China, nuclear shenanigans and face

Wal-Mart provides shelf-space. The goods come from China

Gordon C Chang puts it really well:

The significance of Khan’s assertions is that they undermine the stout Chinese defense of Iran. First, they highlight long-held Iranian ambitions to build an atomic arsenal.

Second, by detailing how the Pakistani government was involved in nuclear transfers to Iran, Khan raises new questions about Beijing’s role. Why? The Pakistani nuclear weapons program is essentially an extension of the Chinese one. China, beginning around 1974, transferred bomb technology to Pakistan. Beijing’s assistance was crucial, extensive, and continuous. As Gary Milhollin of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control has noted, “If you subtract China’s help from Pakistan’s nuclear program, there is no nuclear program.” Moreover, Beijing has remained involved in Islamabad’s nuclear efforts, long after the events Khan so meticulously describes in Sunday’s statements.

The continuation of Chinese involvement in the Pakistani program was revealed when Islamabad ended the Khan ring. Due to Chinese pressure, Pervez Musharraf, then the country’s strongman leader, conducted a hurried probe, forced Khan’s confession, and then immediately pardoned him in 2004 to cut off any disclosures embarrassing to Beijing, which supported the controversial decision to end the inquiry prematurely. Given China’s role in the Pakistani nuclear program and its influence in Islamabad, it was not possible for Khan, with official blessing, to transfer Chinese technology to Iran without Beijing’s knowledge and consent.

Dr. Khan apparently did not mention China’s involvement in the statements disclosed Sunday, but the revelation of official Pakistani links to proliferant activities puts Beijing on the spot nonetheless. As time goes on, we are finding more facts linking China to Iran’s efforts to build the most destructive weaponry in history, including direct transfers of equipment and technology to Iran. Much, if not most, of this information about Chinese involvement remains classified in Washington, however.

Why are we helping China keep its secrets? Perhaps the Obama administration should start disclosing—or start threatening to disclose—what else we know about Beijing’s support for the mullahs. [Fox News]

Sunday Levity: Tell me Khomeini wasn’t a Sikh

Did the Ayatollah qualify for a PIO card?

From Hooman Majd’s excellent The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran:

Some secular Persian intellectuals … reserve a special hatred for Ayatollah Khomeini, not just because he founded the Islamic Republic, but because to them he wasn’t even Persian. Since his paternal grandfather was an India who immigrated to Iran (to the town of Khomein) in the early nineteenth century, some Iranians feel that his “tainted” blood means that a true Persian was not at the helm of the revolution, the most momentous event in their country’s modern history, good or bad. And soon after that revolution, when the time came to change the symbol of Iran on its flag from the lion and sun (which the revolutionaries incorrectly associated with the Shahs), Khomeini himself chose a symbol among those submitted by artists—a stylized “Allah”—which is opponents, at least the more race-conscious ones, continue to insist bears a remarkable similarity to the symbol of the Sikhs.

Some of Khomeini’s enemies see it as proof of a foreign hand in the revolution, perhaps British because of their influence in India, or, worse, a secret conspiracy by an Indian religion to destroy Persia, and today, when Iranian exiles and even some inside Iran want to disparage him, they sometimes refer to him as Hindi (which happened to be his grandfather’s surname but is also Persian for “Indian”). One such Iranian in Tehran, when he found out where I was staying, insisted that I take a short walk in my neighborhood past the Sikh center of Tehran, a large white compound with a garden surrounded, naturally, by high walls. “Look at the logo on the gates of the walls, and then tell me that Khomeini wasn’t a Sikh,” he said. I found that there was indeed a Sikh center, right in my neighborhood, and the emblem on the gates I have to admit, does give one pause while viewing it in the Islamic Republic, where its own emblem is ubiquitous. But after a few moments reflecting on the coincidence of its uncanny similarity to the “Allah” of Iran, I moved on, reflecting instead on my compatriots’ love of and insatiable appetite for conspiracy theories. [Hooman Majd/The Ayatollah Begs to Differ pp168-169]

Khalsa and Iran
The Khalsa and the Islamic Republic

Related Links: With thousand testicles—the Vedic-Avestan divergence; and the ensuing discussion.

The endgame is nigh

General Kayani’s moves suggest that he sees the final lap

President Barack Obama gave his Af-Pak speech at West Point on December 1st, 2009 where he announced his intention “to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.” General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani signaled his policy by the end that month when a suicide bomber attacked a CIA facility at Khost.

