Pakistan and China: India’s strategic challenge in 2017

Examining the tactics India can use to turn the tables on its less-than-all-powerful tormentors

Look at a map of South Asia. I’ve said before that China’s unappealing wingmen are Pakistan and North Korea but luckily North Korea has shown no interest in India, lying as it does to the far east of the Middle Kingdom. China, though, right on top of India, is a threatening presence, while also shaking a fist at all the other countries in its neighbourhood, such as Vietnam and the Phillipines, as the People’s Republic throws its weight around the region. Pakistan is its enthusiastic henchman where India is concerned.

China’s strategy for regional –hemispheric? – domination consists of several elements. Forget for now its economy: nearly all growth in China today and tomorrow is debt-fuelled and will deplete wealth in the long run (Michael Pettis has done the calculations here). In fact it’s exactly because China’s real economic growth is grinding to a halt and its debt load reaching nose-bleed levels that expansion and power must now be projected by additional, alternative means.

Obviously there’s the factor of increasing and improving China’s armed services: their size, reach and technology. In addition, there’s the “sharp-elbow” tactic of claiming various territories and islands in the waters of the South China Sea and elsewhere, and even bulldozing new islands (or “missile platforms”) into existence, all to claim fait accompli ownership and rights over waterways, routes, fishing grounds, strategic chokepoints, etc.

Then there’s China’s huge “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) project, which I have described as a massive bait-and-switch heist perpetrated on the nations of Asia. This encompassing road and maritime belt is designed to lasso an area from south of Indochine nearly all the way to Europe, supposedly to facilitate trade and international brotherhood and other communist – sorry, free-market – ambitions. In reality, it’s a series of hugely expensive white elephant projects. Most of the countries can’t afford them; and as for trade, many of the countries have not a lot to sell. Except for ex-Soviet oligarchs, there’s not many rich people to buy the goods China imagines in much of this expanded market area, either. But China is happily, eagerly lending these cash-strapped satraps the money to build the ports, roads, airports etc, after which it’ll foreclose, lean on or otherwise throw around its weight. Occupation by stealth.

One more element of the grand strategy is the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor (PCEC), heading north-south through the country now known as Pakistan (I say “now known as” because we’ll have fun renaming it after Balochistan secedes). It’s the most directly aggressive squeeze that China is putting on India. China can always threaten minor military incursions far to the mountainous north-east, but really, who cares? It’s the ceiling of the world, and there’s not a lot there. It’s mostly, outside of an actual shooting war, bella figura posturing. But the PCEC is serious stuff. It’s an attempt to turn the screw on India by by-passing subcontinental ports altogether and suffocating India’s trade. Gwadar is closer to the Mid-East and will supposedly take all the sea freight from the West and the Arabian Gulf. But, but … it is also fabulously vulnerable in ways that India can exploit, and has already begun to do so.

There are 10,000 Chinese workers in Pakistan readying the roads and supply lines to reach Gwadar port. With a guard force of 12,500 Pakistan troops, each Chinese worker can more or less boast his own bodyguard – and bodyguards will be needed, because the violent Pakistani oppression of Balochistan has only increased the region’s demands, and its complementarily violent actions, in favour of independence. India would be wise to set up a Baloch government in exile in Delhi, and it soon probably will. That will make a tough situation for China even tougher. Anything travelling from or to China overland via Gwador is forever destined to be attacked and interdicted by rebels and separatists.

China recently held an OBOR summit in Beijing, from May 14 to 16, and the heads of state of all the suckers involved, from about 30 different countries, were summoned to attend. India refused for the very good reason that the bit of OBOR that runs from China to Gwador is illegal, passing as it does though Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. That occupation is recognised internationally as illegal (United Nations resolution 47), so who the hell is Pakistan to let China build on what’s really Indian land? China knows this, and is nervous about what future trouble it faces due to its dodgy deals with Pakistan.

In addition, India can make it even more difficult for both China and Pakistan by turning off the taps of Pakistan’s agriculture. Pakistan relies on rivers which all flow from India, and gets its water not by law or binding treaty but only by India’s long-suffering goodwill, which is notably never returned and more usually spat on. India is already pantomiming moving its hand to the faucet …

Geographically speaking, apart from a fertile strip on the east side of Pakistan, the rest of that benighted country is pretty much dry and barren. Furthermore, the Afghans to the west have really started to hate and loath Pakistan for sicking the Taliban and various other violent religious loonies on them, and Pakistan is finding it harder to rely on Afghanistan as its fall-back territory in case of aggression from India. It’s a foundational paranoia. So Pakistan is being squeezed on that western flank as well. It’s Pakistan’s own fault, from training and funding terrorists – with dumb US aid dollars – over a period of decades.

