Chinese Dilemmas in North Korea and Afghanistan

There have been expectations in India that China would act against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, after critical references were made to Pakistan-based terrorist groups.

Published: 16th September 2017 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 16th September 2017 07:48 PM   |  A+A-

There have been expectations in India that China would act against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, after critical references were made to Pakistan-based terrorist groups, in the declaration issued by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa at the BRICS summit in Xiamen, China. The declaration stated: “We support the efforts of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces in fighting terrorist organisations. We, in this regard, express concern on the security situation in the region and violence caused by the Taliban, ISIL/DAISH, Al-Qaida and its affiliates including Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), TTP and Hizb ut-Tahrir. We deplore all terrorist attacks worldwide, including attacks in BRICS countries”. The ‘Heart of Asia Conference’ on Afghanistan held in Amritsar last year, issued a similar declaration.

Persuading China to agree to such a declaration on Chinese soil, just after the Doklam standoff, is a significant diplomatic achievement. China had earlier lost face internationally, by withdrawing its forces and construction equipment from Doklam, after weeks of hysterical posturing and rhetoric against India. It would, however, be a serious mistake for India to believe that this signals any impending change in China’s support for its ‘all weather friend’ Pakistan. While China may have lost face, the real setback it received was from another ‘all weather friend’ North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. China has, for years, played a double game in its ties with North Korea. While arming North Korea to the teeth, China has sought to be a ‘Good Samaritan’, pledging to get the nation to listen to its advice, for talks with the US and Japan, to roll back its missile and nuclear weapons programmes. This is, however, just another Chinese ploy to persuade the US to end military cooperation with South Korea and withdraw American troops from there.

This Chinese policy backfired with North Korea not only testing a hydrogen bomb, but also developing missiles with the range to hit the US. This has left the Americans fuming as it could draw the US into a nuclear conflict, should North Korea target its close ally Japan. US President Donald Trump is blaming China for the predicament he now faces. China had, after all, claimed that it would ‘moderate’ North Korean behaviour. All this was happening even as Chinese President Xi Jinping was hosting the BRICS summit in Xiamen. Moreover, the summit was held at a time when Trump was getting tough with Pakistan, for its support to terror groups in Afghanistan, threatening to cut off economic aid and launch drone strikes. While Trump does not oppose talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, he also does not envisage, as Pakistan dearly wants, any significant role for the Taliban in ruling Afghanistan. The Chinese ploy in BRICS summit merely aims to assure the Americans that it opposes actions by some Pakistan-based terror groups.

There is thus nothing to suggest that China intends to act against Pakistan-based terror groups named in the BRICS declaration. Beijing will, in all likelihood, continue its links with the Taliban and Haqqani network, and oppose any punitive action against JeM leader Maulana Masood Azhar. Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa recently asserted: “We cannot fight Afghanistan’s war in Pakistan,” thereby rejecting American calls to act against safe havens of the Taliban and Haqqani network, on Pakistani soil. Nor is China likely to coerce Pakistan into ending support for Pakistan-based groups promoting terrorism in Afghanistan, where American forces are now set to play a more active role. In these circumstances, it would be unrealistic for New Delhi to expect any support from China to deal with Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, which appears set to continue, with tacit support from Beijing.

G Parthasarathy

Former diplomat


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