Mr Obama’s speech might have triggered the Pakistani military-jihadi complex into implementing its endgame strategy. Pakistani actions over the last three months suggest that it is both attempting to hasten the US exit from Afghanistan and neutralising the other regional actors—Iran and India—which might oppose a pro-Pakistan post-US arrangement in Kabul. From the attack on the CIA at Khost; to the capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Karachi; to the terrorist attack at German Bakery in Pune; to the raid on Kabul city centre; to the rendition of Abdolmalek Rigi to Iran; and most recently, the attack on Indian officials at Kabul, General Kayani & Co have executed their moves masterfully.

Mullah Baradar was not only a ‘moderate’ among the Quetta Shura Taliban, but also actually negotiating with the United States and the Karzai government, against the wishes of the ISI. ‘Capturing’ him not only allowed Pakistan to undermine the US-Afghan political initiative but also allowed General Kayani to be seen as arresting a ‘high-ranking Taliban leader’. This was a brilliant move—Washington had to praise Pakistan even after receiving a kick below the belt. It was, nevertheless, a significant setback for independent US political efforts in Afghanistan. It meant that the United States relies a little more on Pakistan to act as the, well, interlocutor with the Taliban.

Abdolmalek Rigi, the leader of a Iranian-Baloch-Sunni terrorist organisation called Jundallah, was almost certainly a CIA asset. The Iranian government has accused him of both being a US agent and of having links with al-Qaeda. Both these charges are perhaps true—contradictory as they might seem. The ISI allowed him to operate from Pakistani territory, for the CIA, against Iran for several years. But after India, Iran and Russia—whose interests were ignored at the London conference on the future of Afghanistan—started coming together, the ISI played the CIA out and handed him over to Iran. The United States can’t complain too loudly, after all, like Mullah Baradar, hasn’t Pakistan just acted against a terrorist with links to al-Qaeda?

(There was the little issue of how to hand Rigi over without setting a precedent that New Delhi might exploit—so an elaborate drama became necessary)

With Iran it was mollification. With India it is aggression. The attack on Indian officials in Kabul is intended to scare India out of Afghanistan. Even as the Pakistani military-jihadi complex seeks to hasten US military withdrawal, it is working towards installing its proxies into the corridors of power in Kabul. It will allow President Karzai to remain in office just long enough to provide a political cover for the United States—but before long, a pro-Pakistan regime will take his place.

Is General Kayani overplaying his hand? Maybe. But bringing the situation to a head before 2011 works to Pakistan’s advantage.

Will the United States watch silently as the Pakistani military-jihadi complex destroys its assets and—brazenly, if cleverly—frustrates its designs? Will the vaunted COIN campaign work fast enough? Will the United States intensify its covert war inside Pakistan to counter General Kayani’s moves? Let’s see.

Realism in Riyadh

Getting Saudi Arabia to take responsibility for Pakistan’s actions is in India’s interests

At a recent conference in Abu Dhabi on emerging powers and the Middle East, one of the arguments I made was that a stable Afghanistan requires a balance of two distinct sets of powers—India-Iran-Russia on the one hand, and China-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia on the other. Even so, I suggested, Saudi Arabia (and the Gulf Arab states) would be better off not wholly aligning themselves to China, because they would be better off by balancing the two Asian powers than hitching themselves to any one of them.

The Saudi Arabian government has unparalleled clout in Pakistan—not only does it have influence over almost all of Pakistan’s power centres, it is also popular with the masses. Riyadh has managed Pakistan masterfully. While there is a Saudi-Pakistan nuclear nexus (and a Saudi-China ballistic missile nexus) it is focused on Riyadh’s perception of the strategic threat from Iran. And while the Saudi Arabian regime continues to promote its version of Islam across the world—including India—it also recognises that global jihadi terrorism undermines its own interests.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, like any other state, is deeply interested in its own survival and security—just as it uses Islam to promote its interests, it has not shied away from putting down any threats to its own survival. It allowed French special forces to storm the Grand Mosque at Mecca in 1979, it allowed US forces to operate from its soil against Iraq and it has not allowed the Palestinian struggle to come in the way of a modus vivendi with Israel.

Given all this, it makes good sense for India to engage Saudi Arabia on managing the security threat emanating from Pakistan. Shashi Tharoor is right when he said “Saudi Arabia of course has a long and close relationship with Pakistan but that makes Saudi Arabia all the more valuable interlocutor for us” (via Smita Prakash/ANI). Introducing the special issue of Pragati in February 2009, we had argued that the dynamics of Pakistan’s relationship with United States, China and Saudi Arabia are changing and that “there is an opportunity for India to engage in bold, imaginative diplomacy to galvanise the international community to radically change Pakistan’s course.”