One great tactical countermove that India has already set in place, but which has remained largely un-noticed by the world’s press, is the agreement with Iran to develop the port of Chabahar. Despite the smoke-blowing by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Sheikholeslam’s spokesman, that Iran’s only oceanic port “is for everyone and would benefit every other country including Pakistan” – he doth protest too much! – the truth is that Modi has with a single stroke of the pen undermined the raison d’être of Gwadar by leaprofgging the port and placing an Indian maritime junction a few miles west of it – a move of tactical genius. Now goods can be shipped to Chabahar and overland all the way to Europe without touching China or Pakistan; and to India likewise.

In Myanmar (Burma) across the Bay of Bengal, to the west, the drug trade in opium and methamphetamine is controlled by the PLA, and staffed on the ground by Pakistanis of the ISI and their paid minions in the Burmese intelligence and military. Modi and Ajit Doval, his NSA, have already sent special forces into the jungle across the border after incursions onto Indian territory. The area is ripe for more disruptive activity by the Indians, who could use it as an opportunity to stir up trouble in Beijing.

This is all tied up with allies of former Chinese premier Xiang Jemin, his successor as gensec of the Party, Hu Jintao, and their buddies, the oligarchs of Shanghai. These are the people that Premier Xi Jinping is currently at war with politically (and Xi is the outsider) under the rubric of stamping out corruption. These people are the “vested interests” blocking economic reform in China. These enemies of Xi are also enemies of OBOR, since that project is designed to wrest economic power away from the army – still largely loyal to Xiang, who helps with their ill-gotten gains.

Watch as India interrupts the supply of drug money to the ISI and PLA and uses it as leverage to either control Xi or pressure Jemin’s followers to act against Xi.

One more tactical move, which long term is a strategic force multiplier, is of course the Andaman Islands, which I regularly mention. They are home to an Indian tri-service force, but it’s a sleepy backwater. What Port Blair and its surroundings should become, of course, is a major military base, a new tax-free ecological entrepôt to put Dubai in the shade, the new hottest holiday destination, with its beaches better than those in Thailand, and a full-fledged paramax container port to attract all the trade China is going for. Chabahar in the east, Port Blair in the west, mainland India in the middle. Job done. The islands sit at the north end of the Malacca Straits, acting as a cork in the bottle for any Chinese shenanigans that happen to the east. The Andamans could be made the keystone in the arch of power that China is trying to build, but with the Andamans as a military and commercial platform, India could effectively own the lot.

It’s a big project, probably at least $20 billion for the first stage and $100 billion plus overall. But with government seed money and then private capital and bond issues, I think the necessary funds could be raised without any problem. Huge idle piles of liquidity are sitting all over the world waiting to find projects with a worthwhile rate of return. Port Blair is a no-brainer: Say’s law, much doubted recently, could be happily resurrected in the Andamans.

April update – and the contortions of the Left

Modi gets his man, triumphs in Delhi local polls; how the Left now backs the bankers; a great new magazine

A little bit of a round-up and some thoughts on the plight of the Left around the globe: I have been busy on something else this month (see below), so I am running around catching up on what I want to discuss on here. Back to normal service soon! OK …

At last Vijay Mallya, rural Hertfordshire’s most notorious alleged loan defaulter (but ask the banks and his wretched employees, who should know, or the Central Bureau of Investigation in Delhi, which recently charged the business genius with fraud) was arrested in London on 18 April on an extradition warrant. This doesn’t mean he’ll be dragged, handcuffed and squealing, onto an India-bound jet next week, desirable as that might be. It’s the start of a long, lawyer-enriching process that should nonetheless eventually see the ‘businessman’ back in the country he loves – and I do mean India not the Bahamas. PM Modi tweeted, ‘There is no place for corruption in India. Those who looted the poor & middle classes will have to return what they have looted.’ Not much fun to be in Modi’s crosshairs, I should think. Mallya’s besotted cheerleader at the FT must be sobbing.

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Antifragile India

What are we to make of the extraordinary progress and results that Modi is achieving? It could be the ‘antifragile’ phenomenon in action.

Of the five recent Indian state assembly elections – in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur – the BJP either won outright or formed a ruling coalition in four of them. Only in Punjab did the party strike out, and this was easily foreseen. I think it is time to begin to speak of Modi making India – and himself – ‘antifragile’.

The most stupefying electoral result was from Uttar Pradesh. At the conclusion of my last post I cautiously guessed at a 60-70% chance of Modi (and I purposely say ‘Modi’ rather than ‘BJP’) winning in UP. It transpired that an unprecedented landslide in Modi’s favour gave the BJP 312 seats (excluding alliances) out of a 403-seat Vidhan Sabha. This is almost unbelievable, especially when the doom-laden predictions of electoral oblivion – heavily predicated on the ‘disastrous’ demonetisation of late 2016 – are taken into account.

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Election fever is breaking out in Uttar Pradesh

In a tight, dirty race, which of the electoral horses in a three-party race will cross the line first in UP?

In legal circles it is said that hard cases make bad law, but in electoral politics the opposite is true, and a crunchy election may be a decisive pinch point and an interesting, perhaps reliable indicator of the future course of events.

