Kaalkut. Chapter 24.

16 April 2020

Beijing.

Sachin Kumar was happy that he had managed to take a day off to see the city and take some pictures after a long time. He had bought his Canon mirrorless DSLR few months back after he was posted to the Indian consulate in Beijing. After settling in his work routine, he had made it a point to go out in the city to take pictures of tourist sights, buildings and people whenever he had time for it. Only thing he couldn’t do was bird photography which pinched him a bit as he had bought a very expensive long zoom lens for it. He had spent 2 months in Beijing looking for birds to photograph in the city and it’s outskirts without any success. It was only after a local employee had told him about the Chinese habit of capturing and eating local birds in various kinds of soups that he had stopped carrying his heavy zoom lens while on his photographic expeditions.

He was on yet another city discovery walk by himself  trying to get some good pictures of  Beijing National Stadium after dark. Someone in the embassy had marked out a good spot on his paper map of the city from where he could get the kind of shots he wanted. He had been in the same spot for about an hour taking pictures and waiting for light to change for different types of shots. There were 3-4 people like him doing the same things with their own cameras and phone cameras. 

He was fiddling through the camera setting trying to set up the best settings for his next shot when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned to see a Chinese man dressed in civilian clothes he had never seen before. He had been approached by many tourists in the past who’d ask him to take their photos with their cameras. So he assumed him to be yet another such tourist who liked a regular picture better than selfies. “Yes hello, how can I help?” he  spoke in his broken Mandarin.

The Chinese man replied in fairly good English, “What are you taking pictures of?”

Kumar showed him the screen of his camera, “This Stadium building! Quite interesting, right?”

“Any reason why you are taking so detailed pictures of the building?” came yet another question.

“I like taking pictures of buildings among a few other things and this one is quite beautiful.” Kumar replied.

Chinese man stared at the stadium in background and then at the screen, avoiding any kind of eye contact even while talking. “Do you know that a City Parade will start from there next week?”

Kumar just shook his head, “No idea about that.”

“And what do you do for work? Do you have any id?” Came another question.

Kumar was starting to get irritated, but asked a question of his own, “May I know who you are and why are you asking me this?”

The Chinese man  took out his ID card with the logo of Beijing Police displayed prominently and the rest of text in Chinese, “Superintendent Liu Wenqing, Beijing Police.”

Kumar was slightly concerned but took out his own wallet to show his ID,“I am Sachin Kumar,  Second Secretary at Indian embassy in Beijing.”

Wenqing took the ID from Kumar’s hand and took a long hard look at it. He then lit a cigarette and spoke casually, “Gather your things Mr Sachin Kumar.  You’re coming with me.”

Kumar stood his ground, “May I know what I am being charged with? I have diplomatic immunity and I was not doing anything illegal.”

Wneqing looked at him in the eyes for the first time since the conversation had started, “I didn’t make a request, but ordered you. Come quickly.”

Kumar shook his head, “If you don’t like me taking pictures of the stadium, I’ll leave the place immediately. But you can’t arrest a diplomat, that too just for taking pictures that hundreds of tourists do everyday.”

Wenqing took a deep drag of his cigarette and made a signal. Three men in plain clothes who had walked in slowly from a distance suddenly rushed in. Two of them forcibly handcuffed him and the third searched him. They took out his wallet, phone, keys and sunglasses and put it in a bag. Kumar shouted in surprise and anger, but two swift punches to the ribs left him breathless and writhing in pain.  He was dragged to an unmarked car and forced to get in. Two of his captors took seats on his both sides and other two sat in front.  

Once in the car, Kumar tried to talk again, “Let me make a call to my office.” Wenqing reached back from passenger seat in front and blew cigarette smoke in his direction. “Go ahead Mr Kumar, call whoever you can.”

Kumar received a punch to his side of his head leaving him dizzy and shocked. For the first time in his life, he feared for his personal safety. But there was nothing much he could do in the car. 

19 April, Beijing

China United Television & Information Agency 

Two Indian spies arrested in Beijing  

Amidst growing tensions between China and India, Chinese security agencies have arrested  two senior Indian diplomats on charges of spying and espionage. Two men from Indian embassy, a Second Secretary named Sachin Kumar and Air Attache Group Captain Gautam Pant were arrested by officers of internal security with some incriminating material which included maps, memory sticks, cameras, encrypted phones and some sensitive documents.

One of the spies was arrested as he was doing reconnaissance in front of Beijing National Stadium which is going to host a CCP Rally in a few days. Both men have been handed over to Ministry of State Security and taken to an yet undisclosed location for interrogation. A spokesman from Chinese Foreign Ministry condemned the illegal activities of Indian embassy and declared the two men persona non grata. It’s expected that they will be extradited from China within 3 days. 

