CPEC: Corridor Of Uncertainty

Trade utopia of CPEC will remain incomplete if India is kept out


by Khaled Ahmed 

The only big thing going for an isolated Pakistan is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Unable to tackle its internal security problems — for which it now wrongly blames India — it prefers focusing on the good times the world thinks the Chinese investment of $46 billion will bring. However, speaking at an awards ceremony at the Balochistan Frontier Constabulary Headquarters in Quetta on December 20, Commander Southern Command Lt General Amir Riaz thought he should send a clear message to arch-enemy India: “Join CPEC and share the fruits of future development by shelving your anti-Pakistan activities and subversion.”

There was a time, not long ago, when Patrade utopia of CPEC will remain incomplete if India is kept outkistan blamed America for acts of terrorism inside Pakistan. After its flawed “strategic depth” made shipwreck and America got together with India against China in the region, Pakistan took a close look at what India was doing in Afghanistan and joined the dots. It accepted that Pakistani Taliban ensconced in Afghanistan were killing people inside Pakistan but added the more dangerous detail about India actually funding the Taliban.

But others too have pointed to India’s fishing in Pakistan’s troubled waters. Then US defence secretary nominee, senator Chuck Hagel, strengthened this view in a talk on Afghanistan at the Cameron University in Oklahoma in 2011 saying, “India has been using Afghanistan as a second front against Pakistan. It has, over the years, financed problems for Pakistan on that side of the border.” In April this year, Pakistan’s Defence General (retd) Alam Khattak declared: “RAW and Afghan NDS have launched joint secret operations against Pakistan by using three Indian consulates in Jalalabad, Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif.”

General Riaz’s invitation to India to join CPEC is conditional on India calling off its Afghan proxy warriors mobilised expressly to disrupt CPEC because it “endangers India’s security”. Even if India has activated elements in Afghanistan against Pakistan, the policy can only be described as reactive because Pakistan’s asymmetrical forays into India pre-date it.

The trade utopia of CPEC and its blessings of peace will remain incomplete if India is kept out. Pakistan continues to be blamed for the ongoing Taliban trouble in Afghanistan which has involved blowing up Indian diplomatic facilities there. And this trouble has peaked this year: All 34 Afghan provinces have been attacked, with an average of 68 daily attacks.

No one actually believes Islamabad’s Office Spokesman Nafees Zakaria when, answering a US department of defence accusation about Pakistani involvement, he says: “This is more of a rhetoric (sic) than anything else. Afghanistan is infested with most terrorist organisations due to the instability there.”

President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul doesn’t believe a word of what Pakistan says about the Haqqani network and the Taliban attacking Pakistan across the Durand Line. In fact, his spooks are busy retaliating by sending Pakistan’s own terrorists back for revenge attacks.

For the time being the CPEC, far from being one of the greatest war-preventing trade arteries in the world, might unleash a new war, based on India’s perception that it contains Gwadar port in Pakistan as a military outpost of China targeting India. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan need internal corrections to come out of their instability. But these corrections can only come indirectly, through an opening-up, and not through the reform of ideologies they are helpless to change.

The indirect solution lies in trade openings through these median states where China and India come into play. Having refused a through-route to India, an isolated Pakistan has been compelled to accept CPEC, which will spread peace and prevent war only if India joins it.

China’s Ambassador to Pakistan Sun Weidong says his country “is looking forward to enhancing its cooperation with Iran through CPEC” and welcomes the road joining Gwadar to Chabahar, the port being built with Indian help. Not long ago, SAARC thought of Pakistan as a “median” territory allowing trade routes, creating dependencies that prevent war. China surely wants to include India in the CPEC, facilitating $70 billion worth of bilateral trade with it.

The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek’ Pakistan

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