New Delhi: Terrorism emanating from Pakistan and the China-Pakistan axis working against India are two of the major geo-political challenges facing the country, analysts say.

The comments come in the wake of a terrorist attack in Nagrota, a strategically located garrison town in Kashmir earlier this week. One of the Indian Army’s largest corps — the 16 Corps — is based in the town. And it is the third military target to be raided by terrorists this year – the other two being the Pathankot airforce station in Punjab and the Indian army’s garrison in Uri in Jammu and Kashmir.

Other geo-political challenges to India include the uncertainty around the incoming Donald Trump-led US administration’s policies vis-a-vis China, Pakistan and India.

According to former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh, “The two biggest challenges facing India today are Pakistan and China. Terrorism emanating from Pakistan remains a major concern for India as the many efforts made to normalise ties with Pakistan have not yielded any results."

“If we manage (the discontent and law and order problems in) Kashmir, then we give Pakistan less scope to interfere and cause problems," he said.

Defence experts echoed Mansingh but said India could have a window of opportunity to change the Kashmir dynamic in its favour.

“Bilateral ties between India and Pakistan are rock-bottom. It does not matter if China is backing Pakistan. We need to change it by imposing economic and political sanctions and asking the world to follow suit," said Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal (retd).

According to Mansingh, the interesting point to note was that Pakistan now was devolving into a lesser challenge given that it was a “derived power", that is most of its heft – economic and political – is derived from China. “Pakistan has been given military and nuclear arms support by China in the past besides economic support," Mansingh said. “But with the major investment in terms of the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor being announced, China is only underlining its support for Pakistan" as Washington’s impatience with Islamabad increases with the latter’s unwillingness to do much about terrorism, Mansingh said.

“China also seems to be challenging India at every turn which is worrisome," he added.

The reference was to China blocking an Indian move to gain a seat in the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group at least twice this year as well as scuppering another Indian move to get Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar declared a UN-designated terrorist.

Another former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal agreed with Mansingh’s views.

“China is supplanting the US as the biggest supporter of Pakistan," Sibal said adding that China has also been making inroads into India’s neighbourhood like Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka besides the Maldives, with investments. Sibal also referred to Chinese plans to sell two submarines to Bangladesh which has caught New Delhi’s attention.

Besides this, another challenge to contend with was Beijing’s increasing cooperation with Russia, seen as a stalwart partner of India till recently, Sibal said. “Russia and China are no longer balancing each other but joining hands," he said referring to recent moves like the two coordinating naval drills in the South China Sea that China claims in its entirety.

“There is a misalignment of the geo-political interests of India and Russia" now, he said also pointing to Russia’s recent overtures to Pakistan, like their first ever joint military exercises in August.

While India’s geo-political challenges will have to be dealt with by itself primarily, it would help if there is clarity on the Trump administration’s position vis-a-vis China, said Sibal. “Trump following previous US policy on the South China Sea for example could curb China’s geo-political ambitions," he said.

And if Trump kept his pre-election word and maintained good ties with Russia under president Vladimir Putin, it would help realign India’s interests vis-a- vis Russia, said Mansingh, noting a wariness on the part of Moscow against the backdrop of warmer India-US ties.

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