Does India need Pakistan to deter China?

Does India need Pakistan to deter China?

Tensions between India and Pakistan seem to be easing this week, with both countries now pledging to cooperate on terrorism and intelligence-sharing after last November’s attacks in Mumbai. It’s a promising development which should allow Pakistan to turn its full attention to the all-out military campaign it’s conducting in the lawless Swat valley. But I suspect there’s more to the agreement than first meets the eye. 

These recent overtures probably have less to do with Pakistan than another nuclear-armed rival: China. It’s no secret that New Delhi and Beijing have been locked in a border dispute since the two countries fought a war in 1962. But the Chinese have been heavily developing their side of the so-called “Line of Actual Control,” and the Indians have had to play some serious catch-up:

Chinese infrastructure building along the Line of Actual Control has forced India to hasten its own development process along the borders to keep pace with the neighbour’s military might. […]

‘China has been building a lot of infrastructure — rails, airports, roads. We are also doing the same thing,’ defence minister A K Antony said after inaugurating the two-day unified commanders-in-chief conference here.”

India has every right to be worried. One new report suggests China may be trying to extend its reach into Kashmir, and possibly even Pakistan. Another hints at the possibility of an imminent Chinese invasion of India:

‘China will launch an attack on India before 2012. There are multiple reasons for a desperate Beijing to teach India the final lesson, thereby ensuring Chinese supremacy in Asia in this century,’ Bharat Verma, Editor of the Indian Defence Review, has said.”

Given the urgency of the situation, it’s possible that India is trying to mend its stormy relationship with Pakistanin order to prevent a Sino-Pakistani partnership, or lay the foundation of a containment policy towards to China from dominating Asia. (See Minxin Pei’s recent article in FP for more on this point.)

Naturally, India might simply be pursuing cooperation with Pakistan for its own sake. But the move makes good strategic sense.

Update: To clarify, India and Pakistan agreed to cooperate only on terrorism, claiming that these discussions won’t lead to any broader peace deal. Maybe.