The relations between three Asian nuclear neighbors – Pakistan, India, and China – plummeted to new depths in 2020, with experts foreseeing no “detente” next year either.
The tumultuous year saw the first deadly clash between Indian and Chinese armies in the last 45 years in the mountainous Ladakh region in June. The ties between Pakistan and India also remained at odds amid frequent clashes along with the disputed Jammu and Kashmir border.
The military standoff followed New Delhi’s unilateral decision to separate Ladakh from disputed Jammu and Kashmir and revoke the Himalayan region’s semi-autonomous status in August last year, a move vehemently opposed by Beijing and Islamabad.
Ladakh region which borders China and Pakistan serves as the world’s only “nuclear trijunction.”
In another rare development in November, Pakistan released a dossier accusing India of “actively planning, promoting, aiding, abetting, financing and execution of terrorist activities” on its soil.
India, however, denied the charges and accused Islamabad of “patronizing” terrorism.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Pakistan’s former foreign secretary said tensions between China and India owed origin to New Delhi’s August 2019 move of carving out a separate centrally administered Ladakh region.
“The year 2020 witnessed continued tensions between Pakistan and India as the latter remained in a disengagement mood, and did not agree to hold a dialogue on the outstanding issues,” he said.
The year also saw nearly daily clashes between the two militaries along the Line of Control (LoC) — a de facto border that divides the picturesque Jammu and Kashmir between the two nuclear neighbors.
Dozens of soldiers and civilians from both sides were killed, while scores of others were injured in the clashes, which have taken a toll on the inhabitants of bordering areas.
Islamabad, over the past 12 months, left no stone unturned to raise alleged human rights violations in the disputed region, particularly after New Delhi revoked constitutional special status.
Jammu and Kashmir – a Muslim majority region – is held by Pakistan and India in parts but claimed in full. A small sliver of the territory is held by China.
Several pro-freedom groups have been fighting Indian troops for either uniting with Pakistan or independence.
“The slide which began in India Pakistan relations in August 2019, worsened in 2020, and it is unlikely to improve shortly,” said Sameer Patil, a fellow at the Gateway House, a Mumbai-based think tank.
“Pakistan’s frequent attempts to highlight the Kashmir issue at the international level have only caused further Indian intransigence,” he said.
“Pakistan’s continued greylisting by the Financial Action task Force – a global money-laundering watchdog – has given confidence to India that its strategy of pressuring and isolating Islamabad is working,” he added.
Islamabad has been on the global money-laundering watchdog’s radar since June 2018, when it was placed on its grey list for terrorist financing and money laundering risks after an assessment of the country’s financial system and security mechanism.
Another Pakistani former Foreign Secretary, Salman Bashir said that Indian “obsession” with Pakistan witnessed new escalatory measures by “intensifying active hostilities across the LoC and propaganda blitz extinguishing hopes for regional cooperation”.
He said that during the year Pakistan remained “mired” in domestic political squabbles, trying to fix governance and facing the brunt of global power play with attendant regional implications.
Both Indian and Pakistani analysts do not see any possibility of a thaw in relations in near future.
US tilt towards India
Chaudhry, who heads the Institute of Strategic Studies (ISS), an Islamabad-based think tank, said since India does not seem to change its policies towards Kashmir and neighbors, there is hardly any scope for improvement in relations.
Further, he said, the recent US tilt towards India has emboldened New Delhi to continue its “belligerent” approach towards its neighbors.
Rajiv Ranjan, who teaches international relations at Shanghai University maintains that India-China relations were also at the “lowest point”.
“India-China engagement is at its lowest point today. And, I expect that frequent clashes [between the two sides] will be a new normal not only along the undefined border since border infrastructures improved but inherent competition in the region and beyond to shape the regional and global politics,” he said.
He added that the current deterioration in the bilateral engagement between the two countries is resultant of a combination of unsettled boundaries and strategic antagonism. He asked countries to restructure dialogue mechanisms to achieve a stable engagement.
“Both countries must restructure dialogue mechanisms, settle the foundational irritants of their bilateral relationship and realign interests if they want to achieve any meaningful and stable engagement,” said Ranjan.
Beijing push for globalism
Chaudhry, Pakistan’s former foreign secretary, observed that Beijing is likely to continue to push for “globalism”, and “multilateralism” with an economic emphasis, mainly on its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
“India has long been opposing the BRI, and likely to continue the same policy in years to come,” he said.
Bashir, who also served as Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India from 2012-14 described 2020 as a “transformational” year as established assumptions about states, societies, and interstate conduct in South Asia were challenged.
“India, suffered immense reputational loss, unprecedented economic slump, social turmoil and lost its credentials as a secular democracy with rule of law and a modicum of enlightened values and justice, “said Bashir, who also served as Pakistan’s top diplomat in China.
“Pakistan deepened its relations with Russia and China and intensified efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, “he said.
Bashir also referred to Islamabad’s crucial role in the ongoing reconciliation process in Afghanistan, which aims to end Washington’s longest war in recent history through a political settlement.
“Three geographically contiguous nuclear powers — India, China, and Pakistan — must learn to live with each other and devote themselves to higher ideals and cooperation for development, “he added.