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Sino-Indian Co-operation in Counter-Terrorism: An Update

(To be read in continuation of my earlier paper of May 25,2007, on the same subject at )

Shri Pranab Mukherjee, India’s then Defence Minister, had visited China on an official visit in the last week of May, 2006, at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart Gen.Cao Gangchuan. During his visit, the two Ministers signed on May 29, 2006, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Defense Cooperation. It was the first such agreement between the two countries.

2. The MOU provided for the following:

  1. Frequent exchanges between the leaders and high-level functionaries of the Defense Ministries and the armed forces of the two countries;

  2. An Annual Defense Dialogue at a mutually agreed level to be hosted alternatively by the two sides;

  3. Joint military exercises and/or training programmes in the fields of search and rescue, anti-piracy, counter-terrorism, and other areas of mutual interest, including facilitating the exchange of military observers to witness designated military exercises; and

  4. A mechanism for the exchange of military officers and relevant civilian officials for study tours, seminars, and extended study at their respective military training institutions.

3. In 2000, China initiated the practice of inviting foreign military personnel to observe its military exercises and holding joint military exercises with other countries. On October 22, 2003, Chinese and Pakistani naval forces conducted a joint search and rescue exercise off the coast of Shanghai in the East China Sea. It was the first time Chinese naval forces had held a joint exercise with a foreign counterpart since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. This was followed by a joint search and rescue exercise off the coast of Shanghai in the East China Sea on November 14, 2003, by the Navies of India and China. This was the first military exercise between the two countries. On August 28, 2004, Chinese and Indian frontier troops had held a joint mountaineering training exercise in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region.

4. After 9/11, China started holding periodic counter-terrorism exercises with the Armed Forces of the Central Asian Republics (CARS) and Russia. These were held initially bilaterally and, subsequently, under the multilateral framework of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO).

5. On August 6, 2004, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Armed Forces of Pakistan held a counter-terrorism exercise at Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous County, in China’s Uighur Autonomous Region, bordering Pakistan. The main purpose of the exercise was to rehearse joint measures against possible terrorist strikes by Uighur terrorist elements operating from Pakistan or Afghanistan. In matters concerning operational co-operation in counter-terrorism, China’s first priority has been to co-operation with Pakistan, the CARs and Russia in countering the activities of Uighur and Uzbek terrorists as well as Al Qaeda and other pro-Al Qaeda elements operating from sanctuaries in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the CARs. It does not as yet have any operational co-operation arrangement with Afghanistan.

6. As regards India, operational co-operation between the navies of the two countries in counter-terrorism and counter-piracy is of greater relevance to China than co-operation between the two armies. China’s energy supplies from West Asia and Africa pass through the Malacca Strait and hence the Indian Navy could be of considerable assistance to its Chinese counterpart in crisis situations if and when there is a disruption of the energy supplies by pirates or terrorists in the Indian Ocean region in general.

7. Operational co-operation in counter-terrorism between the two armies is not of much relevance to either country. No India-based terrorist group is operating in Chinese territory and vice versa. No India-based terrorist group poses a threat to Chinese nationals and interests in Indian territory unlike Pakistan where there have already been many attacks on Chinese nationals not only by suspected Uighurs, but also by indigenous Pakistani jihadi terrorist organisations. In June, 2007, girl madrasa students of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad kidnapped some Chinese women working in beauty parlours, harassed them and then released them. This was followed by the murder of two Chinese nationals in Peshawar and a suicide terrorist strike on a bus carrying Chinese engineers at Hub in Balochistan. Many passers-by were killed, but the Chinese had a miraculous escape.

8. In the beginning of November, 2007, the Pakistani authorities shifted to Islamabad all Chinese personnel working in three hydel and one irrigation projects in the Swat Valley and in other tribal areas, when the Pakistani para-military personnel deployed for their protection at their places of work and residence stopped reporting for duty. Some members of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) headed by Maulana Fazlullah reportedly entered the places of residence of the Chinese personnel and destroyed their TV sets. However, they did not do them any harm. In fact, they were polite to the Chinese and requested them to continue working, but wanted them to respect Islamic sentiments and practices. The Chinese got frightened and refused to work there any longer.

9. While there is considerable scope for the exchange of counter-terrorism-related intelligence between the intelligence agencies of India and China, there is not much scope for operational co-operation between the security forces of the two countries in tackling land-based terrorism. Of course, there is scope for co-operation in specific situations such as dealing with hostage-taking, hijackings, and countering terrorist threats involving weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In these fields, other Indian agencies such as the National Security Guards (NSGs), the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) etc act as the weapon of first resort and the Army as the weapon of last resort. Thus, there is a lot of home work and brain-storming to be done by the various counter-terrorism agencies of India among themselves before they embark on any meaningful co-operation with the Chinese against land-based terrorism. Otherwise, the co-operation will remain a purely cosmetic exercise.

10. The problem is further complicated by the fact that when the Chinese talk of ground co-operation with India against terrorism they have mainly the followers of the Dalai Lama in mind. The Chinese do not call them terrorists. They call them splittists, but they treat terrorism, extremism and splittism as synonymous. While India has recognised Tibet as an integral part of China, it does not agree with the negative portrayal of the Dalai Lama and his followers by Beijing.

11. In this context, one was surprised when it was indicated by spokesmen of the Government of India in May, 2007, that the Armies of the two countries would be holding their first joint exercise on a modest scale in October, 2007, and that the purpose of the exercise would be promoting anti-terrorism co-operation. This indication was given after a visit to China by the then Chief of the Army Staff, Gen. J.J.Singh, in the last week of May, 2007. The Chinese agreed to host the first round of the exercise in Chinese territory. While no official announcement was made about the place of the exercise, there were indications that it would be held near Chengdu in the Sichuan province. The Chengdu military region is responsible for internal and external security in the Tibet and adjoining regions and for any action warranted against the supporters of the Dalai Lama.

12. Many independent observers felt uncomfortable over the reported decision to hold the first counter-terrorism exercise in this region as this might unwittingly give it an anti-Tibetan and anti-Dalai Lama connotation. A team of Chinese military officers was to arrive in New Delhi in the beginning of October, 2007, to work out the details of the exercise. It did not come and it was indicated that the exercise would be held only after the first meeting of the Annual Defence Dialogue envisaged under the MOU signed on May 29 last year. The “New York Times” quoted a Chinese military spokesman in Beijing as saying that the exercise had to be postponed due to differences over where it would be held.

13. The first Annual Defence Dialogue was held at Beijing in the beginning of November,2007, and it has now ben indicated that the first exercise between the armies of the two countries would be held in the third week of December, 2007, in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan. Before 1979, Kunming was politically as sensitive to India as Chengdu. The Chinese training camps for the Indian Naga and Mizo hostiles and the Kachins and White Flag Communists of Myanmar were located in Kunming. Since 1979, China has closed down all these camps. India should no longer feel uncomfortable about participating in a joint exercise in Kunming.

(The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

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