With these arrests, China has busted a massive spying and propaganda ring spearheaded by these two men in China for infamous Indian spy agency Research & Analysis Wing. More details are expected to come out once the data in memory sticks and phones confiscated from the two spies is analysed.

After the news about the arrest of two spies was released, a crowd of 350-400 Chinese citizens laid siege to Indian embassy in Beijing forcing it’s closure. Riot control police was deployed after the crowd turned unruly and damaged some embassy property. Some people have reportedly been hurt and hospitalised in the chaos.   

Indian consulate in Shanghai has ceased all official functions this morning. Chinese staff of the office was told to stay home pending further instructions. It’s still unclear when they will resume normal duties.

A spokesman from Indian External Affairs Ministry declined all charges about the spying activities of the two embassy staffers and criticised their arrest and subsequent actions. He demanded immediate release of the two officers and more protection for Indian embassy and consulate.   

Same Day, New Delhi, India

“This is simply not unacceptable at all, sir. Chinese have gone too far with this.” External Affairs Minister Piyush Vajpayee was uncharacteristically angry. 

Defence Minister Maadhvan Kamat  was no less riled up,  “They’ve arrested our diplomats on made up charges and are most likely torturing them for a fake confession. These two are not even spies for real! What exactly do these morons want to prove or do by arresting diplomats on made up charges?”

“You both are preaching to the choir. Let’s decide what should be our plan of action for now. We can’t jeopardise safety of our people in China by any rash action.” PM Angad Bisht tried to cool down tempers.

“An eye for an eye, that should be a good start.” DM replied after having a sip of tea.

“An eye for an eye” PM said  contemplatively, “But how? Arrest some of their people here and send a murderous mob to 50-D, Chaanakyapuri? (Address of Chinese Embassy in New Delhi). 

By the way, what did Jil Ron say?” PM asked, referring to the demarche issued to Chinese ambassador earlier in the day.

”Nothing of substance really, just the usual platitudes he is so good at.” DM replied and shook his head in frustration.

There was a knock on the door of the meeting room and personal assistant of NSA Ajay Dhumal furtively walked in but stayed near the door. Normal protocol stated that no such interruption was to be allowed except in a truly exceptional case. Dhumal got up to talk to him and sent him outside after hearing his message. “Seems like some of our Chinese friends from 50-D are making a run for it. Their plane has made a request at the airport for flight clearance and fuel.” 

EAM seemed unfazed, “Do we know who is going to be on the plane yet?”

NSA Dhumal nodded, “Some of them, yes. Three Secretaries, one Attache, two employees  from their visa section and some family members. Atleast two of them are confirmed spies. What do we do? Shall we let them leave?”

PM Bisht shook his head, “Of course not. Tell the airport to refuse permission for take off and fuel supply.”  

DM and NSA exchanged a look which led to PM remarking, “And you have already done that. Good! We also had some input about some Indian citizens with links to them. Are we doing anything about them?”

DM Dhumal nodded, “I’ve already set the ball rolling. CBI is submitting chargesheets against National News editor board and some comrades from Socialist Party Of India. We already have more than enough dirt on them to keep them in courts and hopefully jails for atleast a few years. After their statements in support of China in last few days, there is no need for us to play nice.

As far as some other moles are concerned, we’ve increased surveillance on some and started to whack a few. We don’t want Chinese to realise that we’ve penetrated their spy ring so soon.”

“Good, do as you see fit. What can we do to get our people back safe and sound?” PM asked.

EAM Vajpayee seemed to have calmed down a bit and answered, “As long as we have their people here, they can’t do much to our people there. I highly recommend that we tighten the screws here. Once they see that we are going to match and perhaps even overmatch their moves, they’re sure to back down. None of these mandarins have the stomach for real action when their own butts are in line of fire.”

NSA Dhumal warned in his customary manner, “Although I approve what EAM said, I must remind everyone present in the room that there is a real danger of this progressing far beyond an ugly diplomatic spat. Whatever we are doing are calculated risks but there is no reliable way to be sure.”

 PM nodded, “That’s true, but we need to draw a line in sand and start to take some visible actions. Their bullying has gone on for far too long. They are just testing our resolve with childish moves like these. If we don’t reply back in the same tone, I’m sure that they’ll do something worse next time. 

Apart from that, what’s our status with Tibetans?”

