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The Rediff Special/ P Rajendran
From enemies, to being just rivals
There has been some surprise at the warmth with which External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh was greeted in Beijing. If China could hand over nuclear firecrackers to Pakistan, it was no real friend, India had reasoned.
Which was why before the talks began, it was made clear that the Kargil issue would not come up. The matter did come up, of course, but was settled without any feathers being ruffled. The upshot being that China felt no compulsion to intercede on Pakistan's behalf.
This may seem a trifle odd, for it would appear to make sense for China to have India on the defensive on two fronts. And that is exactly how it conducted affairs till recently. But some things have changed.
For one, NATO's willingness to attack Kosovo has given it the idea that the US is not averse to settling even the internal problems of dissident nations, and let the UN go hang.
China has enough problems on that front. The people of Inner Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang are fighting for independence, and the Chinese, like the Serbs in Kosovo, have cracked down heavily on the locals and sent in Han Chinese to reduce the representation of the locals. The locals are discriminated against and, in Xinjiang at least, the women are often forced into sterilisation and encouraged to marry the Chinese.
The Chinese don't want a unipolar world, particularly with the US at the helm deciding how they ought to behave at home. Relations have already soured over the charges of spying, human rights and, more recently, the bombing of the embassy. And with more foreign funds from the US looking unlikely, China doesn't particularly care what the US thinks.
But what hurt Beijing considerably was the bombing of the embassy and the casual apology rendered thereafter. It claimed -- a little hysterically, perhaps -- that the attack was deliberate and that the perpetrators be punished.
During the Vietnam war, the US took extreme care to ensure it did not hit the Chinese and the Russians, even avoiding bombing and mining Haiphong harbour for a long time because Chinese ships berthed there. But the US wasn't too concerned when the Chinese embassy was hit. Similarly, it didn't bother to inform Russia about the recent air strikes against Iraq.
Rebuffed, Russia and China slowly began moving towards each other. Russia hoped India too would join them but India and China are too big to live comfortably in close proximity. And things may have stayed that way hadn't Pakistan's support of the Taliban become intolerable.
The Chinese have always been upset about the Taliban support for Uygurs in Xinjiang. The PLA apparently made a military co-operation agreement with the extremist group that also called for the stoppage of aid to the Uygurs. The Taliban have denied any such deal, though that needn't mean anything.
Pakistan, from the time of Zia-ul Haq, has been backing different militant groups in Afghanistan. But it has its own trouble to deal with up north, since the Pakhtoon think the Durand Line between the two countries is a bit of a joke. And though affiliations in that area are based more on tribe than nationality, there has been some demand for a Pakthtoonistan.
Of course, funding an insurgency in Afghanistan was fine as long as there was no fallout. But Pakistan soon had to deal with a huge influx of refugees who began making their impact on local politics.
But now it finds things have gone a little out of control. Compelled by internal pressure and the need to avoid violence on one front, it is supporting the Taliban. The trouble is, the international community is not amused.
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have complained about the influx of extremists. Shia Iran, upset that its nationals were killed in Sunni Afghanistan, has objected to Pakistan's support. China, worried about the Taliban's destabilising influence, and knowing things are slowly going out of Pakistan's control, has decided to make common cause with India.
These then are the reasons why China proposed a security dialogue with India, which, in the mid-term, may even lead to the formation of the axis that Russia had sought.
But in the long-term, India and China can most likely expect to continue being rivals, if not quite enemies.
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