An off the cuff remark by a General of the Pakistan Army has set an interesting debate hyphenated by the media with speculation of Pakistan keen to shun deep set hostility and start a new dawn of friendly coexistence by sending feelers to India to join China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The credibility to this hypothesis gained ground with the Chinese establishment also supporting such a move through their media. Pakistan hobnobbing with Russia to join CPEC alongside their recent proactive military diplomacy also indicates new political convergences in transformational shifts in regional political flux. In India there is always an optimism on such positive developments which may lead Pakistan to see reason and de-escalate their futile anti India rhetoric. The Indian media and strategic community also got another sensitive and sensational subject to discuss around. The ensuing analysis is devoted to this new buzz in the environment.
There is no denying that, off late there seems to be an undercurrent within Pakistan to mend the fence, in contrast to their perpetual denial syndrome concerning anything Indian. Is it a change of heart realising futility of their emotional negativity towards India, or is the civil society seeking opportunities to delink from hyped up incorrect narratives by politico-military dispensation? The latter is reflective in frequent political debates in Pakistani media, exhorting on virtues of Indian economic success stories as against Pakistani economic mess, despite inheriting similar fundamentals at the time of partition of the Indian sub continent. CPEC is the biggest politico-economic investment that Pakistan has made so far and has potential to be a game changer to reviving their economy. Hence, a feel of optimism and hope to improve environmental synergy in the region.
CPEC is primarily a Chinese concept with an aim to facilitate transportation of their energy supplies avoiding perceived vulnerabilities while crossing Indian Ocean. Besides this, they aspire to have a naval base at Gwadar port as another link to their “String of Pearls” in the Indian Ocean as their strategic objective. They are also looking at taking advantage of this shorter overland route to get connected to their markets world over to expand their trade. China may also be interested in increasing their volume of trade with India through this land route in a future time frame. Whereas, the reported Russian inclination to participate appears to be more for political reasons to get an access to Indian Ocean for another bridge head for power projection as they nurture global ambitions. CPEC also offers them opportunity to engage in trade with two large economies, namely China and India, besides other regions of Indo-Pacific.
Besides above, the land locked countries of Eurasia and Central Asia would have opportunities to reach out to China and South Asian markets wherein India is one of the biggest markets for their goods and services. Therefore, participation of India would be a motivator to all other countries as it makes economic sense. However, in order to connect to CPEC, countries other than China have to pass through Afghanistan which has severe security connotations. Hence, political stability of Afghanistan is a prerequisite for any way forward to motivate these countries to join the CPEC scheme. Both Russia and China are known to be in touch with the Taliban in this regards and they are trying to involve Pakistan also as they have substantial influence over them.
Since there are shorter, secure and more convenient routes available via Iran to access Indian Ocean and India, Pakistan is likely to be under pressure to facilitate land route to India in order to optimise economic benefits to potential participants. Afghanistan has already expressed their reservations against Pakistan policy of restricting trade with India through land route. Accordingly, in case such an opportunity is denied by Pakistan, their motivation to participate in CPEC may get affected to some extent. The feelers emanating from Pakistan as regards Indian participation in CPEC may be part of this economic prudence. However, there are no official indicators of such an inclination or a proposal from Pakistan so far.
On the face of it, India stands to gain in getting connected to CPEC communication net work as it has positive economic synergies. It is a gateway to the markets of land locked Central Asia, West Asia, Eurasia and Europe besides China and Pakistan. There would also be multiple options for Indian manufacturing hubs located in Northern India to service their markets world over due to access to additional Pakistani ports. Moreover, given the large distances of Chinese manufacturing hubs, Indian industry stands to advantage in price sensitive markets of West Asia, CARs and Africa due to lower logistics costs. The CPEC would also facilitate India to access energy resources of Central and West Asia through shorter landand multiple sea routes, resulting in economies of scale. The new trade routes format would be generally same as it was during British period with seamless linkages all across the region and contiguous continents.
Increase in trade links would also be in sync with our policy of economic engagement and people to people contact to resolve our political issues with our belligerent neighbours. As far as China is concerned, we have a substantial trade worth USD 70 billion as on date and likely to further increase as indicated recently by the leaders of both the countries. Whereas, despite India having accorded Pakistan the MNF status, the latter does not seem to be taking advantage of positivity of Indian intentions due to their political intransigence. There are mutually benefitting economic synergies for Pakistan in engaging with India as both the countries have same cultural milieu and similar felt needs for consumer goods and services.
