Yasmeen Aftab Ali
CPEC has rewritten the regional alliance landscape and economic geography of the region. For most part, trade routes have moved from north to south, with a few exceptions. Creation of Pakistan hurt India’s access to Afghanistan, specifically north India. India assumed that with opening up of its economy in the 1990’s, Pakistan would be compelled to trade with her at some point. CPEC has changed that. Like the US, out of TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) and clutching onto India to coordinate to take steps delaying the CPEC (viewed by China as part of BRI), India is also deeply troubled about China’s building a maritime profile at Gwadar. India is even more concerned about Chinese and Pakistani collaboration in Jammu & Kashmir under Pakistan.
Even if one sets apart certain projects of CPEC as unviable, the coming up of this trade route that places Pakistan’s reliance on an east-to-west corridor places China in the driving seat of a new geographically economic reality. This situation makes it a nightmare for India owing to her traditional rivalry with Pakistan and for US for her viewing this as a showcase project by China and her ascent.
India has maintained economic relations with Israel, UAE and Saudi Arabia (KSA). It also invested into a partnership with Tehran for oil and gas. With UAE and KSA, the springboard was counter-terrorism. With Israel it has been technology, arms and development.
However, when it comes to dealing with the neighbors, New Delhi’s ability to use diplomatic card is short-changed with China looming larger than life over her shoulder with billions to invest in projects. That is an area where India is severely limited. In spite of Modi’s efforts to romance the global economy, he cannot do so without reforms at the domestic front first. These changes are meaningful and deeper than superficial pressure tactics of blocking Pakistan from a SAARC initiative due to “terrorist attacks” following Trump’s tweet announcing his decision of withholding $255M in aid for Pakistan.
Yes, India can use diplomatic and covert op tactics against Pakistan to slow down CPEC. However, diplomatic pressure must be reciprocated only through smart diplomacy. This needs superb statesmanship from Pakistan. More, especially, with regional neighbors in general, and Russia in particular. This does not mean to state that US should be overlooked.
However, as equal partners in War on Terror, Pakistan needs to convey her concerns, efforts and limitations to the US administration. Trump’s New Year’s Tweet can lead to pushing Pakistan deeper into China’s camp. The US might lose its ‘trump’ card (no pun intended) and thereby could not put any future pressure on Pakistan. It will be US that will emerge as the ultimate loser in this scenario. Once the umbilical cord is cut, US will lose the right to influence Pakistan.
President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, after ascendency of Donald Trump to the Presidential chair, openly declared his nation’s pivot away from US and towards China, being a rising super-power. Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak soon after followed in Rodrigo footsteps, forging closer ties with China. With this came Malaysia’s military deal with China – where Malaysia purchased four Chinese military naval vessels. Another country to announce an alliance with China was Laos in 2016. The reason was largely to attract Chinese investment for infra-structure development under the BRI. Thailand has also consolidated her relations with China.
The rise of China is taking place with great economic growth in East Asia and vigorous diplomacy. Niall Ferguson has written of the descent of the west and pivot towards the East. As the new power (China) rises and the old power (USA) descends, conflict, distrust, efforts to solidify their camps and expand influence – both political and economic – the contest will become bitter. It is the Clash of the Titians. However the question of rise of China is not a question of if, rather a question of when.
China is investing in Pakistan. Many of these investments are in form of returnable loans as well. Pakistan must be careful in making a well-researched determination about the investments coming in, which must be socially and economically beneficial to Pakistan in the long run. Unfinished unviable projects, development commitments sans research and on the wishes of politicians can create a white elephant.
Prioritizing transparent investment not only foreign but also of local investors, should be the name of the game for sustainable development. As Ban Ki-Moon famously quotes, “Sustainable development is the pathway to the future we want for all. It offers a framework to generate economic growth, achieve social justice, exercise environmental stewardship and strengthen governance.”
The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets at @yasmeen_9