Recognising Saudi Arabia as an interlocutor on Pakistan brings Riyadh’s role above the table. India must compel the Kingdom to take responsibility for the actions of its wards in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Even if religious solidarity, personal relationships and the nuclear nexus are factors that shape Saudi policy, Riyadh is unlikely to be insensitive to its overall geopolitical interests. In January 2006, The Acorn wrote that “Saudi Arabia is taking baby steps towards a different relationship with India. Though that may be too gradual for India’s liking, it is nevertheless a welcome development.” So too are the milestones scheduled to be highlighted during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s trip this week. [Related Links: Jyoti Malhotra in Business Standard, article & editorial in Arab News]

Just as the Saudis are better off hedging India and China, it is in India’s interests to balance the powers on either side of the Persian Gulf.

Tailpiece: Back at the conference, I challenged the conventional wisdom that it is India-Pakistan tensions (oversimplified to “Kashmir”) that stand in the way of Afghanistan’s stability. Rather, I argued, it is the US-Iran relationship that forces the United States to rely on a state that has opposing interests (Pakistan) and repulse a state that shares them (Iran). Lubricating a US-Iran rapprochement is in India’s interests.

Riyadh passes the buck, and wins a round

Understanding the Saudi Arabian position on sanctions on Iran

Just what did the Saudi foreign minister mean when he refused to back international sanctions on Iran “because we are closer to the threat (and therefore an ) need immediate resolution rather than gradual resolution”? Riyadh’s position is surprising not least because, as it transpired at a recent conference in Abu Dhabi, organised by NYU’s Centre for International Co-operation and Brookings, the Gulf states stridently called upon China to recognise which side of the Persian Gulf it had more at stake and stop shielding Iran from UN sanctions. [Richard Gowan has more about the conference over at Global Dashboard]

And more importantly, just what does is the “immediate resolution” that Prince Saud al-Faisal called for? As Dan Drezner suggests (linkthanks Pragmatic Euphony) these could only mean a deniable nod for preventive air strikes by Israel or a signal that Riyadh will activate its contingency plan for its own nuclear deterrent.

So what could this be about? The answer, in all likelihood, is that Saudi Arabia just passed the buck.

In the event this is about encouraging the United States and Israel to exercise the military option against Iran’s nuclear facilities, Saudi Arabia benefits to the extent its regional rival suffers while it is the United States and Israel that will attract Muslim anger across the world.

If, on the other hand, the United States & Israel—wisely—do not use force against Iran, Riyadh can blame Washington for being unable to prevent Iran’s nuclearisation and exercise its options to procure its own deterrent. Iran is unlikely to attack Saudi Arabia with nuclear weapons anyway, leaving Israel as the net loser. Like India, Israel will have to contend with “jihad under the protection of a nuclear umbrella”.

Either way, Saudi Arabia wins.

In contrast, if it indeed had backed sanctions against Iran, it would have to do its share of the dirty work of having to persuade China to stop protecting Iran. Beijing would extract a price for its acquiescence equal to, if not exceeding the loss to its commercial interests in Iran, which Riyadh would have to substantially bear. In the end, all these costs would come to nought, because sanctions are unlikely to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. In the unlikely event that sanctions do work, the outcome would effectively be one where Saudi Arabia would have paid for Israel’s security. It’s not hard to see why the Saudis didn’t back sanctions.

What happens next? It’s unlikely that Riyadh will be satisfied with a US nuclear umbrella even if it were offered by Washington. If Iran proceeds with its plans to build a nuclear weapon, we will discover who Pakistan was making all that fissile material for.

My op-ed in the Indian Express: On going to Afghanistan

In today’s Indian Express, Rohit Pradhan and I renew our call for India to send troops to stabilise Afghanistan. It summarises the arguments we have made in on INI and Pragati and addresses the most popular objections to the proposal.

Excerpts:

Over time, a co-operative arrangement between India, Iran and Russia could form the bedrock of a regional solution to a stable Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, the very mention of an overseas military deployment runs into a dogmatic wall of domestic opposition. First, the bad experience of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka in the late 1980s is brought up as if that episode should cause India to for forever foreswear the use of its armed forces beyond its borders. Apart from the significant differences in context, the Indian army has accumulated two decades of counter-insurgency experience in Kashmir and elsewhere that makes it a qualitatively different force from what it was before the Sri Lankan intervention.

