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Foreign Correspondent
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis


Copyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2005

April 18, 2005

China and India, comprising 36% of the world’s population, have finally agreed to begin serious talks about their long-disputed, 2,250 km Himalayan border over which they went to war in 1962.

Since then, Asia’s two great powers have glared at one another across their ill-defined border, which long poisoned relations between the neighbors, and produced occasional tense confrontations. More recently, they have waged an accelerating conventional and nuclear arms race culminating in the deployment of mutually-targeted nuclear-armed missiles by both sides.

Like many festering international problems, the Sino-Indian border dispute was caused by Imperial Britain, which poorly demarcated its Indian Raj’s northern border with Tibet.

Modern India and China inherited this dispute, which involves scores of small valleys and passes, as well as two major chunks of territory: the remote, 5,000 meter-high Aksai Chin plateau, in disputed Kashmir; and 100,000 sq kms in India’s most eastern state, Arunachal Pradesh. Much of this disputed territory is fit only for wooly yaks.

Substantial border agreements are possible provided nationalist politics do not get in the way. Last year, in a fine example of cynical realpolitik, India grudgingly recognized China’s 1950 annexation of Tibet in exchange for Chinese recognition of India’s little-noticed annexation of two other Himalayan kingdoms, Sikkim and Ladakh, once known as `Little Tibet,’ and Delhi’s establishment of a protectorate over a third kingdom, Bhutan.

The Aksai Chin dispute will probably not be soon resolved, since it is part of the world’s oldest and most dangerous dispute, Kashmir, which involves overlapping claims by three nuclear powers, India, China and its ally, Pakistan.

After 58 years of confrontation and a series of clashes and wars over Kashmir, India and Pakistan, the world’s two most implacable foes, are still deadlocked over control of the divided former kingdom, which has a Muslim majority. Recent timid confidence-building measures between India and Pakistan have resulted in a bus service between the Pakistani and Indian -controlled Kashmir, much talk, but scant real progress.

Pakistan’s beleaguered, increasingly unpopular military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, is being pushed into negotiations with India over Kashmir by his American patrons that put him in a position of weakness and opposition to his people’s wishes. Delhi, emboldened by its new strategic alliance with the US, has seized the opportunity to press its advantage over Kashmir.

This week, Musharraf made a high-profile visit to India to attend a cricket match. India and Pakistan once again pledged a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue and some troops reductions on the contested, 4,000-5,000 meter high Siachin Glacier, which this writer visited in 1991.

Musharraf was clearly attempting to duplicate the success of the Pakistan’s late leader, President Zia ul-Haq, who averted an invasion by India by surprising everyone and flying to Delhi to attend a cricket match. However, the results of Musharraf’s visit did not begin to measure up to the positive effects of Zia’s mission to Delhi. India and Pakistan remain far apart on Kashmir and their bilateral relations.

The progressive diplomacy between Beijing and Delhi is a welcome contrast to the diplomatic immobility of the Indo-Pakistani dispute. Both India and China will benefit greatly from more trade. China, in fact, is already India’s second largest export market after the USA. But improved relations may not overcome the great power rivalries over oil, other resources, maritime control, and Asian allies that influence their often edgy relations.

India believes China is trying to envelop it from Pakistan, Tibet and Burma. Delhi is rightly worried that China’s vast militarization of the Tibet plateau poses a major strategic threat to India. China worries India seeks to dominate Afghanistan, Central Asia, Burma and the resources of Malaysia and Indonesia. India frets about China’s Navy probing into its `mare nostrum,’ the Indian Ocean.

Both giants are vying to secure oil supplies from the Gulf and East Indies. India’s development of a true blue-water navy has been matched by China. Both nations are determined to eventually exclude the US Navy from their waters.

While wise heads in Delhi and Beijing work to stabilize relations and reduce frictions, the Bush Administration is rushing to cement the growing military entente with India designed as a strategic counterweight to China, which neocon Republicans now have targeted as future enemy number.

As a result, the US is offering India large numbers of advanced jet fighters, computer hardware, and even dual-use nuclear technology that has caused deep alarm in Pakistan and China. By contrast, the US has offered Pakistan a paltry 24 F-16’s. A new US-Indian anti-Chinese alliance seems likely to undermine current efforts by Beijing and Delhi to improve relations, and could end up fostering greater tensions between them.

However eager India is for the new American alliance, its long-term interests may not be well served by such an entente. Solving the explosive Kashmir problem, and finally settling Sino-Indian border issues, are imperatives for building Asian security and stability. A Delhi-Washington axis will be seen by China and Pakistan as a call to arms .

Published at Bigeye.com since 1995 with permission, as a courtesy and in appreciation.

To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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