Chinese surprise

Beijing's enthusiastic support to Indo-Pak normalisation is relatively new. Way back in November 1996, when Chinese president Jiang Zemin visited Islamabad, he had urged Pakistan to put aside its political disputes with India and focus on economic cooperation. Since then, China seemed to return to what many in Delhi consider a policy of balancing India by unflinching support to Islamabad. The latest turn in China's South Asia policy comes amidst the incipient US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the prospect of greater instability in Pakistan, and their potential impact on China's external and internal security. As it prepares to cope with the US pivot to East Asia, Beijing would want to keep its South Asian frontier relatively tranquil. As Delhi carefully scruntinses Beijing's new logic, it has every reason to welcome it.

Geopolitical dynamic

China is not the only great power contributing to the new geopolitics of the subcontinent. Washington's decision to announce a bounty on the head of LeT boss Hafiz Saeed just before Zardari arrived in Delhi, set the conspiracy theorists in the subcontinent speculating. The fact, however, is that Indo-Pak relations are showing signs of positive movement at a time when Washington's ties with Islamabad are heading south. This does not necessarily mean the US is opposed to the normalisation of Indo-Pak relations. Washington has been as effusive as Beijing in supporting the peace initiatives of Singh and Zardari.

Delhi has long assumed that Washington and Beijing are irrevocably committed to supporting Pakistan at the expense of India. Delhi needs to revise that assumption as American and Chinese concerns mount at the various negative forces radiating out of Pakistan. As the subcontinent's tectonic plates move, it is up to Delhi to take full advantage of the changing great power approaches to Pakistan and India.

New regionalism

While Gilani's comments on China have got some media attention in Delhi, his remarks on the broader possibilities for economic cooperation with India have not. Underlining Pakistan's new regional approach, Gilani said: "Progress on the balance of trade with India, Pakistan-Afghanistan transit trade and energy projects with Iran will help the country achieve its cherished goal of regional stability."

... contd.

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