“We are taking it slow after the spy bust in January. The main mole arrested was just an aide to someone close to PM Kalsang, but it’ll not be a stretch to assume that Chinese now know what we are doing with respect to recognition to Tibet as an independent country. I also talked with Major General Vats last week and he assured that the 7 battalions of new Tibetan Army will be fully trained and equipped by end of June. We can start moving them in to Tibet after that or declare their existence, depending upon the conditions then.”   

“That’s good, let’s not waste too much time doing that. We need to finalise date of declaration about Tibet after the troop movement starts.”

“We also need to make a decision about Maldives. Shall we issue another package or keep it as it is  for a while?” EAM said while displaying a copy of the letter sent by Maldivian finance minister.

The letter thanked India for the USD 110 million soft loan and requested assistance with more projects in coming months.

Maldivian economy was reeling due to collapse of tourism industry caused by Corona virus. Chinese saw it as a perfect opportunity to put more pressure on them and demanded payments for their projects and loans in the small island nation. China had financed infrastructure projects worth USD 1.5 billion as part of its Belt & Road Initiative during the reign of Maldivian President Abdul Gayoom. 

He had sought to increase ties with China by snubbing India and favouring Chinese companies in all major projects in the country. One major such project was USD 500 million island airport project which was awarded to a Chinese company even when it had lost out to an Indian competitor in the tendering process.  His reign was marked by numerous allegations of money laundering, corruption and illegal sale of Maldivian islands and other assets to foreign interests. During the last year of his term, he had put all major opposition politicians in jail and sought to postpone the elections via an amendment to the constitution.   

Indian regime saw this move as a coup by China who wanted their puppet to stay in power indefinitely.  After a request for help by the main opposition leader and former president Ibrahim Wahid, India intervened by exercising it’s long standing diplomatic and intelligence influence. NSA Dhumal had led the mission personally and had managed to get the political prisoners released from custody and attempt to modify the constitution were defeated in the national assembly. There were unconfirmed reports of Chinese trying to land a battalion worth of troops in Male in support of Gayoom,, but no information was released about what had actually happened to their transporters carrying the troops.  All three governments had dismissed the reports calling them rumours. 

Wahid won national elections in early 2019 with near 60% of votes and took oath as President. Gayoom was caught by Maldivian coast guard as he was allegedly trying to escape in his yacht and tried in court for multiple charges of corruption and illegal use of power. The court found him guilty of most charges and he was imprisoned for 17 years and permanently disbarred from fighting elections.

Since then Indian and Maldivian governments had worked closely to repair the relations between two countries. Maldivian government investigated some projects started by China during Gayoom’s trial and found out that quite a few were awarded without following due process and benefitted members of Gayoom’s regime and Chinese companies instead of Maldivian economy. Many such projects were renegotiated or were put on hold if no middle ground could be found with Chinese. 

As expected, Chinese had not taken this lying down. They had slowed down work on their projects and started putting diplomatic and economic pressure on Wahid regime. Maldives’ economy was in a bad shape after the spread of Corona virus and resulting collapse of tourism industry and they were finding it difficult to pay back the due loans to China.

Indian government had seen this as an opportunity to increase it’s goodwill and had extended a credit line worth USD 300 million along with a currency swap agreement of worth USD 250 million. But Maldives needed still more assistance for a new saline water treatment plant and a 100 MW solar power plant which were held up after the Chinese contractors working on them were disqualified for having used corrupt means to grab the projects and using sub-standard equipment. The latest letter requested Indian assistance with the delayed yet vital projects.

DM Kamat scoffed, “Isn’t this solar project the same one for which an Indian company had bid the lowest, yet was elbowed out?”

EAM nodded, “Yes, it was done by Gayoom. This was one of the charges he was convicted of.” Then addressing the room he asked, “I think we should say yes. They’ve agreed to award the project to the same Indian companies if we offer favourable loan terms.”

DM read through the Maldivian letter, “Aren’t we extending ourselves a bit too thin here? We’ve already spent around USD 900 million on Maldives, 790 on Sri Lanka and 440 on Mauritius  just in the past one year. And there’s no guarantee that we will recover our investments, more so if Chinese manage to install their puppets in these countries yet again.

We still haven’t managed to solve the Nepal issue yet. Bangladeshis have asked for more money too, Afghanistan definitely needs stuff worth 600-800 million, Same with Myanmar and we may have a Bhutan problem soon. We can’t be seen throwing money to anyone who asks for it.”

EAM mentally rolled his eyes but answered patiently, “Not disputing what you said, but it’s not like we are just giving them free money all at once. All these aid packages, loans and lines of credit are spread over months and years. Most of them are investments in industrial projects, infrastructure and high visibility and goodwill projects such as colleges and hospitals. The goodwill that we earn from this more than just pays for the monetary investment we make.