Second, it is argued that sending Indian troops to Afghanistan will be seen as anti-Muslim. On the contrary, it is ordinary Afghans, a vast majority of who are Muslims, who will be the biggest beneficiaries of an Indian intervention. How can supporting the legitimate government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan be anti-Muslim? The idea that fighting the Taliban is a war against Islam is a misleading canard that only benefits the likes of Osama bin Laden and the Pakistani military-jihadi complex.

Third, it is not true that the Afghan people are uniformly hostile to foreign troops as it is frequently made out to be. Western troops were generally welcomed as deliverers when they expelled the Taliban regime in 2002, and recent surveys indicate that a majority of the Afghan people still support their presence. The notion that Afghans resent all foreigners is borne out of colonial romance and modern ignorance — ground realities suggest that Afghans seek security and good governance, like anyone else in their situation.

But can India afford to station troops abroad? Some critics of the idea estimate that it costs Rs 1 crore a day to maintain a brigade in Afghanistan. Let’s put this in context: last year, the defence ministry returned Rs 7000 crore of its budget due to its inability to spend it—enough for 19 brigades. We cite this to suggest that financial considerations do not rule out the option of foreign troop deployments.

India must continue providing long-term development assistance. India must ramp up training Afghan security forces. But successes from these will be ephemeral unless India deploys combat troops to Afghanistan. As the nuclear deal has shown, the Indian electorate does reward those willing to take risks in pursuit of the national interest. As US troops mobilise for a decisive year in Afghanistan, India has a unique opportunity to shape the future of the Hindu Kush and, in doing so, open the doors to peace in the subcontinent. [IE]

Related Links: Sushant K Singh (August 2008); Rohit Pradhan & I (January 2010) make the case for India to step up its military presence in Afghanistan & an online panel discussion (January 2010) on Offstumped.

Why India should send troops to Afghanistan

It’s about strategy, not popularity

There is often a negative correlation between popularity and good policy: what is popular is often not good policy, and vice versa. This is especially true when it comes to foreign policy. For instance, the Times of India thinks nothing of publishing an op-ed article titled “Call Pakistan’s bluff”, in other words, “Let’s attack them and see if they respond with nuclear weapons”. It seems unimportant to consider the question of “what if they press the red button first”.

Since no political leader will accept such a policy recommendation, perhaps writing and publishing it just serves the purpose of playing to the galleries. (Forget newspaper columns, even the FICCI task force report on national security & terrorism identifies surgical strikes, all-out war and ‘leveraging the water issue’ as among the hard options for the Indian government’s consideration.)

Now there is every reason for India to invest in capabilities to carry out a number of military missions across its borders, including for conventional warfare under the shadow of nuclear weapons. But any recommendation that India ought to carry out a direct military retaliation in response to a future terrorist attack is not only so irresponsible as to make it a non-serious option. It is also strategically unsound, because nothing serves the interests of the Pakistani military-jihadi complex more than an old-fashioned war with India.

Despite all its shortcomings, the “let’s strike Pakistan” option is popular, at least among some pundits, in college canteens and in most middle-class drawing rooms. But you have only to mention the idea of sending Indian troops to Afghanistan that suddenly you end up on the other end of the popularity-policy correlation. You begin to hear “What if the Pakistanis retaliate with more terror attacks?”, “What will the ‘Muslim world’ say?”, “It won’t be popular with Indian Muslims”, “Remember IPKF!” and “Why should we become footsoldiers of the Americans?”. [Some of which were reflected in the very interesting open discussion thread on this blog last week]

The proposal to deploy Indian troops in Afghanistan is based on the simple logic of force fungibility. That since it is not feasible for Indian troops to directly attack Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex, India should ensure that US troops do so. Since it is in India’s interests that as many US soldiers are committed to operations ‘along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border’, it is sensible to relieve US troops of duties in areas where they are not actually fighting the taliban—especially in Western and Northern Afghanistan.

India has the capacity to equip, station and supply several divisions of its troops in Afghanistan. Many Afghan political leaders—from President Hamid Karzai to the Northern Alliance—are highly likely to welcome India’s decision. Neighbouring countries, including Iran and Tajikistan, will support an Indian military presence in Afghanistan provided their interests are taken into account. And not least, the United States will welcome it—for even if Indian troops do not eventually deploy, the very possibility of their deployment will change Washington’s bargaining terms with Kayani & Co.

