Growing ties between China and Pakistan have come under scrutiny in India after former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi in Parliament last week called their close ties “a serious threat” to the country. His accusation that the Narendra Modi government’s policies had brought two of India’s nuclear-armed neighbours closer together triggered a political storm in New Delhi, which has rejected his allegations. But just days after the statement, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan wrapped up a four-day China visit with a meeting with President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Beijing Winter Olympics , with the leaders calling the trip a sign of the “iron brotherhood” between the two countries. The joint statement even mentioned Jammu and Kashmir, a region that has been carved up into separate Indian and Pakistani territories, but that both countries claim in full. Pakistan and China also heralded their cooperation under the US$25 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative that includes major infrastructure projects linked to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. India opposes the CPEC, as the projects pass through parts of Pakistani Kashmir that it disputes. Indian analysts say there is “some truth” to Gandhi’s claim. Here’s a look at why growing China-Pakistan ties have got India worried. Are China and Pakistan doing more together now than before? The two countries have shared good ties in the past few decades. Pakistan was the third non-Communist country to recognise the People’s Republic of China just three months after its formation. The cooperation only strengthened from the 1960s onwards, when China became a major supplier of arms to Pakistan and the two countries signed their first formal trade agreement. In recent years, there have been a flurry of bilateral meetings, with both sides claiming they are “ironclad” friends . From Pakistan to Zambia, how does China pick its ‘ironclad’ friends? Pakistan’s dependence on China for military imports has grown over the years. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Arms Transfer database, Pakistan’s arms imports from China between 2010 and 2020 more than doubled, as compared to figures in the decade preceding 2010. China is now Pakistan’s biggest trading partner: between 2009 and 2019, exports from Pakistan to China rose 87 per cent, while imports grew by 183 per cent, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity trade database. Aparna Pande, research fellow and director of the Washington DC-based Hudson Institute’s Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia, said the rise in China-Pakistan closeness has coincided with President Xi’s tenure. “There has been an aggressiveness in Chinese foreign policy since 2012 which wasn’t there earlier,” she said. “A part of that aggressiveness has translated into more investment in Pakistan.” What unites both countries? Historically, a range of issues have pushed Beijing and Islamabad into a tighter embrace, such as the American presence in the region, the instability in Afghanistan and their respective domestic political compulsions. One of the main uniting factors, however, has been their mutual rivalry with India. China and India are locked in an ongoing border conflict in the Himalayas. Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador to the US, in 2006 pointed to India’s central role in the relationship. “For China, Pakistan is a low-cost secondary deterrent to India. For Pakistan, China is a high-value guarantor of security against India,” he said at the Council on Foreign Relations, before his appointment as the country’s envoy. India’s move to scrap Kashmir’s special status ‘not acceptable’: China Experts believe that India has recently only become a much stronger factor in the China-Pakistan relationship. Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director and Senior Associate for South Asia at the Washington DC-based Wilson Center, said there was “some truth” to Gandhi’s claim that the Modi government’s policies had pushed the two together. “The Article 370 repeal was rejected by both Beijing and Islamabad,” he said, pointing to Modi’s decision to strip the Jammu and Kashmir region of its special status and place it under direct central government rule. “They both viewed it as an illegal move; it gave them another reason to view India with mistrust, and it gave them another common cause.” Last month, Pakistan released its first-ever national security policy which said that “Hindutva-driven politics” in India were a key obstacle to both countries achieving better relations. How worried should India be? China and Pakistan’s common interests have a direct impact on India’s own strategic considerations. During Khan’s recent visit to China, the two sides signed an agreement on industrial cooperation, which has been described as “Phase 2” of the CPEC. Similarly, defence deals between the two also have implications for India. In December 2020, Pakistan reportedly bought 50 armed Chinese Wing Loong II drones. In the recent past, India has been troubled by drones, reportedly flown from Pakistan into Indian airspace often dropping off weapons, explosives and drugs. Last month, the Pakistani Navy also inducted the Chinese-developed PNS Tughril, a frigate that Chinese state-owned newspaper Global Times described as “the largest and the most advanced surface combat vessel China has ever exported”. China is also constructing eight Hangor-class submarines and medium-altitude armed drones for Pakistan, it said. What does Pakistan’s national security policy say about India, China, US? There have also been reports that China could offer Pakistan hypersonic weapons in order to counter India’s induction of the Russian S-400 air defence system. For many in New Delhi’s security establishment, such close military engagement, along with the 20-month border stand-off between Chinese and Indian soldiers in the Ladakh region, brings to fore a scenario it has long dreaded: a simultaneous, coordinated war on both its northern and Western fronts, said Harsh Pant, a professor of international relations at London’s King’s College and Head of the Strategic Studies Programme at the Observer Research Foundation think tank. “But India wouldn’t be too unduly worried because this is a scenario that its security establishment has long been preparing for,” said Pant. “This prospect has been factored into India’s foreign policy for a long time now.” Yet earlier this month, Indian army chief General MM Naravane, without naming Pakistan and China, said New Delhi’s adversaries were engaging in “collusive” grey zone activities across several domains. “Disputed borders”, along with new forms of warfare and state-sponsored proxy wars, are stretching India’s security apparatus and resources, he said. What are India’s options as China and Pakistan grow closer? Experts believe that the ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan, signed last year February, was driven partly by New Delhi’s desire to establish peace on at least one of its two volatile fronts. But since then, ties between the two countries have been stuck in an “uneasy pause”, according to Kugelman, and they are unlikely to improve. “New Delhi has strong incentives not to engage with Pakistan,” he added, pointing to Modi’s hard line on Pakistan during the 2019 re-election campaign that he won. On the strategic front, New Delhi will also be wary of Beijing’s plan to jointly extend CPEC into Afghanistan, a possibility mentioned even by the joint statement. Such connectivity would only increase the Chinese imprint in New Delhi’s neighbourhood. Why India’s worried about China, Myanmar as conflict flares up in northeast All this means that New Delhi will have to continue focusing on upgrading its defences. “India realises that it has to enhance its defence capacities and reduce the differential with China in the medium to long-term, as far as defence capabilities are concerned,” Pant said. While India might fear the prospects of a two-front war, experts like Pande from the Hudson Centre believe that such fears might not materialise. “Neither China nor Pakistan want an open war with India,” Pande said. “Instead, Pakistan wants to keep the water boiling in a way that doesn’t cause war, while China will be happy to look on and back it.” Diplomatically, while New Delhi might have to continue engaging with Beijing, especially at multilateral forums, it can simultaneously invest in other key partnerships that can help it counter China. “New Delhi must also build on groupings like the Quad as well as some of the other key partnerships, which will ensure a more coordinated response to regional happenings,” said Pant.