Authors: Hikmatullah& Wang Li
December 26, 2017, when jointly meeting the press with Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani of Afghanistan and Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif of Pakistan, Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed that China and Pakistan are willing to, together with Afghanistan, actively discuss extending the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan in a proper manner under the principle of mutual benefit and win-win results. China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue aims to enhance political mutual trust through this platform, eventually, to jointly deal with development and security challenges in the region.
In view of bilateral relations, Beijing regards Afghanistan as a key land-corridor of building the “BRI”, and determines to, together with the Afghan side, enhance the docking of development strategies. Accordingly, China adheres to the principle of the “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned”, that means “leaving Afghanistan to realize its broad and inclusive political reconciliation at an early date.” In response, Afghan FM Salahuddin Rabbani regards China as a permanent and reliable partner. Since Beijing has provided precious aid and support for Afghanistan in various fields, Afghanistan stands ready to actively participate in the “BRI” proposed by China. He then added, China is a mutual friend of Afghanistan and Pakistan as well, Afghanistan appreciates the efforts made by China to advance the improvement of relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Likewise, Pakistan FM Asif appreciates China’s proposition of holding the China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue in light of the guidelines for promoting harmony and friendship among the three sides.
At the conclusion of their first tripartite meeting, eight major consensus were reached, which include political mutual trust and reconciliation, development cooperation and connectivity, and security cooperation and counter-terrorism as three main topics to actively push forward trilateral cooperation in line with the principles of mutual respect, equal consultation, mutual benefit and win-win results. China promises that the tripartite sides commit themselves to realizing the following four goals: supporting Afghanistan’s peaceful reconstruction and reconciliation process, helping Afghanistan and Pakistan to improve and develop relations, promoting common security in the three countries and the region, as well as pushing forward regional connectivity and international cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative. China supports the Afghan government in carrying out peace talks with the Taliban, and will continuously offer convenience to this end.
Nonetheless, when the news was released, it immediately aroused two concerns: what will India respond to this proposalsince it has suspected China and Pakistan geopolitically; and how the presence of US permanent military bases in Afghanistan and thefragile security situation of Afghanistan allows the successful realization of this scheme? The following inquiry is where China would be able to move towards along with its two neighboring countries.
As a strategically important neighbor of China and Pakistan, Afghanistan has an urgent desire to develop its economy and improve people’s livelihood, and it is willing to integrate itself into the process of regional connectivity. China stand ready to discuss extending the CPEC to Afghanistan in a proper manner under the principle of mutual benefit and win-win results not only to help Afghanistan develop its economy and people’s livelihood but also to gradually connect CPEC with the China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor through Afghanistan in the long run. Through, the Three parties have shown willingness to jointly promote more extensive connectivity under the framework of the “Belt & Road Initiative” with a view to make feasible contributions to development and prosperity of the region. True, it is still difficult to predicate the results.Security is possibly the most important challenge to CPEC’s successthus, unless peace is restored in Afghanistanit hard to imagine the successful development of this vital initiative.
Afghanistan security: A volatile Afghanistan and the worsen Pak-Afghan relation is not only not in the interest of China but no more tolerable for the rise of China.Thus, China through the 1st China, Afghanistan and Pakistan tripartite ministerial dialogue can best be described as an honest broker in the bilateral relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan and ostensibly the possible solution for ending the decades long Afghan security turmoil. Pakistan, all along meddled in Afghanistan and continue to do so to gain what is often termed the ‘Strategic Depth’. This is to secure their own backyard by keeping off anti-Pakistan forces especially India out of Afghanistan and to block any pro-Indian regime in Kabul and ensure a pro-Pakistan regime in control of Kabul in order not to be encircled by enemies from two sides. Since then Pakistan is supporting various militant groups in Afghanistan to represent their interest. The rise of Taliban was in part of direct support from ISI of Pakistan. ISI interest with the Taliban was determined predominantly not out of a common Islamic ideology but slightly on ISI’s intentions that it need to sustain influence in Afghanistan to develop strategic depth. Thus, the post-Taliban armed-conflict and revival of Taliban as insurgent group is due to Pakistan’s hazardous double game. It has in the process destabilized Afghanistan beyond any easy recovery and created huge problems for itself as reflected in the worsening internal security of Pakistan. India continues to have significant influence in Afghanistan and Pakistan is burning more resources than possibly it should be.Therefore, it is expected that, China that has historically maintained good and friendly relations with Afghanistan, at the same time has good influence on Pakistan, can persuade Pakistan to stop meddling in Afghanistan and leave its policy of gaining strategic depth in Afghanistan. Bringing an end to Pakistan’s proxy warfare is necessary for the stability of Afghanistan. Peace and stability in Afghanistan would bring success to the implementation of such vital initiatives as CPEC. Economically Pakistan could enormously gain from the reconstruction process of Afghanistan and would be able to reintegrate itself into the resource rich Central Asian republics by offering its shortest route to the sea. India may maintain its hostility indefinitely but with much less influence.
