attacks post 2019 attacks, religious tensions between Muslims and the Sinhala Buddhist majority have increased and possibility of flaring up of an undercurrent of sentiments with the intervention of vested external forces cannot be gainsaid. Notably, in the prevailing security scenario, former Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and former President of Maldives Mohammed Nasheed had termed the 2021 developments in Afghanistan, a matter of concern for all its immediate South Asian neighbours.  

Pakistan-based Islamist organisations have always viewed Bangladesh as their extended area of operation not only to penetrate India but further in the Southeast region. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) with support from Pak-ISI has been working to expand Islamic extremism in Bangladesh. The Chinese interest to forge close relations with Bangladesh, backed by Pak Islamist groups’ anti-India activities perfectly supplement each other’s interests.

In yet another important South Asian country of Bhutan, which China sees as the final piece in its South Asian conquests, the satellite images and analysis by U.S. data analytics firm ‘HawkEye 360’ shows that China in January 2022 enhanced its settlement-building along its disputed border, with over 200 structures, including two-storey buildings, under construction in six locations.

Nepal, over the years had become the Pak ISI’s hub and has been hosting trans-criminal gangs having hand in gloves with terror groups. Meanwhile, the deepening political crisis in Nepal offered China an opportunity to China to meddle in Nepal’s internal affairs. The Chinese road and rail infrastructure projects, including Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional connectivity network in Nepal are more in line with its own strategic goals than to help Nepal. Both China and Pakistan are aware of the significance of encirclement of India and the inability of small nations like Nepal to challenge their nexus. Chinese Vice Minister of the International Department of the Chinese Communist Party, Guo Yezhou played a major role in bringing together the Oli-led CPN-UML and the Dahal-led CPN-Maoist Centre in 2018 to form the NCP and make further territorial inroads as manifested in August 2020 by Chinese incursion in Humla District, Nepal.

China and Pakistan’s strategic relationship extends beyond south Asia to their cooperation at global platforms including UN to address their core concerns. China has repeatedly saved, already grey-listed Pakistan from further black listing by Financial Action Task Force, the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog, owing to linkages between Pakistan and terror groups. In reciprocation to Chinese gesture of providing Pakistan an observer status in the ‘Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’, Pakistan is keen to include China in the ‘SAARC’ to enhance their mutual clout against their common influential rival, India, in the region. Director of the Chinese Affairs Department of the World Uyghur Congress, Kokbore, has aptly concluded that without China’s support, Pakistan cannot continue its terror sponsorship and countering China effectively would only help resolve varied South Asian issues, particularly the Kashmir issue.

Vaasu Sharma is a Foreign Policy Analyst based in India. He is associated with Global Counter Terrorism Council (GCTC) and STEAR (Student Think Tank for Europe-Asia Relations), world's first Europe-Asia Student Think Tank,as an Events Officer. He has done his Masters in International Relations with specialization in Diplomacy Studies from University of Haifa in Israel. He was also associated with BRICS International Youth Forum from 2016 to 2017.

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South Asia

“Haqeeqi Azaadi” or “Political Invasion”?

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You call it a “Long March” or an “Azaadi March” or a “Haqeeqi Azaadi March” and lastly according to some people “Political invasion of the capital”; whatever attempt it may be, the impact of this “Long March” will not be “Short” at all. Seems like history is repeating. Yesterday, it was PTI, later it was TLP, then JUIF, PDM & now again PTI. This reminds us about a Supreme Court’s historic judgment on Faizabad Sit in by Supreme Court, which is quite relevant again in these crucial times. The historic judgment of Supreme Court on Suo moto quotes that “The leaders of the dharna intimidated, hurled threats, abused, provoked and promoted hatred. The media provided unabated coverage. Inflammatory speeches were delivered by irresponsible politicians. Some unscrupulous talk-show hosts incited and provoked citizens.” Isn’t the situation once again similar? Doesn’t it seem like history is repeating? Few analysts consider it to be a worst kind of situation.

