Indian Decade

China and Pakistan’s ISI

Are Chinese telecoms firms indirectly aiding Pakistani terrorists who target India?

Although transparency isn’t usually a strong point of India's bureaucracy, those dealing with Chinese telecoms companies say they’ve been blocked from implementing $4.7 billion in orders (and a potential $19 billion more over the next three years) because of assistance these firms have allegedly given to the Pakistani Army to nullify Indian jamming equipment designed to prevent terrorists operating in Kashmir from contacting associates in Pakistan.

Four days after the Mumbai attacks (based on briefings from the same sources as have been relied on for this entry), I wrote that there were strong indications that the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks were carried out on the direction of serving officers of the Pakistan military, and that the navy of that country
facilitated the boat journey of the terrorists from Karachi  to Mumbai, a fact that even (usually Pakistan-shielding) US agencies now seem to have admitted.

According to information available from sources in India, executives and technical staff of certain Chinese telecoms companies have directly participated in ISI planning sessions for operations in India, and have later provided technical backup for such missions. If this is true, such activities would make these entities accessories to terrorism, and therefore liable to international sanctions. It is based on these concerns that some telecoms entities were blocked from the Indian market.

However, now that they’ve been made aware that Indian officials are monitoring any such assistance, these same companies seem to have been chastened and, in the expectation that they’ll no longer provide assistance to the ISI for operating in India, officials in Delhi seem to be clearing the way for a lifting of the ban on Chinese telecoms operators.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

Telecoms, power and infrastructure in India together present a $60-billion market for China, but the PLA's policy of adopting a hard line on India and its attempts to limit the growth of Indian capabilities in collusion with regional militaries has resulted in the possible loss of the Indian market at a time when trade may be shrinking in China’s major markets (the European Union and the United States).

Officials in Delhi hope that the lock that the PLA seems to have on Chinese policy towards India (a situation analogous to that seen in Pakistan, where it is GHQ that sets policy on India, not the Prime Minister's Office or the Foreign Ministry) will be loosened by the Chinese Communist Party once the malefic effects of such India-baiting become clearer.

Both President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have sought closer ties with India, but as yet they haven’t been able to control the PLA, which is said to be reluctant to give up its alleged collaboration with the Pakistani Army, something that is blocking all efforts at a rapprochement with India.

Those who use brawn rather than brains are unable to understand the immense benefits that an India-China entente would bring for both countries. Firstly, the two together would be able to block efforts by the developed world to ensure the continuation of policies geared towards benefitting rich countries rather than poorer (albeit fast developing) ones. India's software and service skills would complement China's manufacturing prowess, while tourism and other people-to-people contact could grow exponentially as trade has between the two neighbours.

However, for this to happen, both sides need to be certain that the other will not harm its core interests. In the case of India, this would mean that the PLA would have to stop ordering Chinese telecoms companies to facilitate any ISI operations in India if it is indeed doing so. By once again allowing Chinese telecoms companies  to access the huge Indian market, the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be hoping that pragmatists prevail over hotheads in Beijing, and that Chinese companies understand the risk they are running of international sanctions if they’re facilitating terrorist operations through providing technical support to Pakistan's ISI, which–in the words last week of India's Home Secretary–has been behind the Mumbai terror attack from start to finish.