What if the Pakistanis retaliate with more terror attacks? This is the most serious question. It is highly likely that the military-jihadi complex will escalate the proxy war against India. While the impact of this escalation is less significant compared to what the Pakistani army might do in response to a ‘surgical strike’ it is must be accepted as the cost of the option. The cost can be mitigated—but not eliminated totally—through better intelligence co-operation with the United States and intensification of the internal security mechanisms put in place after 26/11.

But let’s not forget that the Pakistani military-jihadi complex might escalate the proxy war against India even if India doesn’t send troops to Afghanistan. If you think otherwise, you haven’t been reading the news since the 1980s. (You should make up for it by reading Praveen Swami’s book).

In fact, ensuring that the United States stays committed to the objectives outlined by President Barack Obama is ultimately in India’s interests—for the US cannot succeed in that mission unless it transforms the Pakistani state. Now, it can be argued that the US will pack up and leave if the situation gets too hairy, but if India doesn’t do anything to keep the US focused, such arguments are gratuitous, sanctimonious and ultimately, self-fulfilling.

The real options are to do nothing, and allow the United States and Pakistan to work out a solution and hope that the outcome of that bargaining will secure India’s interests. Or to eschew both pusillanimity and grandstanding and indirectly crush the Pakistani military-jihadi complex. As for popularity, it’s a question of timing. If the Indian government had announced that “we will go to Afghanistan” on November 28th, 2008, few would have raised their hands in objection. For that reason, it is imperative that India’s military planners develop and have on the ready a comprehensive, well-thought out policy option involving the stationing of Indian troops in Afghanistan.

Brzezinski & Obama’s bipolar disorder

The world doesn’t become bipolar by wishing that it is

Zbigniew Brzezinski, like many others who came of age during the Cold War, believes that a bipolar world is much easier for the United States to ‘manage’ than a multipolar one. That might even be correct. The problem is—the world is not bipolar—even in the face of China’s emergence as one of the world’s great powers. Instead of dealing with the world as it is—an eminently realist enterprise—Mr Brzezinski recommends dealing with the world as he believes it ought to be. Earlier this year, after commemorative event in Beijing, he called for an ‘informal’ G-2 comprising of the United States and China.

It is one thing to argue that the US-China bilateral relationship is one which is most important to the world, but quite another to call it “G-2” suggesting it would engage, in some form, in the task of global governance. Mr Brzezinski misses the point that an important reason why the US-China relationship is seen as important is because it is a problem. It is important to the rest of us in the same way as Pakistan is for international security. So just like how you wouldn’t entrust Pakistan with the job of ensuring international security, you wouldn’t entrust the United States and China with the task of global governance.

Unfortunately, this G-2 mindset is not merely Mr Brzezinski’s hobby horse, but is influencing the Obama administration’s foreign policy. “US-China consultations regarding India and Pakistan,” the former argued, “can perhaps lead to more effective even if informal mediation, for a conflict between the two would be a regional calamity.” Sure enough, the joint statement at the end of President Obama’s summit with President Hu Jintao included a words that said that “the two sides welcomed efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South Asia.” Clearly, there is an attempt by the two countries to get China involved in India’s relations with Pakistan, as well as in Afghanistan.

It shows that President Obama thinks or wishes that the world is bipolar. But it is not. New Delhi is unlikely to be too impressed with such gratuitous references—in fact, it should react with deliberate irrationalism. Diplomatic games apart, the idea of Chinese involvement in India-Pakistan relations is dead on arrival. Mr Obama perhaps forgot what happened after he floated the idea of appointing a special envoy for Kashmir, during his election campaign.

In any case, the simultaneous appearance of pro-China governments in Japan, Taiwan and Australia might convey an impression that these countries will play second fiddle to Beijing. Yet this can change at their next elections, or even earlier. Also Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia are unlikely to join the US or China camps.

Unfortunately for the United States, a combination of national indebtedness and a declinist narrative have found purchase in Barack Obama’s worldview. The Brzezinski bipolar disorder isn’t making the world any more bipolar. If President Obama continues on the path he has taken during his China trip, the world will become, paradoxically, more multipolar. That’s because the relative power of the United States will decline, China’s will improve and the two will be in the same league as handful of others.

Iran gets hit by cross-border terrorism

Complicated, the matter is

One more country has joined the queue. “We have heard,” said Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Iran’s president, “that certain officials in Pakistan cooperate with main agents of these terrorist attacks in the eastern part of the country.”

