There was another country to which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day references to Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir were directed: China.
The proposed $45-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will run through all these areas. They are also places where Beijing is extremely nervous about political violence threatening its engineers and projects.
India, on the other hand, is exploiting this concern to get China to exert a restraining influence on Pakistan.
Beijing, official sources have said, is extremely unhappy at New Delhi’s refusal to endorse the CPEC. India argues it cannot support a corridor that runs through Pakistani territory that is the subject of bilateral dispute.
Modi in private says the endorsement of “One Belt-One Road”, the continent-spanning infrastructure scheme being built by China and for which CPEC is the flagship project, has become the main obstacle in his relations with President Xi Jinping.
Xi has projected One Belt-One Road as among the most important parts of his personal foreign policy legacy. But the project is in trouble.
US defence officials say they have been surprised by increasing criticism of the project by their Chinese counterparts in private meetings. Chinese academics and officials say these projects are being used by other countries to get Beijing involved in various regional and bilateral disputes, something China has traditionally sought to avoid.
Indian officials say Beijing has been particularly nervous about the CPEC, given past experiences of Chinese engineers and workers being killed or kidnapped while working in Balochistan.
While Indian intelligence officials say they have long stopped supporting insurgencies inside Pakistan, the belief that there is an active covert Indian hand at work in their troubled regions is deeply entrenched within the Pakistani system. Islamabad has briefed Beijing extensively on supposed Indian covert activity in its territory, to the point that China has also come to see Indians under its CPEC bed. However, the consequence has been curious: China now tries hard to keep the peace between India and Pakistan.
A number of Indian and US sources say Beijing is now a major lobbyist with the Pakistani military, urging a quiet Line of Control, sheathing the terrorist weapon and generally not provoking India.
Modi’s speech was among the more public attempts by India to leverage China’s concerns and was probably motivated by New Delhi’s concerns that Rawalpindi has already begun fishing in the troubled waters of Jammu and Kashmir.
The message that China was supposed to get from this? Keep Pakistan’s generals out of Kashmir or your fears about India sabotaging the CPEC could come true.