By Urooj Jamal
More than a month ago, on 15th June, 2020, a deadly clash between Indian and Chinese forces saw soldiers engaged in a hand-to-hand combat at a height of 13,500 feet above sea level amid sub-zero temperatures. The fight occurred in the disputed Galwan Valley, an arid Himalayan terrain along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de facto border between the two Asian giants, which led to the death of 20 Indian soldiers while casualties on the Chinese side are still unknown.
The incident heightened tensions between the world’s two most populous countries and drew immense international concerns. The United Nations, along side many other states, urged both sides “to exercise maximum restraint”, and stressed the need of a peaceful settlement. In the meantime, experts sought to dig out the reasons which caused the conflict. Analysts believe, the major reason behind the Galwan valley brawl is linked to the unilateral move by India last year to revoke Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which had guaranteed autonomy to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The state of Jammu and Kashmir also included the disputed areas of Ladakh region on which China has a claim. The second major reason is believed to be India’s recent construction of infrastructure in border areas—the 255km Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) road along LAC—which led China to respond by pushing back Indian attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo.
Weeks after the clash, both sides agreed on disengagement on various spots and started withdrawals of forces to their initial positions, and made notable progress in this regard until mid July. Both countries have withdrawn the troops by 2 km in the disputed Hot Springs and Galwan area. India’s external affairs minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar opined, “both sides agreed on the need to disengage because their troops are deployed very close to each other.” However, the repercussions of the clash between two emerging economic powers are still following. The eco of the violent clash can be heard in the unfolding of new alliances in the Asia and across the world.
Particularly, the clash attracted America’s inordinate attention to India with a lot of American tech giants investing in the huge Indian market, but this attention made the entire non-American allies to join forces against India. An evidence of this shift, according to reports, is the recent deal between China and Iran which let Iran drop India from its Chabahar rail project. This deal is important to India as it is the gateway for trade in Eurasian countries. But now, according to reports, China and Iran are going to sign projects worth 400 billion dollars. This would be a 25-year strategic accord, that would align the interests of Iran with China for a quarter of a century. This agreement would lead to the flooding of almost all the sectors of Iranian economy with Chinese investment. Therefore, this strategic move is considered by some Indian intellectuals as “another attack by China” due to its long term impacts on Indian strategic interests, especially vis-à-vis Pakistan.
Pakistan, very understandably, threw its entire support on Chinese side due to its evolving ties with China and rivalry with India. The Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi categorically vowed to support China on border tensions with India. This is because, like China, it has its own long-standing territorial dispute with India, notably over the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Not only this, but the suspicion of a planned Indian military intrusion inside Pakistan administered Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan region and the threats of sabotage against the project of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor(CPEC) due to India’s the recent infrastructure projects in Galwan valley has also influenced Pakistan’s choices. CPEC, the flagship of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and a multibillion dollar project, passes through Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. India has been colluding with the United States, which has its own interest in curtailing Chinese influence in Pakistan, to sabotage the project. Hence, the recent escalation, and the increasing bonhomie between the US and India as a result of it, has made Pakistan to get even closer to China by strengthening strategic and intelligence cooperation with it, as India’s former IB officer Avinash Mohananey stated, “Pakistan will synchronize its actions with that of China, on the border and within Jammu and Kashmir…”
The post Galwan valley brawl is also witnessing a Russia trying to maintain a tight rope walk between its long standing friend and trade partner—India, and the new strategic ally and creditor—China. Immediately after the conflict, Indian defense minister Rajnath Singh rushed to Russia on a three-day visit to hold talks with the high military officials of Russia and participate in the grand military parade organized to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in the second world war. However, the situation has changed considerably in the last decade as Russia and China have tied their strategic interests together, despite differences, to counter the US hegemony in the region. Moreover, Russia’s power is growing weak, and it desperately needs China’s help to boost up its weakening economy. Hence, Indians are realizing the fact that Russia would not out-rightly support India in its clash with China. Furthermore, Russia and Pakistan are also deepening their ties due to the strategic partnership of both with China against the Indo-US nexus. In this context, both countries have planned to enhance their economic trade by simplifying procedures and encouraging trade by establishing an intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation. Moreover, the continued cooperation between the US and India in the field of defense has resulted in Russia and Pakistan going forward with more defense cooperation and weapons trade which was not possible as recently as 2014. The security interests of Russia and Pakistan also converge in Afghanistan as both have supported the Taliban in the Afghan peace process.
Additionally, another shift in alliances can be seen in Nepal’s bitter reaction to Indian attempts of consolidating its control over the disputed region of Kalapani, in a conflict termed by scholars as “a cartographic war”. Nepal has historically enjoyed good ties with India, but due to this dispute, over the years, Nepal has gotten closer to China and Pakistan. Since the Galwan conflict, India has systematically deployed military troops in the Kalapani area to the west where the borders of Nepal, China and India meet. Nepal has a claim over the region and has raised concerns that the latest tensions between India and China, would sideline its own border dispute with India. To address the concerns of Indian assertiveness, Nepal is looking for alternatives in the region. China and Pakistan are cashing in on this opportunity, as manifested in the huge credit it is receiving from China and the phone call Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan has made to the Nepalese premier, K. P. Sharma Oli for stronger ties.
These shifting alliances in the aftermath of growing differences between China and India have far reaching implications for the strategic future of Asia and the Indo-Pacific region. The unfolding events not only see India’s resolve to counter China further strengthening and its partnership with the US. even more deepening, but also the emergence of new alliances as a counter-weight to the Indo-US nexus. Specifically, India would be affected by this rebalancing if it continues to antagonize its neighbors due to the aggressiveness and assertiveness of the incumbent Indian government when it comes to conflicted territorial claims. The recent developments in the Galwan valley provides an ample testimony to this assumption which has left India with what Ashley Tellis, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace terms as “painful choices”.
The ‘seconder’ is a student of KIU, Gilgit. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org