China's South Asian Conundrum
Photo by: Sgt. Daniel Schroeder
The recent attack on an Indian army base inside Kashmir by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist group that killed 18 servicemen is the latest in a bloody saga of such assaults stretching back decades. The India-Pakistan rivalry is an enduring staple of regional politics. But new equations within India and in the regional geopolitical environment may mean that this crisis is not business as usual. Pakistan has more to lose from an armed standoff with its South Asian adversary. But India needs to play its hand carefully in light of China's alliance with its militant neighbor.
As prime minister, Narendra Modi has brought a more hawkish, nationalist dispensation to Indian foreign policy. The country that elected him in 2014 is a more capable great power than the one his predecessors governed during previous crises following Pakistan-based terrorist attacks, notably in 2008 and 2001. India is the world's fastest-growing major economy. Its relations with leading powers including the U.S. are closer than in previous standoffs with Pakistan, giving New Delhi greater potential diplomatic leverage over its neighbor.
By contrast, official American sentiment toward Islamabad has hardened following 15 years of war in Afghanistan against Pakistani allies including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani terrorist group. The drawdown of Western forces from Afghanistan means that Pakistan today has less ability to use its vital resupply routes as leverage against Washington. But against this strategic setback is the strategic gain that Pakistan has accrued from China's decision to double down on its South Asian alliance by stepping up military, diplomatic, and economic support for the regime in Islamabad.