Last week a US-sponsored resolution in the United Nations to designate Pakistan-based militant group chief Masood Azhar as a terrorist was vetoed by the Chinese. In the process it has left itself vulnerable to the charge of being selectively amnesic on globally wanted terrorists.
Most galling is the fact that the Chinese have done this thrice earlier and on all occasions claimed it was because of a lack of evidence. And this after the fact that Azhar founded the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) which was blacklisted by the UN Security Council in 2002 for promoting terrorism—even Pakistan, under pressure from the administration of President Bush following the attacks of 9/11, outlawed JeM.
Azhar, considered one of the best ideologues, has long established terror associations and is identified by India as the mastermind behind several attacks. He was traded for the safety of the passengers of a hijacked airline and has since then openly moved around in Pakistan, rabble rousing.
Clearly, it is time for India to call the Chinese bluff. Ostensibly, the Chinese action is a strategy to stand by its ally Pakistan but actually it is much more. Pakistan’s strategy of delivering a thousand cuts on India—through state-sponsored terrorism—is an unnecessary distraction for a country desperate to break into the global super league of economies, something China (to be sure it has never said so officially) will not welcome in its immediate neighbourhood. And the longer our neighbour can play at this, the tougher the odds for India; so why not indulge Pakistan—a case of killing two birds with one stone, very akin to low-level office politics.
It really doesn’t have to be this zero-sum game and is exactly why India has to hit the reset—like it did with its decision to go public on surgical strikes on terrorist camps located across the border in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir; it obviously will not lead to a cessation of terror attacks from across the border, but overnight raised the costs of such strikes.
Holding on to status quo will entail more of this merry-go-around at the global high table. Time is not on India’s side. Policy paralysis, the rise of crony capitalism and frequent Parliament logjams following petty political squabbles have already cost India over a decade; the country has all but missed the tail wind of the nearly three decade long global growth cycle (something that was key to China’s rise).
As an erudite economist and someone who was a key part of the Indian establishment put it to me recently, another decade of this and India would be consigned to the low-income trap. To become a middle-income country, India, with a population of 1.2 billion, will have to raise its per capita income to around $6,000-7,000 from the current $1,500; to be rich per capita income will have to scale $30,000. A tall ask indeed.
India has to do what it takes to convince Pakistan—easier today given its increasing vulnerability to domestic terror and also the ascent of Donald Trump with his avowed rhetoric of zero tolerance to terrorism—that state-sponsored terrorism has run its course and is in the danger of causing an implosion in the region. Till recently Pakistan was considered a competitive economy with as much potential as India; but after its increasing association with terror, it is at risk of being branded a pariah state.
Similarly, India has to impress upon the Chinese that its own rise is not a threat to its neighbour (whose economy at $11 trillion dwarfs a $2 trillion-India); instead, it actually augurs well—given that the global economy is in a bind, India’s growth will provide new impetus and the Chinese have more to gain from their growing trade links with India as well as the fact that its own economy is struggling at this stage. If the episode involving the ban on Chinese crackers is any indication—it hurt the Chinese forcing some of them to even make churlish threats—then the economic argument can indeed by persuasive.
Either way it is time to signal an end to the status quo. The clock is ticking for the Indian economy.
Anil Padmanabhan is executive editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics.
His Twitter handle is @capitalcalculus
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