Chinese are spending many times this number in a single country and are on verge of making a number of them their vassals. We can’t be counting paisas when our allies turn to Chinese sphere of influence enmasse.”

DM conceded, “You’re right. All I was asking is If we can afford it.”

“I will get Deshmukh ji (Finance Minister) to look in to it and see what we can do for Maldives. I don’t think it should be a problem.” PM spoke and changed topic, “Any update about Nepal?”

NSA Dhumal shook his head, “Nothing really important that needs to be discussed right now apart from a few political things. The alliance between NPS and NCP has started to show friction as predicted. A group of NPS legislators have threatened to withdraw support for the alliance or resign, but their numbers are not that strong yet to bring the NPS-NCP alliance in to minority. ”

EAM showed a pie chart of seat share in the Nepalese assembly on the screen, “The rebel faction still needs 12-14 more legislators to pose any serious threat to the alliance. ”

“I don’t really disagree with you, but you are missing the fact that most of NCP is Chinese proxy. They are playing it slow and not making the same mistakes they did in Maldives among a few other countries. But I can bet that they are just biding their time and will cause more problems for us very soon.” NSA raised his objections. 

“That’s also very true.” PM observed. “So what can we do about this?”

“We have adopted a wait and watch attitude but keeping our options open.  We’ll not do anything in the short term if the Uttam Maharaj plays nice after our latest approach. But if and when he does, we will get him kicked out without letting the rest of Chinese stooges any close to the power centre. “ NSA spoke quickly, “And if you’ll have my opinion based on many intelligence reports, it’s just a matter of when, not if. Chinese will definitely do something to needle us through their Nepalese proxies. We just don’t know what and when.”

PM thought about it for a moment and looked at DM, who nodded his approval to what NSA had said. “You have my permission. Keep our options and eyes open in Nepal, but don’t take any rash decisions.”

“We also need to talk about Saudis.They have kept us busy since last few days.”  EAM spoke hurriedly and shared a document with the room.

For a long time, Pakistan sold itself as the mercenary to Arab countries, acting as the self-proclaimed guardian of ummah and the sole Islamic nuclear power. A lot of Arab nations employed Pakistani in their defence forces and funded Pakistani military in return.One of the Pakistani dictators, Gen Zia-ul-Haq commanded a Jordaninan army division in a bloody fight against Palestinians in 1970 leading to deaths of more than twenty five thousand Palestinians, most of them unarmed civilians. Some people had noticed that Jordaninans and Pakistanis had killed a lot more Palestinians in 10 days than what Israelis had in 20 years. Pakistani pilots had also flown sorties in Arab campaigns against Israel. 

Many analysts believed that Pakistani nuclear program was financed by Saudis in return for transfer of some nuclear tipped missiles. Saudi investment in Pakistan was quite a more diverse affair than just financial and military. Ever since Pakistan had adopted a full fledged Islamist ideology under Zia-ul-Haq, Saudis had pumped in billions of dollars promoting their brand of strict Wahabi Islam by way of direct financing, construction of mosques, seminaries and propping up islamist mullahs and politicians which promoted their ideology. This meant that Saudis had a lot stronger grip on Pakistani internal politics, religious affairs and civil society than most people gave them credit for.

Even as Pakistan jumped from one sugar daddy to another, grip of Saudis on what it could do remained strong yet hidden as most analysts felt uncomfortable analysing role of islam in the power play. Saudi money and influence played a big role in this too. They were not very pleased when Pakistan started shifting its allegiance to China and Turkey. All of Islamic world was willing to overlook and even condone  Chinese atrocities on Uighur muslims, but their tolerance ran thin when Chinese started to expand their influence in their backyards. Although the two countries shared good relations, Saudis  were not happy with how Chinese were gaining power in Pakistan with their money and weapons. They had curtailed their financial and diplomatic support to Pakistan knowing very well that China with all it’s money could hope to have as strong a grip on Pakistani psyche as them.

Indian policymakers had realised the fact and were using the fact to counter Pakistan. A number of trade deals and military pacts signed during last 3-4 years had made Saudis more appreciative of Indian concerns too. Even as Saudi society remained in the vice like grip of the royal family and their islamic edicts, their actions in international forums were a bit more progressive.  Unlike in past, they had voted against Pakistan on numerous forums and had supported Pakistan’s blacklisting due to its support for terrorism. The fact that Saudi promoted Wahabi ideology had played a huge role in the rise of islamic fanaticism in Pakistan was a point neither acknowledged nor discussed. 