It certainly sounds good but the devil lies in details. To start with, India was never part of this trade corridor as evident in its nomenclature. While both the proponents have a pattern of deceit and denial coupled with occasional military overtures as part of their diplomacy, yet they are sending signals to India to join their band wagon sounds unconvincing. Interestingly, Pakistan has made a General based at Baluchistan, where Gwadar port is located, to prompt India to join the CPEC keeping ruling dispensation out of such a proposal for obvious political ambiguity. Since Generals have overbearing say in matters of governance in
Pakistan, they probably have chosen to package the idea in a quasi official way through social media to initiate a debate and test the response on this issue. The Chinese media also highlighted the virtues of joining the CPEC mechanism, thereby indicating their complicity in the entire affair. Whereas, it is amply clear that this is yet another gimmick to score a political point through their well known deceptive diplomacy to attain a moral high ground against India. Therefore, there is something amiss in this game plan. The crux of matter is that the CPEC passes through Indian territory under dispute with Pakistan, hence India has opposed this scheme from the very beginning. It is in fact, an outright violation of Indian sovereignty both by Pakistan as well as China – a repeat of 1963 when Pakistan ceded Shaksgam Valley to China in a similar manner. It appears that Pakistan has chosen to exploit the politicoeconomic aspirations of China to their political benefit. Therefore, it is politically unacceptable to India as it would create a modicum of legitimacy over territories controlled by them in POK. This probably seems to be their main aim, besides their apprehensions of security of Karakoram Highway, which happens to be within striking distance from Indian side of the LOC. Hence, the ongoing exercise to make India also a party to it.
The USD 46 billion investment by China for CPEC is actually a loan to Pakistan by Chinese financial institutions which needs to be repaid later. Realising the gravity of internal security situation, political opposition, and ethnic dissent in Gilgit Baltistan and Baluchistan, China is getting apprehensive of recovery of their financial dues and realising full potential of this trade corridor. Therefore, it appears to be an opportunist move to involve other countries to share the costs by highlighting the benefits of joining the scheme. Accordingly, China is probably prompting and encouraging Pakistan to extend the invite to other possible interested parties including India to sustain financial buoyancy of the project which may run into trouble in their calculations.
There is an economic flux world over, wherein Russia is under recession, China is facing a tough competition to retain their growth rates, and majority of countries in Asia and Europe are all looking for opportunities to revive their stagnant economies. As a result, a sense of desperation is getting hyphenated in the international economic arena with a cut throat competition even at the cost of realigning political synergies amongst traditional allies. The hard reality is that a few countries who have been supporting Indian cause in the past may fall for the Pakistani bait as Indian political sensibilities have little significance when it comes to their own national interests. Russia, an old friend of India has reported to have given indications of acceptance of Pakistani invite to join CPEC. They have gone a step ahead by indulging in an aggressive military diplomacy to fill up the emerging strategic gap with apparently decreasing US patronage to Pakistan.
There are two basic fundamentals missing in the CPEC frame work to make it a success story. Firstly, the scheme happens to be conditional as regards to security connotations due to situation in Afghanistan, POK and Baluchistan. Secondly, there are voices of dissent within Pakistan who do not favour such an overbearing Chinese presence, as they fear that it would affect their economy and autonomy as a nation state in times to come. Therefore, the much advertised CPEC as a game changer for regional development is still ina realms of speculation as it has reasonably high imponderables and friction areas as of now.
India already has sufficient economic synergies in the markets likely to be served by the CPEC. Moreover, the upcoming Chabahar port in Iran provides access to Afghanistan and central Asia without going through Pakistan. It is barely 70 km from Gwadar and at a distance of 900 km from Mudra port, hence offsets the advantages of joining the CPEC to large extent. The Government of India has enhanced financial allocation to Chabahar project from Rs 50 crore to Rs 150 crore in the budget to speed up its construction. In addition to Chabahar axis, the North- South corridor through Iran provides connectivity right upto Eurasia including Russia. These trade corridors would provide the requisite communication net work for trade with comparative security and logistical ease.
In consequence, there is no rationale and logic in joining an unproven scheme which is primarily conceived to take care of Chinese energy and trade interests, wherein they have roped in gullible and vulnerable strategically weak Pakistan. Moreover, the negative narrative in Pakistan of last six decades against India cannot be wished away to do free trade with them, or through them. Let’s not forget that Pakistan derailed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project to fructify despite they agreeing to it all through negotiations earlier. History is a reckoner that Pakistan cannot be relied upon due to high duplicity quotient not only in dealing with India, but also with other countries including global powers.
The Pakistani invite (if there is one?) to join the CPEC can wait till there is a genuine reconciliation and a paradigm shift in their approach towards India. That would take a long time, if it does happen, hence need to ignore the hype on this issue and concentrate on our national priorities without Pakistan on our economic scene.
—Lt Gen. Rameshwar Yadav is a veteran Infantry officer, with hands on experience of combat contingencies in all sectors of the Indian Army and tri-service joint operations.As Director General of Infantry he has been closely associated with strategic level decision making as regards to management of largest combat component of the Armed forces and has contributed towards force structuring and modernisation of the Indian Army.The General is a regular contributor towards national security and international strategic issues.