U.S. permanent military bases: US permanent militarily bases at the backyard of rising China, also Russia and Iran, are the other barrier for the success ofthis initiative. On October the 7th 2001 US waged war on Afghanistan not only to chase away the Taliban and the Al-Qaida whom they considered the attackers of 9/11, they came to Afghanistan in the name of liberating the nation out of the misery and devastation it was in due to the Taliban regime. Nevertheless, time proved, it was all propaganda and their just war had little except their need to have a say on this piece of strategic geography. The US invasion on Afghanistan and its involvement in Afghan armed-conflict is less concerned about countering terrorism but rather its more about US national interest in securing permanent military bases in this strategic piece of land to dominate the entire region such as Middle East, Persian Gulf, Central Asia, and/or to make sure that nobody else dominates this region and do not allow any pair competitor to be arise in the region. For the rising China when the permanent US military bases comes into play it can/is pose [ing] a threat to its national security interest and jeopardize its very survival. Thus, it is essential that China must be clearly aware of what is happening in its backyard. China and all the regional countries needs to work together and makea well detailed proposal with a defined timetable for the withdrawalof US and all other foreign troops from Afghanistan at the earliest which is essential for the peace of Afghanistan and the region.
Conclusion. The extension of CPEC to Afghanistan opens a new chapter for peace and stability for the land-locked but resource-rich and geo-strategically important Afghanistan that has been for decades under foreign invasions and wars. Meanwhile, it has been proved that in order to cope with Afghan fragile security situation, hard power is not a realistic option anymore.The world community particularly China and Pakistan needs to begin work with the Afghan government and Afghan society through humanitarian assistance to strengthen the Afghan government and the civil society. The extension CPEC to Afghanistan is the greatest ever initiative for the peace and stabilization of Afghanistan. From a peaceful and stable Afghanistan China could feel more safe and would be free to implement and promote more extensive connectivity under the framework of itsambitious “Belt & Road Initiative” with a view to make feasible contributions to the development and prosperity of Afghanistan and the region as a whole.
Chinese engineer’s disappearance takes on geopolitical significance
Thirty-six-year-old Chinese engineer Pingzhi Liu went missing almost a month ago. It took Pakistani authorities three weeks to classify Mr. Liu’s disappearance as a likely kidnapping that could have significant political and economic consequences.
Identifying the mysterious disappearance as a kidnapping is not only embarrassing because Mr. Liu was one of thousands of Chinese nationals working in Pakistan that are guarded by a specially created 15,000-man Pakistani military unit.
It is also awkward because it coincides with apparent Chinese questioning of aspects of the $56-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a crown jewel of China’s Belt and Road initiative, and increasingly strained relations between Pakistan and the United States.
Mr. Liu was accorded military protection even though his project, the Karot Hydropower Plant, located near the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, is not part of CPEC. Karot was the first project financed by China’s state-owned $40 billion Silk Road Fund, established in 2014 by President Xi Jinping to foster increased investment in Eurasia.
Mr. Liu went missing on December 20 while on night duty. He was last seen walking out of a tunnel at around 3.30am while talking on his phone. No claim for his potential kidnapping or ransom has been made.
The fact that Mr. Liu was working on a project in Punjab rather than Balochistan, a troubled region with a history of attacks on Chinese personnel, has set alarm bells off.
China last month warned its nationals in Pakistan, a country plagued by religious and ethnic militancy, of plans for a series of imminent terrorist attacks on Chinese targets
“It is understood that terrorists plan in the near term to launch a series of attacks against Chinese organisations and personnel in Pakistan,” the Chinese embassy in Pakistan said in a statement on its website.
The embassy warned all “Chinese-invested organisations and Chinese citizens to increase security awareness, strengthen internal precautions, reduce trips outside as much as possible, and avoid crowded public spaces”.
Police have twice detained for interrogation Chinese and Pakistani workers associated with the Karot project. They are also introducing security and vetting measures for Pakistani nationals working with Chinese personnel.
If proven to be a kidnapping, Mr. Liu’s disappearance could not have come at a more awkward moment. China has signalled that it is considering freezing further CPEC-related investment until the country’s domestic situation stabilizes. China is believed to have so far invested $29 billion of the $56 billion committed.
“Political events in Pakistan have sent China in a watchful mood… I am concerned if we continue to throw surprises to the outside world, then anyone can be forced to rethink their economic investments,” Pakistan’s chief CPEC negotiator, Ahsan Iqbal, told Pakistani daily The News.
