On Wednesday National Security Adviser MK Narayanan goes for talks to Beijing. On TV he curtly questioned Beijing's role in the Nuclear Suppliers Group for impeding the Indo-US Nuclear agreement. The refusals by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao to entertain phone calls from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was the kind of calculated snub that even the normally timid Indian government could not stomach. Eventually President Bush telephoned to make the Chinese leaders fall in line.
While Narayanan will be in Beijing, Pakistan President Asif Zardari will be there too, seeking a nuclear deal with China similar to what India obtained from the US. Beijing's current attitude to India and Pakistan will be watched with interest. After Sonia Gandhi's snub to the Chinese foreign minister who recently visited Delhi ' he failed to get an appointment ' and Narayanan's own sharp remarks against Beijing, it remains to be seen how China's leaders react to the new ground realities in South Asia.
The increasing US strikes against Pakistan across the Afghanistan border have provoked strident Pakistani protests. The Pakistan army spokesman said no country could violate "Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity'. Pakistan needs a reality check. Terrorists crossing the Afghan or Indian borders with active support of the ISI also violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of neighbouring countries. India could not retaliate with hot pursuit. Pakistan is an itchy-fingered nuclear power. The US can.
After news was leaked that President Bush had sanctioned the US attacks a TV channel analyst agitatedly asked: "Why has President Bush done this now after doing nothing for seven years?" The outburst was surprising: the Indo-US Nuclear deal has just been clinched, the deal is all about a strategic alliance.
This scribe has repeatedly affirmed that Pakistan has been the theatre of a silent proxy war for control between America and China. American influence was largely limited to the civilian establishment. China had made great inroads into the army and the jihaadi organizations. Unlike America, it could swing public opinion. America could not risk alienating Pakistan beyond a point and leave the field clear for China. Closer ties with India have changed that. Now, in his "final sprint", President Bush may attempt startling changes.
China made two huge tactical errors. First, it armed Iranian Shiite jihaadis, to replicate its Pakistan strategy in Iran. This infuriated the Sunni jihaadis. This scribe had pointed out earlier how Baitullah Mehsud, owing allegiance to Al Qaeda"s Al-Zawahiri, had targeted Chinese engineers working in Pakistan. Recently Zawahiri lashed out against Iran for helping the US. Mehsud's act led to the Lal Masjid assault which alienated the jihaadis from the Pakistan army.
China's second error was its thinly disguised illegal nuclear aid to Dr AQ Khan. The hypocritical west, salivating over commercial prospects in China, overlooked this. Latest intelligence reports suggest that nuclear know-how may even have reached terrorists. China itself should start worrying: terrorists patronized for short term gains have tended to turn eventually against patrons themselves.
President Zardari is displaying the right approach. His bid for an unlikely nuclear deal with Beijing should silence pro-China elements in Pakistan. After China's inability to oblige, this could pave the way for some nuclear understanding with India. The outcome of visits by both Narayanan and Zardari may indicate how Beijing, New Delhi and Islamabad adjust to the new ground realities in South Asia.