Over the last few months, Indian diplomats had persuaded Saudis to go slow on their economic assistance to Pakistan. Collapse of oil prices and Saudi desire to have a few allies outside of islamic world had also played a role. NSA and EAM had multiple meetings with their Saudi counterparts and hammered out a number of trade and security agreements. Under US pressure, India was being cajoled in to distancing itself from Iran, a mortal enemy of Saudis. So as India bought more oil from Saudis, latter was more than willing to address Indian security concerns.  EAM wanted to get inform about Saudi offer of emergency sale of 30 million barrels.

“30 million barrels at USD 46 each, that’s a lot of oil at above market prices!” DM exclaimed. 

“Yes, but they are kind of desperate right now. Russians are not agreeing to OIC proposed oil production cuts, Corona has nearly crippeled the world economy and are willing to undercut them even more. Saudis want to get rid of as much oil as possible before oil prices collapse even further.”

“That’s all right. But why should we buy more oil now when it’s going to sell for much lower in a few weeks?”

“They’re willing to stop all monetary aid to Pakistan and support our pending motions in UN and other agencies. If they get on our side here, then UAE, Qatar and most of OIC will likely vote in our favour too.” EAM smiled and looked at PM. He had spent a lot of time courting most major factions in he Arab world and his work was finally bearing fruit, “Additionally, this purchase will fit nicely with our project of upgradation of national oil reserves.”

PM looked at his watch and paused for a moment before speaking. “If finance people approve it, I don’t have any objection. It’ll be good to have as much reserves as possible in conditions like these.” 

I think that’s enough for this meeting. I have to reach Tawang by 6 pm.”

Global News

Cooler heads prevail in an ugly diplomatic brawl

Tensions between China and India which started over the arrest of two Indian diplomats in Beijing in last week of July seem to be cooling down. The stand down happened when India removed the barricading of Chinese embassy in New Delhi following the same move by Chinese authorities in Beijing and Shanghai. Chinese secret police had arrested two Indian diplomats and what India alleged in a chain of illegal actions, detained and tortured them in custody. Following news of the arrest, a Chinese nationalist mob had attacked Indian embassy in Beijing with rocks and petrol bombs. Several Indian embassy staffers were injured in the attack and were forced to seek medical attention within embassy premises as the mob refused to let any vehicle out of premises. 

The two arrested diplomats who were declared persona non grata and were seen at the airport boarding a flight while handcuffed with visible injury marks on their faces. Some of the eyewitnesses at the airport claimed that the Chinese security personnel escorting the diplomats were unduly violent and unruly with their prisoners. 

Following this, India had refused fuel supply and permission to fly for the Chinese aircraft that was supposed to bring a handful of diplomats and their families back from New Delhi. Some of the Chinese embassy personnel who had reached the airport were confined in there and denied permission to either board the aircraft or go back to their accommodations in the city. India had also accused three Chinese embassy staffers including one First Secretary of being Chinese intelligence agents. They were detained from their residences and held up in custody of local military intelligence unit. One of the diplomats was injured when he suffered a fall down the stairs in his apartment while trying to escape from Indian security agents sent to detain him..

A spokesman from Chinese foreign ministry later alleged that their diplomats were  beaten in custody, but their Indian counterparts rubbished the allegations calling them delusions of a bully with a perpetual victimhood complex. 

Following the removal of barricading, both embassies are expected to start basic work from tomorrow though it’s not clear if either country will reduce it’s embassy staff. A senior Indian bureaucrat from Indian EAM had hinted of such a decision a few days back. China will be forced to do the same if India goes ahead with such a move. 

This incident had sparked a global fear about a war between the two nuclear armed countries. A lot of analysts had expressed their fears over an imminent war as the two countries had a lot of other disputes going on related to territory and trade among a few other issues. A lot of people on social media have expressed their happiness over the deescalation. Though a large number of people from both countries have been calling for stronger measures and even war to teach the “enemy” a lesson.  

Citizens of both countries had engaged in a virtual war over the latest conflict on various social media platforms. A lot of websites in both countries were hacked and defaced by self-proclaimed nationalist hacker groups from both countries, Since China has a closed internet system, most of the Chinese users on platforms banned in China like Facebook and Twitter were not as numerous as Indians. Chinese social media like Weibo on the other hand, had only pro-Chinese posts. Both places had a large amount of racist and hateful content against the other. Some of it has been deleted and many users banned for hate speech in India, but there are no reports of any such action in China so far where internet is strictly controlled by the CCP regime.

This propaganda war is still going on even after recent developments and is unlikely to cool down anytime soon.

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