My own thoughts on the Ladakh Standoff and beyond

Ladakh Standoff: Opportunity Knocking for Pakistan?

Carin I. Fischer

“US says Pak budget lacks transparency” screams a headline! Then it becomes clear that it is all about targeting CPEC! Clearly the Monroe Doctrine is now alive in a much wider context – from Latin America it now seeks to make the entire world its “sphere of influence!” It won’t work!

~ Shireen Mazari, June 23, 2020

While the above quote may sound to some as though US Pakistan relations may be heading for yet another nosedive, Pakistan’s Minister’s of Human Rights reaction must be interpreted as evidence of a newly emerging Pakistan, one that is more self-assured, less defensive, and aware of having options that ultimately could lead to a more honest and equitable partnership with the US.

US criticism of Pakistan today no longer focuses on terrorism or other issues used in the past as reasons for declining relations. This is despite India doing its best to keep that focus alive.  Today, China has become Enemy Number 1 in Washington, and any current negativity towards Pakistan has to be seen in the context of Pakistan’s close relations with Beijing. Although the US is very aware that Pakistan desires good relations with both countries, the US may increasingly try to pressurize Pakistan to choose between the two. Instead of worrying about this development, Pakistan could and should take advantage of the knowledge of having a reliable friend in China and use it as a bargaining chip with the US which still needs Pakistan’s cooperation in the region for many important national security reasons. In fact, Pakistan should test the US resolve to contain China’s influence at all costs by making clear that it in fact has a choice and, if pushed too far, may have to opt for China completely the way the US seems to have opted for India at the expense of other relationships while in pursuit of continued domination of the Indo Pacific.

Most recently, Washington has linked the current tensions between China and India along the LaC almost exclusively to its larger concern of a more aggressive China being out of control not just in South Asia but elsewhere. Statements have already been made by the administration that it supports India in that current conflict between the two countries. Linking Ladakh to other issues of concern to the US is a misperception also adopted by DC think tanks and voiced by mainstream media and professional journals. This kind of faulty interpretation must be corrected as soon as possible by Pakistan since the violence along the LaC is directly tied to Indian aggression, unilateral actions concerning Kashmir, and overall foreign policy issues of paramount importance to Pakistan in its own neighborhood.

It also presents a much needed opportunity to once again raise awareness about the growing expansionist approach by India in South Asia and how this approach, if further enabled by the US,  could lead to dangerous escalations both at the LaC and the LoC. In fact, Pakistan must highlight how at the moment India is at loggerheads with almost all its neighbors who have begun viewing it as a destabilizing country with hegemonic designs. Below are some talking points that could to be used to explain the roots of the current tensions and why it involves Pakistan.

The crisis in Ladakh is not directly linked to a more assertive China in Asia and other parts of the world as the US is claiming. It is a reaction to India’s unilateral actions in Kashmir beginning August 5 of last year, and has its roots in the illegal annexation of not only J & K but also Ladakh and declaring them Union Territories in contravention of UN Resolutions and all existing bilateral agreements.

India has become increasingly shrill about recapturing AJK and GB and how it plans to use covert operations and RAW sponsored dissidents to try to cause chaos in the two regions to advance its designs. This threatening posturing has become of great concern not only for Pakistan but also China because it has heavily invested in CPEC, major dam projects and road and other infrastructure in those areas.

Because of India’s unilateral and illegal actions in JKL, it can no longer be dismissed as simple posturing and there is growing concern by Pakistan and China that India may pursue its stated goals in the future.

In doing so, it has forced China to officially declare itself a fourth stakeholder in the Kashmir Dispute while also no longer feeling bound by past “gentleman agreements” about the exact delimitations of the LaC. Unlike the LoC, these delimitations were always based on perceptions by each country and never agreed upon formally.

Moreover, in an act of cartographic aggression, India is not only including AJK and GB as its own territory but now also showing Aksai Chin as such. Contrary to Indian propaganda accusing Pakistan of having “gifted” Aksai Chin to China, India lost Aksai Chin to China in the 1962 Indo-China war and Nehru consented to the territorial adjustment. Despite this region being nearly uninhabitable and having no resources, it remains strategically extremely important for China as it connects Tibet and Xinjiang. The area is also closely linked to the Karakorum Pass/ Highway which is central to CPEC. In addition it is very close to Siachen and access roads to it. This of course is also part of the dispute between Pakistan and India.

None of these important issues are being highlighted enough in Washington which mistakenly links China’s securing what it has always considered its territory to actions in Hong Kong, Vietnam, and other areas in the Indo Pacific.

Pakistan must play an important role in correcting the misperceptions and expose India for being the actual aggressor in Ladakh and much of South Asia.  It also can take advantage to once again highlight the illegal annexation of Kashmir and how the dispute has dangerous repercussions beyond Kashmir Valley.

Importantly since China has used the occasion to put India in its place in a region of much importance to both Pakistan and China, the possibility of false flag operations by India has grown exponentially since it may want to deflect from an embarrassing loss of what it claims to be Indian territory in Ladakh. Since any further potential escalation of a conflict now involving three nuclear powers instead of two, it also presents another opportunity to once again ask for international and mediation for a solution of the dispute.

As explained in the beginning, all of this must be done from a position of strength, since India clearly overreached in total violation of international law and existing conventions. Pakistan must explain the correct context but also stress that the disputed Kashmir and by extension the Ladakh regions lie at the heart of Pakistan’s own foreign policy, and that while China and Pakistan undoubtedly share the same interests there, that shared interest does not extend beyond the region unless pushed by the US to take sides in unrelated areas of conflict. 

Pakistan has been fully cooperating with the desire by the US to strike a successful peace deal in Afghanistan. It will be an important stakeholder in maintaining that peace after the US leaves. Pakistan therefore needs to fully appreciate its value for the US which goes much beyond minor concessions or occasional financial rewards. By allowing India’s aggression to continue in Pakistan’s closest neighborhood, Pakistan is most directly affected by a growing US India strategic partnership that is primarily based on containing China elsewhere. Since the US does not seem to desire a complete break with Pakistan, Pakistan should feel more confident in its dealings with the US and not only react but demand that the US strike a better balance in the region for the security of everybody concerned. This would start by recognizing India’s designs and helping curb its aggressive behavior.

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