|Joint exercises between China and Pakistan in POK (Khunjerab)|
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One Belt One Road is a great initiative, but it’s not an easy one. What looks like a masterstroke on paper, will turn into a nightmare for both China and Pakistan if India is not brought on board
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 Summit in Hangzhou in China, he is believed to have raised the topics of terrorism originating in Pakistan as well as the mega China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. Modi told Xi that New Delhi and Beijing must be sensitive to each other’s ‘strategic concerns’, which include terrorism from Pakistan, the CPEC crossing through Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) and India’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Though Foreign Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup did not confirm if Modi raised the NSG issue: “I am not going into specifics, but if you read between the lines, you can pretty well understand that when we talk of strategic interests and aspirations,” he said that the Indian Prime Minister advocated that “to ensure durable bilateral ties, and steady development, it is of paramount importance that we respect each other’s aspirations, concerns and strategic interests.”
When in 2013, President Xi first spoke of a project “envisioning a trade and infrastructure network that would connect Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient land and sea routes,” very few realised that the One Belt One Road (OBOR) ‘initiative’ had many similarities with the 19th century’s great game. At that time, the OBOR’s declared objective was to increase connectivity between Europe, Asia and Africa. However, a simple look at a map shows that practically, India is left out of the scheme while the creation of several economic corridors mainly benefited China.
Steve Levine wrote in Quartz magazine that the infrastructure that the British built everywhere during the 19th century “enabled their power like bones and veins in a body. …Great nations have done this since Rome paved 55,000 miles (89,000 km) of roads and aqueducts in Europe. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Russia and the US established their own imprint, skewering and taming nearby territories… Now it’s the turn of the Chinese.”
The OBOR is an essential part of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, the ‘Chinese Dream’, often described by Xi. President Xi can say that the OBOR “will serve the long-term interests of all countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative,” but trade and geopolitical control have always worked hand in hand.
Chinese experts say that the project can benefit 4.4 billion people in more than 60 countries, or 63 per cent of the global population …if everyone agrees to participate, which is far from being the case. For Pakistan, the CPEC, a crucial constituent of the OBOR, can be a game changer … if it happens.
The architects of CPEC are aware that PoK is the plaque tournante for controlling the Belt and the Route; the 2,700-kilometre corridor stretching from Kashgar to Gwadar will link two worlds: Central Asia (via Xinjiang) in the north and Europe and Africa (via the maritime route) in the south.
In April 2015, when Xi arrived in Islamabad, he brought with him a munificent gift for Pakistan: An eye-popping $46 billion worth of planned energy and infrastructure investment to boost Pakistan’s flagging economy. This included 10,400 megawatts to Pakistan’s national grid through coal, nuclear and renewable energy projects. It sounded like a Chinese Dream for Islamabad!
The Corridor will have railways, roads, optical fiber cables, dams, pipelines, you name it! Observers marveled at Beijing kindness (and wealth), though Chinese generosity may first and foremost benefit Beijing! But as the project crosses Indian territory in PoK, it is unacceptable for India, which has no say in the ‘initiative’. Delhi could not pretend that nothing is happening and forget about the legality of the accession of Jammu & Kashmir State to India in 1947.
On August 28, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif asserted that the CPEC would help bring prosperity to the entire region (read Pakistan). Sharif, who was addressing the inaugural session of the CPEC Summit in Islamabad, remarked that “the economic corridor project is the most important economic initiative for South Asia in the 21st century.”
According to Pakistan Today, he affirmed: “The CPEC is not merely a strategic decision but the culmination of 10 years of brotherhood and cooperation between China and Pakistan” before concluding: “Our relations with China are of the utmost importance.”
Incidentally, it appears that the Pakistan’s Cabinet has recently approved a long-term defence agreement with China. The Express Tribune reported that the approval was given by Sharif on July 15 after his return from London. The Cabinet would have agreed to a summary draft agreement to enhance defence and security cooperation with China in several fields.
On August 15, Modi’s speech touched a raw nerve in Islamabad and Beijing. On the previous day, Pakistan’s Independence Day, Sharif had dedicated his country’s independence to the ‘freedom of Kashmir from Indian rule’. During the previous weeks, Pakistan had been racking up the Kashmir issue on the world scene.
For the past few months, while India is tired of Beijing’s ‘neutral’ stance on Kashmir, China has been unhappy with India’s lukewarm attitude towards the OBOP and the CPEC. The situation has got worse after the August 15 speech. Liu Zongyi, a senior fellow of Shanghai Institutes for International Studies commented in The Global Times “India’s political goals hinder cooperation with China on the OBOR"”
After quoting former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon who would have expressed ‘support and interest’ to the initiative, the author says: “the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi changed India’s attitude toward the project after he came into power.”
Hu Shisheng, the director of the Institute of South and Southeast Asian and Oceanian Studies said in an interview that China will have ‘to get involved’ if any Indian ‘plot’ disrupts the CPEC in restive Balochistan, the influential Chinese think-tank warned India. This is a serious threat. The presence of General Raheel Sharif, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) was in Urumqi, Xinjiang to discuss military relations, bilateral security cooperation for the CPEC, raised further the suspicion.
Saeed Shah wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “Can you image that a Pakistani brigade of 2,000 soldiers has to guard Chinese workers in Gwadar from the threat of jihadists and separatists, reflecting the challenge of turning this remote fishing town into the hub of an economic corridor between the two nations.”
It is a great, but not easy game. What looked like a masterstroke on paper could turn into a nightmare for both China and Pakistan unless India is taken on board. But how can Pakistan continue to fuel unrest in the valley (with the silent consent of China) and simultaneously get Delhi’s blessings for such a gigantic project? Today China and Pakistan are gambling. China has to understand India’s concern; ultimately it is in the interests of the Middle Kingdom.
Pictures of joint Sino-Pakistani exercises in PoK