At present several Indian states are electing their assemblies, which is done every five years. For those not familiar with the Indian political structure, the simplest way to describe it is to say that it’s mostly like the US federal system, but with bits of the British parliamentary arrangement thrown into the mix.

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OBOR: China’s bait-and-switch debt trap strategy

There’s a loan shark prowling in the South China Sea

In an important article for Project Syndicate, Brahma Chellaney says that if there’s one thing China excels at, it’s the use of economic tools to advance perceived geostrategic interests. On a petty level that means dredging sand up into little island berms in the South China Sea and parking machine guns on them. In the grander scheme of things it is what has become known colloquially as ‘The New Silk Road’, or to give the project its proper title and acronym, the One Belt One Road initiative (OBOR). It’s a trillion dollar boondoggle that has as its superficial aim the re-establishment, in the interests of commonwealth and trade, of the ancient merchant route that connected East to West, along which the Romans travelled all the way to India and China two thousand years ago (the Chinese name for the Romans, by the way, is ‘lei jun’ – legion).

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What is this ‘demonetisation’ of which you speak?

Let’s cut through all the meretricious nonsense being written about the radical financial and fiscal reform Modi has unleashed.

‘India’s Prime Minister Has Singlehandedly Crushed The Economy With His Reckless Cash Ban’ runs the headline of one of the latest articles condemning the so-called ‘demonetisation’ unleashed by Modi in India. ‘Modi is quickly solidifying his place as one of monetary history’s biggest idiots’ it adds, before going on to display even more staggering ignorance and error than many of the other hundreds of similar articles on this subject have done.

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We don’t need no stinking dynasties!

The Democrats and the US media gave Trump the Modi treatment – with the same results

My friend Winston the electrician called round last week, a couple of days after Donald Trump’s election victory. I unlocked and swung open the gate and he was pointing at me.

‘You’re the man, Andy, you’re the man! You said Trump would win!’ he said.

I’d briefly forgotten the conversation we’d had the previous Monday, on the eve of the US presidential election, when I’d heretically argued that in spite of all the pro-Clinton hysteria on the TV and wireless, I thought that Trump had a very good chance of stealing victory from under the noses of the Democrat-supporting media. Almost all journalists and commentators were so frantically virtue-signalling that they couldn’t detect the reality of what was happening on the ground.

And so it transpired. I didn’t take any particular delight in Trump’s victory; I wasn’t even gruntled at having been more or less correct in predicting he would win. I didn’t like Hillary at all – a greedy, corrupt, establishment money-grubber and war-monger who had utterly forsaken the ordinary folk who were the Democratic Party’s mass (and essential) voters. Trump was loud, vulgar, abusive and egomaniacal – although he was less boring than the alternative. Like many, I quite liked some of what he was saying but I wondered if it was insincere and crazed gibberish that he had no real intent of making good on. But he certainly knew how to ‘lead and pace’ his supporters.

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Turning the screw on Pakistan

Modi and Doval ensure that Pakistan’s villainy is at last being internationalised.

If India seems to have an unusual affinity with Israel – they increasingly share trade and technology links and so on – it might partly be because their recent histories are oddly similar.

Both had the experience of declaring statehood as secular democracies at roughly the same time (India in 1947, Israel in 1948).

Then, immediately afterwards, both were attacked by Islamic neighbours: India by Pakistan; Israel by Egypt, Jordan, Syria and whoever else had a hammer. Israel was again attacked by Muslim neighbours in 1967 (the Six-Day War) and yet again in 1973 (the Yom Kippur War). Stridently Islamic Pakistan attacked India again in 1965 and yet again in 1971.

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September upsum

A lot’s happened since Bharatiyata! started half a year ago. Let’s have a quick review of what this is all about …

I started this website back in February and now, just over six months later, I’m going to do a quick upsum to see how far we’ve come, where we’ve got to, what topics we’ve covered and where we’re going. It’s a drawing of breath before moving forward again.

First of all, I haven’t done much over the past month – in fact the work has been mostly behind the scenes as I’ve been ‘SEO-optimising’ the site (mind-numbing work) and bringing various things up to date. At the start I decided I wouldn’t take advertising on here because Bharatiyata! was not created to be a money-making vehicle, at least not in the short-term sense of scraping fractions of pennies from click-throughs. I have zero interest in that model of commerce. I’m trying to be generous with this site and am simply attempting to give information and insight to people who might be interested in those topics. Continue reading “September upsum”

New RBI boss Urjit Patel – just like the old boss?

Will the RBI’s new governor be a stalwart and hold the line against inflation as Rajan did?

In three days’ time Urjit Patel will take up his post as the Reserve Bank of India’s new governor. He was previously deputy governor, and his promotion – which had been mooted as influenced by Modi’s old-boys network (Urjit is a Gujurati Patel) – is probably no such thing, as Patel is the eighth deputy governor to be promoted to boss of the RBI. It is a tradition.

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