Supreme Court writes in its judgment that “the freedom of speech and expression and of the press are fundamental right. However, these rights cannot be used to denigrate or undermine the glory of Islam, security or defence of Pakistan, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, or commission of or incitement to an offence.  He categorically mentions that “PEMRA Ordinance mirrors the restrictions as set out in Article 19 of the Constitution and further prohibits broadcasts which are, “likely to create hatred among the people or is prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order or is likely to disturb public peace and tranquility.” So, Supreme Court has already given clear instructions that if some event is likely to disrupt peace and tranquility, media broadcasts can be prohibited.

Insiders say that we are in a dead end and this is the most crucial time of history for Pakistan, especially when the economic fate has to be decided by IMF on 25th May when Imran khan marches on Islamabad. So let’s playout the possible upcoming scenarios which political stakeholders may have to consider;

  1. Marching towards Islamabad with huge crowds is one thing but forcing a government to dissolve assemblies with this crowd is another thing. Imran Khan very well knows this is a do or die situation for his political career as well. He knows his March will only succeed if he can force an early election.
  2. Bringing larger mobs to Islamabad will only be fruitful if there is some kind of disruption by the present government or by the PTI itself. IK knows that a prolonged sit in without happenings in the red zone won’t be impactful.
  3. PTI leaders have been repeatedly convincing people including government employees, Army officers and police to bring their families in their Haqeeqi Azaadi March. The question which arises is that “Why IK doesn’t bring own family members to join the “Jihad” or “Haqeeqi Azaadi”?
  4. IMF has to take crucial decision on Pakistan’s economic fate. Without an IMF Package, a Srilanka type scenario may arise. The decision will come on the same date as of long march, on 25th May. This is a do or die situation for Pakistan’s economy. So the leaders of this March should definitely come with a futuristic economic plan and tell the masses how will they get rid of this dire economic situation.
  5. While Srinagar Highway will be full of Marchers led by the so-called Ambassador of Kashmir, a big decision is expected to come from Srinagar about Yasin Malik. Unfortunately, it is expected that his sentencing maybe announced on 25th May as well.

The government also has limited options. They are arresting leaders of PTI. They are raiding houses in their own panic mode which will further incite the situation. The removal of fuel subsidiary has become inevitable and when it happens it will be the most unpopular decision. Rising, Inflation will cut purchasing power. Finalization of IMF program has brought them to a dead end.

The dread is in the air. 25th May is around the corner. It is Crucial. It is Do or Die for Pakistan. We must fear!!

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When Politics turns Personal; The Toxic Allegations & Accusations become a Norm

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Image source: timeofpakistan.com

There is something happening beneath this political turmoil which is NOT looking good!!

Whenever Political landscape turns into a Personal battleground, defeats become unacceptable. These past few days are a perfect case study to see that how Political elite in Pakistan has done whatever it took it to stay in power. In this power grab scenario, there could be numerous losses including the integrity of institutions. We have unfortunately entered into a very dangerous phase, where some political stakeholders have put all stakes at risk, where they have stretched their limits beyond a constitutional limit, all to gather mass support, all to stay in power and avoid defeat. Is it a threat of losing power? Is it a double game? Is it a practical hybrid war we are fighting?  Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be good. All is at stake, all is at risk and all is toxic.

As if the political temperature was not noxious enough, Shireen Mazari Saga took place. Once again, accusations, allegations and assumptions started pouring in against the state institutions. Soon after her arrest, her daughter, a lawyer herself Imaan Zainab Mazari alleged that her mother was beaten by male police officers during the arrest. But few minutes later, a video clip surfaced that showed clearly that her mother was arrested by Female Police officers in broad daylight and as per the law. Lie number 1 of the daughter stood exposed. Within moments, without any cogent evidence the lady, known for many controversies in the past targeted state institution for such an act, although the anti-corruption already had taken responsibility of her arrest.

Abuse of power can never be tolerated, regardless of who it targets or from where it emanates. This mantra is true and everyone has an equal belief on it but let’s take a deep dive to see that how politics turned dirty in this case, how blame game took place and how this entire episode was used as a tool to churn propaganda against Army leadership and Armed Forces.

1. The anti-corruption police had arrested Shireen Mazari and she herself accepted that Prime Minister and Interior minister were responsible for my arrest. But the mother daughter nexus brazenly started blaming institutions without any solid evidence. Shouldn’t there be an inquiry on this too?

