2. Asian Rivalries Cloud Mediation Attempts at Almaty

The first summit meeting of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) taking place at Almaty, Kazakhstan, this week, was an obvious arena for attempts to pacify two members at each other’s throats: Pakistan’s President General Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin stepped forward smartly as peace mediator, only to be upstaged by another attendee, Russian president Vladimir Putin, who invited the rivals for unscheduled separate follow-up meetings in Moscow. Both their mediation efforts came to naught. Neither Jiang nor Putin was able to persuade the two antagonists to meet, let alone climb down. All the Pakistani and Indian leaders were prepared to do was to trade verbal insults from opposite ends of a conference hall. Finally, General Musharraf walked out after making veiled threats concerning the use of nuclear weapons in any potential conflict. Those hints contradicted his dismissal last week of any fears of a nuclear war, but focused attention to the unconfirmed reports of Pakistan moving nuclear weapons closer to the Indian border and the emergence of a potentially catastrophic situation.

The CICA was formed in 1992 as a regional forum for enhancing security and cooperation in Asia. Its 16 member states are China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, the Palestinian Authority, Tajikistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Far Eastern expert notes that the organization’s failure to make any headway in addressing the Indian-Pakistani Kashmir crisis is one in the eye for a group whose raison d’etre is regional security. It is not surprising. The would-be mediators hardly inspire trust in either Islamabad or Delhi, when the areas of friction between mediators and adversaries are larger and more deep-seated than the Kashmir dispute that has triggered the current crisis.

Some important conflicts between China and India have never been resolved. The two fought a Himalaya war in 1962, in which the Chinese People’s Army’s prevailed over Indian forces by dint of Chinese intelligence operations. Chinese-Indian border clashes have recurred since then. Despite their ratification in November 1996 of a protocol to mutually reduce border troops and tensions, their 4,000 kilometer “green line” is still contested.

To this day, India refuses to recognize the Chinese-Pakistani agreement cutting off a small slice of Kashmir for China. China, for its part, does not accept India’s claim to Sikkim and supports Bangladesh as well as Pakistan against India. Beijing deeply resents New Delhi’s granting of a refuge to the Dalai Lama and its residual interest in Tibet.

China directs major electronic intelligence (ELINT) activities against India, in conjunction with the PLA Navy’s (PLAN) recent strategic thrust into the Indian Ocean. India cited China, not Pakistan, as its major strategic threat and justification for its development of long-range ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons tests during May 1998.

China is deeply anxious over the increasingly capable Indian military (with major Russian arms imports) – India is undertaking an overall military modernization that includes improvements to various force projection capabilities such as the development of indigenous intermediate-range nuclear capable ballistic missiles. Beijing is also concerned by an economically emergent India that has a growing naval strength, increased interests in Southeast Asia (a traditional area of conflict with China), and a long history of regional rivalry with China.

These developments could well lead to significantly increased military and economic competition and friction between a second Asian nuclear pair, India and China.

India is concerned over Chinese signals intelligence (SIGINT) facilities on the Great Coco Islands in the Indian Ocean and in Burmese locations, in addition to Chinese SIGINT/ELINT trawlers that monitor Indian missile, naval and military activities in the region. China is also reportedly training Burmese military intelligence officials, raising fears in New Delhi that Burma may become a Chinese client state that supports PLAN expansion into the Indian Ocean and China in regional groups such as ASEAN.

Most immediately, China is one of Pakistan’s most important arms suppliers. Chinese military exports to Pakistan include the latest version of the J-7MG fighter-bomber, the co-development of the advanced FC-1 fighter-bomber (which has not yet entered serial production), the advanced MBT-2000 tank, solid fuel ballistic missile technologies, and according to some sources direct assistance in the design and development of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. Pakistan has also cooperated with China in security measures against Chinese Islamic fundamentalists, but the sincerity of this cooperation by radical elements within the Pakistani military has always been an uncertainty.

However, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Far East expert points out, Beijing opposed a futile Pakistani thrust into the Kargil region of India some 18 months ago, and appears to be cautioning Islamabad against a further conflict over Kashmir.

The PLA’s Strategic Missile Force (Second Artillery) undoubtedly has sufficient strength in intermediate range nuclear-armed ballistic missiles (JL-1, DF-3 and DF-20) to pre-empt an Indian nuclear strike against China, but this could only occur if Beijing’s Central Military Commission, headed by Jiang Zemin, determined China was immediately threatened. Pakistan itself is simply not considered in the frontline of Beijing’s strategic sphere of influence such as Taiwan, Tibet, and the South China Sea, and not worth the potential risk of a strategic engagement with the United States.

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