China, India and Pakistan, are three nuclear armed neighbors tackling border disputes that are dangerous nuclear flashpoints. The three are beating war drums that became audible and louder after the recent India-Pakistan aerial dog-fights over the February 14 suicide bombing by Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), a terrorist group based in Pakistan that killed 40 paramilitary troops in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
It was the first time in history that a state with nuclear weapons conducted air strikes against another nuclear power. India and Pakistan possess two of the fastest growing nuclear arsenals in the world. India has roughly 140 nuclear weapons and Pakistan has around 150.
India and Pakistan exchanged artillery and air strikes and threatened each other with missile strikes. India threatened to fire at least six missiles at Pakistan and Islamabad said it would respond with its own missiles three times over. Thankfully, the U.S., China and the UAE intervened and diffused the confrontation.
Pakistan’s military has supported Islamist terror groups as proxies to target India as a cornerstone of its national security policy. Let’s see if Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan can change this policy and bring the terrorist groups to heel, the same way he defused a potential nuclear confrontation when he repatriated an Indian air force pilot captured in the military confrontations as a “peace gesture” to India.
India blames Pakistan for the suicide bombing and Pakistani military mentoring and protecting JeM, and retaliating with air strikes on the terrorist training camp on the Pakistani side of their 740km border.
In the meantime, as long as Pakistan’s generals support JeM, China will not support labelling JeM’s leader Masood Azhar as a global terrorist because Pakistan is “China’s iron brother.”
A dangerous precedent not in its long term interest if China sometime in the future wants to have Uyghur terrorist leaders labelled global terrorists.
Beijing and Islamabad have long and strong ties, a subject I have written about in my Custom Maid trilogy, with their relationship in recent years centered on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor infrastructure projects, which New Delhi rejects since part of it runs through territory in Kashmir that India claims.
France, Russia, Britain, and the U.S., four of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, backed India’s call to impose an arms embargo, global travel ban and asset freeze of Azhar. China has blocked the move on technical grounds. New Delhi is anxiously waiting for Beijing to drop its objections.
Just like Kashmir is a Pakistan-India nuclear flashpoint, the 4,056 km China-India border is also a flashpoint as the 72-day military standoff in 2017 between the two nuclear-giants at the Doklam peninsula, the tri-junction with Bhutan, reminded us. At the time, China was building a road in a “critical zone.” Let’s not forget India’s humiliating defeat during the four-week deadly conflict in 1962 over the Himalayan border.
A recent report by the Indian Parliament’s Standing Committee on External Affairs has raised serious concerns on the Sino-Indian disputed border. The two countries do not have a mutually agreed Line of Actual Control, allowing each country to have its own interpretation. Like Kashmir, the China-India border is another overlooked nuclear flashpoint.
India also announced recently that it will spend US$2.9 billion on 44 roads in five states on the China border to enable the quick mobilization of its troops in the event of a conflict.
Recent studies have estimated that a regional nuclear war, such as one between India and Pakistan, could lead to the deaths of some 2 billion people worldwide. The numbers will be higher in a nuclear confrontation between China and India.
The reality is that although the tensions between the three nuclear arch-rivals has been temporarily defused, the underlying conditions that lead to the confrontations remain the same. It is only a matter of time before there is another flare-up on either or both borders courtesy of short-sighted political gamesmanship.
The U.S. arms sales to India and renaming the Asia-Pacific region Indo-Pacific casts a shadow and accelerates the potential of an unintended nuclear consequence.