2. PTI was always of the opinion that why courts were opened mid night to send IK packing while he wasn’t listening to anyone however when same court gave a verdict in favor of PTI ex minister, late night, it was celebrated and much appreciated by Shireen Mazari & IK who have been spearheading anti judicial tirade until recently. Isn’t it blatant hypocrisy? Judicial inquiry has been ordered by the Court which is a positive sign, but the serious allegations which Mazari nexus have raised must also be inquired during this newly formed judicial inquiry. Should the Judiciary not question them on hurling these baseless allegations?

3. The present government, whose Police itself arrested Shireen Mazari disowned this attempt. Attorney General displayed his ignorance about the matter in front of the court. So, somehow the government created this impression in the public eye that they are not to be blamed for the arrest of Shireen Mazari. Was it a double game? Or a deliberate effort to discredit institutions?

Pakistan is already facing serious economic downfall, political uncertainty and civil strife. PTI has also announced Long March to Islamabad on 25th May which is likely to further exacerbate already fragile political and economic instability. It has become quite evident now for achieving petty political ends, our political elite has no serious resolve to address the crisis confronting the country. Country is being deliberately pushed to limits of economic and political dead end. The political immaturity and lack of vision to handle the crisis situation is also hurting the repute of institutions amidst internal political wrangling. If political leadership doesn’t come to grips of the critical situation prevailing which is likely to aggravate further in coming days, people of Pakistan in particular and the country in general are likely to suffer unprecedented damage. Political elite must put its acts together and steer the country out of prevalent political and economic crisis by showing sagacity and political wisdom until it’s too late.

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Accusations to Acknowledgement: The Battle of Article 63 A

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The weather is heating up. As the May is ending, Political temperatures are soaring. The fate regarding the country’s political and economic stability will be measured in the upcoming days. Earlier, PDM built momentum by taking on institutions. Maryam Nawaz raised the temperature by targeting key personalities and institutions. Allegations were bursting against the institutions in all dimensions. Today, we witness reversal of roles. Accusations have been outflowing in every Jalsa by PTI. But now suddenly, the “accusations” turned into “acknowledgment”. “Complaints” started transforming into “Compliments”. Is it the change of narrative? Is it another U-turn? Or is it the restoration of confidence in the institutions? Where will this chaos end?

The Supreme Court’s “decision” or as they say “opinion” or “binding” on Article 63 A has raised some pertinent questions on the status of CM Punjab election? In the interpretation of Article 63 A of the constitution, the Supreme court categorically condemns the practice of horse trading by calling it “a cancer afflicting the body politic”. Supreme Court in its decision of 3-2 rejected the vote count of these dissident members against the party directives. So the future of the Chief Executive of Punjab is now under threat because it is contrary to what happened in National Assembly. The political instability continues and the situation is messy.

In light of this verdict, Hamza has a support of 172 MPAs in Punjab assembly but at the same time, he also has 4 dissenting members which draws the figure to 168. Now further moving ahead, PTI and alliance also has a collective figure of 168 votes minus 21 dissenting members. The situation here in Punjab is way too complex now. A support of 186 members is required for a clear majority in Punjab assembly to formulate a government. This current Punjab government can either fall through a governor led vote of no confidence or a Supreme court order. The governor even has a right to dissolve the assembly with his discretionary powers according to Article 112 (2) of the constitution. Supreme Court has already made its decision on cross voting against Party fiat.  Now legal experts are interpreting the decision in their own dictionaries. What will happen in Punjab? What will happen on the federal level? Will there be an election call? If so, what will be the care taker setup? Will there be a fresh mandate? Who will make the hard economic decisions?  Lot needs to be answered in these crucial times.

From “My judges disappointed me” to “Thankyou Supreme Court”, a lot has happened and a lot is ready to take place. Islamabad is full of gossips, interpretations, whispers and predictions these days. There is something seething under this political turmoil. The Red zone is under a lot of pressure whether politically or economically. Pre – Elections, Elections and then Post elections, we have a lot of consequences of a lot of hard decisions. But hard decisions need to be taken. Question is who is ready to make the hard choices? Be Afraid!!

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