The 1960s were a com­pli­cated time for In­dia’s for­eign pol­icy, par­tic­u­larly in re­la­tion to its north­ern neigh­bours. It was a decade in which we fought a war along our western fron­tier with Pak­istan and along our Hi­malayan fron­tier with China, lead­ing to the two of them forg­ing a close as­so­ci­a­tion, soon ce­mented by the con­struc­tion of the Karako­ram High­way. An en­emy’s en­emy, af­ter all, is a friend.

The friend­ship grew to a point where both China and Pak­istan have de­scribed their al­liance as “higher than the Hi­malayas, deeper than the oceans, and sweeter than honey”. Be­yond such tor­rid rhetoric, the re­la­tion­ship held im­mense strate­gic value for both coun­tries, with China of­fer­ing Pak­istan mis­siles and air­craft, and il­lic­itly help­ing its nu­clear pro­gramme. For sev­eral years, though, the part­ner­ship was largely mil­i­tary. Later, as In­dia ex­pe­ri­enced its ini­tial post-lib­er­al­i­sa­tion boom, China’s in­ter­est in ser­vic­ing the In­dian mar­ket prompted it to get closer to New Delhi by strik­ing ‘a bet­ter bal­ance’ be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan. Over the past few years, how­ever, China and Pak­istan have been draw­ing closer again—dan­ger­ously close from an In­dian per­spec­tive. China’s man­darins have now coined a new ep­i­thet for Pak­istan, de­scrib­ing it as ‘Ba tie’, or ‘iron brother’.

At the core of the new close­ness is the China Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor (CPEC), link­ing Kash­gar, in China’s western Xin­jiang prov­ince, to Gwadar, on the south­west­ern coast of Balochis­tan, which al­ready in­cludes en­ergy deals worth $35 bil­lion and in­fra­struc­ture projects cost­ing $11 bil­lion. The CPEC wind­fall will po­ten­tially shore up Pak­istan’s tee­ter­ing econ­omy, en­sur­ing a sta­ble western pe­riph­ery for China. It will pro­vide a for­eign out­let for China’s en­ter­prises, which are strug­gling with over­ca­pac­ity at home. It will also have im­mense strate­gic value be­cause it will se­cure China’s di­rect ac­cess to the Ara­bian Sea, end­ing its fear that a ri­val power could block the nar­row Malacca Straits and hold the Chi­nese econ­omy hostage. The CPEC is mov­ing China and Pak­istan to a place where they will be stake­hold­ers in each other’s fu­ture, with the bal­ance tilted in China’s favour given its greater eco­nomic and mil­i­tary might.

The new prox­im­ity has man­i­fested it­self on the global stage over the past few months—usu­ally at In­dia’s cost. China stonewalled In­dia’s bid to en­ter the Nu­clear Sup­pli­ers Group (NSG) in June, say­ing that if In­dia is in­cluded, Pak­istan should be too. It also blocked In­dia’s de­mand that the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil (UNSC) des­ig­nate the Pak­istani Jaish-e-Mo­ham­mad chief Ma­sood Azhar a ter­ror­ist in March, and then again in Septem­ber, even though Azhar’s or­gan­i­sa­tion had al­ready been banned by the UN com­mit­tee.

These events high­light a strate­gic shift in China’s two-decade-old pol­icy of at­tempt­ing to walk the line be­tween its his­tor­i­cal ties with Is­lam­abad and its sen­si­tive but im­prov­ing re­la­tion­ship with New Delhi. This is a crit­i­cal is­sue that Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping will have to ad­dress when they meet in Goa at the BRICS sum­mit, Pak­istan loom­ing over them, con­spic­u­ous de­spite its ab­sence.

As ten­sion mounts in the re­gion, par­tic­u­larly af­ter the Uri ter­ror at­tack and In­dia’s re­tal­ia­tory sur­gi­cal strikes across the Line of Con­trol, our cover story, writ­ten by As­so­ciate Editor Ananth Kr­ish­nan, who is based in Bei­jing, looks at the China-Pak­istan em­brace and why In­dia should be wor­ried about it. We ex­am­ine what has brought the two coun­tries closer to­gether, where they are headed, and how Modi and his for­eign pol­icy ex­perts should deal with it.

It is of­ten said that China has be­come a su­per­power in many ways but has still not out­grown its Third World coun­try men­tal­ity of only look­ing at nar­row self-in­ter­est. As a su­per­power, it must surely see that ter­ror­ism is a global threat and sup­port­ing a state known for spon­sor­ing ter­ror shows its own in­abil­ity to rise above self­ish eco­nomic in­ter­est. It should take a far more long-term view by en­cour­ag­ing Pak­istan to aban­don this self-de­struc­tive path. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously it should work with In­dia to bring peace and pros­per­ity to the whole re­gion. With the In­dian and Chi­nese economies ex­pand­ing at a piv­otal mo­ment in global pol­i­tics, the pay­off for this will be huge for all.

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