New Delhi: India is back to square one as regards Pakistani terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. The colossal intelligence failure that led to the Phulwama tragedy for which no one in the Central government has taken moral responsibility and resigned has now been overshadowed by the Indian debacle in the UN Security Council with China refusing to permit Masood Azhar’s listing as a global terrorist.

In the suspenseful hours leading to the Azhar decision, the Narendra Modi government had enrolled the media and a section of public opinion in a low theatre in which the dominant sentiment was that China would cave in to world pressure mounted at the instance of New Delhi. The powerful propaganda machinery of the Bharatiya Janata Party was presumably in place to milk the imminent Chinese capitulation for electoral purposes. Like Joseph Goebbels, Arun Jaitley perhaps would also have obliged newspapers with printable copy.

The Chinese are made of sterner stuff, however. They are so stern that Mao Zedong sent millions of Chinese to their death with the Great Leap Forward programme and never once lost sleep over it. They also repeatedly confronted the Soviet Union after Joseph Stalin’s death, fought and stalemated a war with the United States in Korea, and pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps to become a major economic power. They were not about to feel compelled by India which has not sought to create leverages with Beijing in all these decades which includes Modi’s five years.

When the bubble burst and the opposition came after the Modi government guns blazing, the regime tried to brazen it out by blaming China’s obduracy on Jawaharlal Nehru and his alleged crime of rejecting an UN Security Council permanent seat with veto power in favour of China. Nehru dismissed this canard in a reply to Parliament. When the 1949 revolution split China into two, the dispute only centred on if Mao’s side should get the UNSC seat from Kuomintang Taiwan. Canards cannot be the basis of geopolitics.

India also has to do better than air strikes to contain and roll back Pakistani terrorism. There is no clarity if the twelve Indian fighter jets involved in the Balakot bombing entered Pakistan or fired payloads from the Indian side of the Line of Control. Assuming that Pakistani airspace was violated, the bulk of ascertainable intelligence points to little to no damage to terrorist assets in Balakot should they have existed there in the first place and not relocated at a much earlier time.

If the Modi government had not sought to make electoral capital of the strike cooking up casualty numbers when the air force preferred to be circumspect, the credibility of Balakot would not have played up internationally as it did and leave India at a disadvantage. And those who analyze that India has lowered the threshold for counter-strikes have simply no notion of what they are propagating. To retaliate for twelve Indian stealthy intruders, the Pakistanis sent twenty-four when India was on full alert, and they lured and got one plane with pilot (a brave man), while the Indian hit of an F-16 remains as yet unproven.

What is more, in counter-bombing, the Pakistanis were strictly proportional: Zero casualties in Balakot equal zero casualties on Indian territory. If terrorists had been killed in Balakot, the narrative may have turned bloodier for India, scrambling both countries on an escalation ladder to conventional and then all-out nuclear war. Those who thrill about lowered thresholds should be given a one-way ticket to the LoC. In any case, air strikes have never determined the final outcomes of unconventional wars or even conventional ones.

The bald truth is this. Pakistan and China are joined at the hip. As China faces an irreversible economic decline because of US protectionism and criminal prosecution of its companies, Beijing needs Pakistan perhaps to a greater extent than Islamabad requires the People’s Republic. This apart, Pakistan gets purchase in Jammu and Kashmir because of internal mishandling, which is the greater under the Modi regime.

Pakistani terrorists also strike with impunity in the Valley because India has not patiently and assiduously built assets and capacities to neutralize Pakistani terrorist leaders in their own homes. Foreign sources of terrorism cannot be militarily eradicated unless through multinational or UN-sponsored operations. Those situations are nearly impossible to instigate in Pakistan. Indeed, every Major Power from the United States and Russia to China needs Pakistan to pull their chestnuts out of the fire. People may be beguiled with war-mongering but the core problem not only remains but sinks deep roots. In the end, Adolf Hitler ran out of lies and excuses to keep the Germans engaged with war, but Germany was nevertheless destroyed.

Nor will China be impressed with trick diplomacy and Narendra Modi’s showmanship. Realists to the core, the Chinese see India as a strategic competitor and threat. As long as Tibet remains a bone of contention with the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile, China will regard India with suspicion and hostility. Diplomatic engagement (far less pressure) will not transform China’s attitude towards India. Military confrontation is out of the question: Doklam 2 will not end the way Doklam 1 did; besides, the world kept at arm’s length from Doklam 1.

Possibly the only thing China fears at this stage is economic shrinkage which, if not reversed, can unravel one-party rule and open the floodgates for democracy. Conceivably the only lever India possesses with China is its vast market and the sizeable middle class that animates it. If New Delhi moves in an incremental way (starting with Huawei and the 5G network trial) to sanction China for allying with a terrorist state, that would begin to hurt Beijing.

China cannot hide behind WTO rules while refusing at the same time to check Pakistani terrorism. WTO rules guide India’s trade with a friendly state and not with an unfriendly one. India has to do the unthinkable. Election gimmicks will not just fail but prove counterproductive and disastrous.

Editor’s Note: 1. A former diplomat was awarded the Padma Shri this week. Was it, perchance, for getting India into the Nuclear Suppliers Group overcoming Chinese objections?

2. The insurance sector needs a Jio to stop the looting and cartelization of private players and to inject beneficial competition for consumers.