Pakistan amidst Indo-China standoff

Harsha Kakar
For Pakistan, every time India is involved in a major standoff with China, it is a time to celebrate. They have always believed that it is China which can create conditions which they could exploit. China is also aware that in case desired, Pak would work to creating a diversion along the LoC or within Kashmir adding to Indian pressures in case matters go out of hand in Ladakh. Since the Indo-China standoffs commenced, the Pakistani leadership has been supporting China while blaming India.
SM Qureshi accused India of having border disputes with Nepal, China and Pakistan. He added that India is the spoilsport in the Afghan peace process. Imran Khan has been mentioning that India is a threat to its neighbours. Pak has been hoping that Chinese pressure on Indian borders in Ladakh would continue enabling Pak to exploit the situation, though currently, with the FATF meeting around the corner, Pak would be careful.
The Pakistan newspaper Dawn stated in an editorial on 18th Jun, ‘India may harbour superpower delusions and throw its weight around the region, trying to dominate smaller states while exhibiting outright hostility towards Pakistan, but militarily and economically, there is little comparison between India and China, with the latter having the upper hand, which is why India will need to proceed with far more caution on this front.’For Pak, any actions by China is considered a victory even though they have no role to play.
There have also been reports of Pakistan’s Deep State planning to exploit the standoff by enhancing infiltration backed by ceasefire violations. In case the Indo-China situation deteriorates, Pak may, seeking an opportunity,attempt to grab an odd crucial post. Alternatively, it could work in collusion with China by tying down Indian troops along the LoC.It could also attempt to activate the Siachen Glacier alongside Chinese military actions.
China had also been hinting on the same by sending veiled warnings to India. Hu Zhiyong, wrote in an editorial in The Global Times last week, ‘India has engaged in border disputes with China, Pakistan and Nepal at the same time. Pakistan is a reliable strategic partner of China, Nepal also has close ties with China, and both are key partners under the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative.If India escalates border tensions, it could face military pressure from two or even three fronts, which is far beyond India’s military capability and this might lead to a disastrous defeat for India.’ China is aware that single handedly, it may not succeed.
Exploiting the standoff was possibly a major discussion point during the Corps Commanders conference held in Islamabad on 18th Jun. The DG ISPR only issued a terse statement, ‘The military’s top brass on Wednesday resolved to continue thwarting Indian designs, expose Indian targeting of innocent civilians in Kashmir and [their] open support to terrorist outfits.’Press reports stated that the Indo-China standoff was a major agenda issue.
A day earlier, all Pak service chiefs had attended a briefing at ISI HQs. It has been stated that it is rare for services chiefs to visit the ISI headquarters together for a briefing on national security. A statement released on this visit stated, ‘A comprehensive briefing was given to military leadership on the regional security issues with special focus on situation of LoC and J&K.’Though unsaid, the LAC scenario would have been a major topic of discussion.
Pak editorials have commented that the visit by service chiefs was part of their ‘military’s strategic signalling to India.’ Pak defence analysts on TV have been recommending to their armed forces to use the opportunity of Indo-China tensions for their benefit, as they lack the ability and force levels to challenge Indian military power independently.
There was never any doubt that Pakistan would seek to exploit any Indo-China crisis. It has failed to reignite the Kashmir valley and regular elimination of terrorists is an indicator that the local Kashmiri is tired of terrorism and desires peace. Almost all terrorist groups are leaderless. Infiltration is down. Simultaneously, its posts have suffered heavily from strong Indian artillery responses along the LoC. Casualties have been mounting, which it continues to hide from its population. Its leadership fearing an Indian backlash in the event of a major strike, regularly stokes fears of a false flag operation.
Pak could exploit Indo-China tensions by attempting to launch a major terrorist strike, presuming India may not counter with a military strike as it had done earlier, while it faces Chinese pressure on its northern borders. However, it needs to be aware that retaliation is never immediate. It is done at a time and place of India’s choosing. Further, there are multiple options available to India, by which it could employ to hit back.
Within Pak there is also a sense of satisfaction as China has raked the revoking of article 370 as one of its reasons for wading in and claiming parts of Ladakh. This implies that China now considers itself a party to the Kashmir dispute. For Pakistan, the area where it failed, bringing Kashmir into global focus, would now be done by China. To keep the issue on the boil, it would continue raking tensions along the LoC.
India would expect Pak’s offensive and infiltration actions to increase by notches if the Indo-China scenario deteriorates. If both nations move forward on talks and the stalemate continues for the moment, Pakistan may find the going tough. With the armed forces having a free hand and retaliating in double measure against Pak, it will continue to feel the heat. In either case, Pak will never attempt anything more than small nibbling action as it does not possess the requisite capability.
For India, being on the guard on all fronts is essential. Collusion between the China and Pak against India will be the rule, never the exception. The pressure will only be in J and K and not elsewhere as the border remains undefined. To offset the pressure, enhancing deployment in the plains and desert sectors can be considered.
The author is Major General (Retd)