The Iranian government summoned the Pakistani charge d’affaires in Teheran and protested against the use of Pakistani territory to launch the terrorist attack against Iran. The co-ordinated double strike at a Shia-Sunni reconciliation meeting in Sistan-Baluchestan province killed several tribal leaders and a number of senior military officers of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Jundollah, a Pakistan-based Baloch-Sunni rebel group, claimed responsibility. Mr Ahmedinejad accused the Pakistani military establishment of supporting Jundollah. Ali Larijani, an influential Iranian leader and speaker of parliament, went further and called the attack “an outcome of US measures”.

Both Pakistan and the United States have denied responsibility for the attack. There is very little in the public domain about Jundallah. It does not help that there is another Pakistani Sunni outfit—possibly a joint venture of Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen—by the name and which has figured in attacks within Pakistan. Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett write that “many experienced observers of US intelligence activities in Central and South Asia believe that US intelligence agencies have their own ties to Jundallah.”

There are several explanations for the attack: first, it was an attack by the Balochi-Sunni extremists against the Persian-Shia state. Second, it was an attack on the Republican Guard by Iranians opposed to the Khamenei-Ahmedinejad faction. Third, the Pakistan Taliban (TTP) instigated it to destabilise Pakistan’s relations with Iran by precipitating a crisis. Fourth, it was carried out at the behest of the United States to keep Iran under pressure. Fifth, it could well have been instigated by Iran’s Middle Eastern Arab-Sunni rivals—with the Pakistani military establishment acting as the midwife. Many of these explanations overlap.

In any event, there will be new pressure on the Pakistani government to act against anti-Iranian groups in Pakistan. While there is likely to be less public outrage in Pakistan against Iranian accusations, a crackdown against anti-Iranian groups—to the extent that the Pakistani government launches one—will risk a sectarian backlash. The likes of the Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other Sunni jihadi groups would target Pakistan’s Shia minority, not least in Sindh and Gilgit-Baltistan. Unless Iran is satisfied with mere promises of action, Iranian angle will add to Pakistan’s domestic woes.

It also complicates the relationship between the United States and Iran. Teheran will find itself in a dilemma: to counter what some see as a US campaign to destabilise the Iranian regime or to co-operate with US forces to tackle the Sunni jihadi threat emanating from Pakistan.

Rejecting Rebiya Kadeer’s visa application

…was a prudent and astute move by New Delhi

Rebiya Kadeer is indeed a remarkable woman. In recent weeks—not least due to China’s propaganda campaign to demonise her—she has emerged internationally as the best known symbol of Uighur separatism in China’s Xinjiang province. She has unequivocally advocated a non-violent political struggle, claimed that she is inspired by the Dalai Lama’s principles and is almost surely sustained by US government funding.

The Calcutta Telegraph reports that India has denied her a visa (linkthanks Pragmatic Euphony via twitter). That is both prudent and astute. Whatever the merits of the Uighur cause, it is not in India’s interests to further escalate the level of direct antagonism with Beijing. Doing so would almost certainly draw attention away from the real faultline: between China and Turkic-Islamic world.

The ethnic riots in Xinjiang have caused a major rift in China’s relations with Turkey, after Receb Tayyib Erdogan, the popular Turkish prime minister, accused Beijing of conducting genocide and suggesting that it be taken up at the UN Security Council. China-Turkey bilateral relations are at a low. The Central Asian republics are also likely to be re-examining their own positions with respect to relations with China.

In contrast, the ‘Muslim world’ of popular imagination—the one that President Barack Obama spoke to in Cairo—has been conspicuously silent. Apart from a threat by a North African ‘affiliate’ of al-Qaeda, even the tapeworm and his traveling videographic studio has been silent about Chinese atrocities on Xinjiang’s Muslims. It is understandable that the regimes of such representatives of the ‘Muslim world’ as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran are beholden to Beijing but even the civil society in these countries has given China the pass. But if the Uighur unrest continues, it is likely that Islamabad, Riyadh and Tehran will be put in an uncomfortable but well-deserved position. [Update: Rohit Pradhan notes that “Death to China” chants were heard at Rafsanjani’s rally in Tehran]

India should let the issue play out among the direct and self-appointed stakeholders. Intervening in a way that China sees as unfriendly will only draw the heat away and give the megaphone-wielding, concern-expressing capitals of the ‘Muslim world’ an undeserved reprieve.

The issue of an Indian visa for Ms Kadeer is only of symbolic importance. If she wants to meet the Dalai Lama, she could catch up with him on his travels abroad.