China had earlier decided to redevelop criteria for the funding of CPEC-related infrastructure projects in an apparent effort to enhance the Pakistani military’s stake in the country’s economy at a time that the armed forces are flexing their political muscle.
The Chinese decision that reportedly led to the suspension of funding for three major road projects valued at a total of $850 million – the upgrading of the Dera Ismail Khan-Zhob motorway and the Karakorum highway as well as construction of a 110-kilometre road linking Khuzdar and Basima – suggested that Beijing was not averse to exploiting its massive investment in the Belt and Road to shape the political environment in key countries in its authoritarian mould.
The possible investment freeze threw into doubt China’s reliability as Pakistan’s all-weather friend at the very moment that the Trump administration announced that it was cutting almost all security aid to Pakistan, believed to total more than $1 billion, until it deals with militant networks operating on its soil.
Pakistan, in response and in advance of a visit by a United Nations Security Council team to evaluate Pakistani compliance with its resolutions, has sought to crack down on the fundraising and political activities of Muhammad Hafez Saeed, an internationally designated terrorist accused of having masterminded the 2008 attacks in Mumbai.
Pakistan’s predicament could worsen if Mr. Trump, who has targeted Pakistan in blunt tweets in the past month, decides to tighten the screws beyond cutting aid by taking further punitive action such as sanctioning Pakistani military officials, revoking Pakistan’s non-NATO ally status; increasing drone strikes beyond Pakistan’s tribal areas; designating Pakistan as a state sponsor of terror, and/or pressuring international financial institutions to blacklist Pakistan.
The sensitivity of the timing of Mr. Liu’s disappearance was heightened by the fact that some in Pakistan appear to doubt whether CPEC will be the magic wand for Pakistan’s economy and regional geopolitical position that Pakistani and Chinese leaders make it out to be.
Criticism of CPEC has focused on doubts about the financial viability of various projects, Pakistan’s ability to repay related debts, a lack of transparency, and assertions that Chinese nationals were usurping Pakistani jobs.
In a rare challenging of Chinese commercial terms Pakistan recently withdrew from a Chinese-funded dam-building project.
Pakistani Water and Power Development Authority chairman Muzammil Hussain charged that “Chinese conditions for financing the Diamer-Bhasha Dam were not doable and against our interests.” China and Pakistan were also at odds over ownership of the $14 billion, 4,500 megawatts (MW)-hydropower project on the Indus River in the country’s problematic region of Gilgit-Baltistan near disputed Kashmir.
Earlier, a State Bank of Pakistan study concluded that exports of marble to China, Pakistan’s foremost rough-hewn, freshly-excavated marble export market, and the re-export to Pakistan of Pakistani semi-processed marble was “hurting Pakistan’s marble industry to a significant extent.”
A report by the Pakistani Senate, that has repeatedly criticized CPEC’s lack of transparency and Chinese commercial policies, concluded that China would for the next four decades get 91 percent of the revenues generated by the port of Gwadar.
The vanishing of Mr. Liu, if proven to be a criminally or politically motivated kidnapping, threatens in the current environment to put Pakistan between a rock and a hard place. Its relationship with its traditional ally, the United States, is on the rocks while its ties to China are proving to be more complex than Pakistani leaders had envisioned.
Amid domestic political instability, anti-government protests, and pressure to come clean in its getting a grip on militancy, Pakistani democracy may be saddled with the bill.
While neither the United States nor China can afford a complete rupture, neither has a clear strategy to help Pakistan stabilize. China’s solution appears to be tacitly supporting a greater role of the military in Pakistani politics – a formula that has in the past failed to produce results and is more part of the problem than part of the solution.
India-Pakistan ties: Are there any realistic possibilities of reviving engagement?
Two interesting developments have taken place in recent weeks. Firstly, a report submitted by standing committee on External Affairs recommended the resumption of engagement between both countries, without allowing spoilers to dictate the bilateral relationship between both countries. While unequivocally stating that engagement between two neighbors can not be suspended indefinitely, the report also advocated an incremental approach towards the resumption of engagement.
Said the report:
‘The committee would recommend an incremental approach to such a resumption of the dialogue process by starting with less contentious issues.’
While broadly concurring with the recommendations of the Standing Committee, the Indian government stated that the quest for peace and resolution of outstanding issues was only possible in an ‘environment free from terror, hostility and violence”
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti whosePeople’s Democratic Party PDP, which currently is in power in Kashmir, is part of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata party) led NDA (National Democratic Alliance) also spoke in favour of resuming dialogue with Pakistan. While addressing a gathering at the mausoleum of her father,and former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the Jammu and Kashmir CM stated:
“Resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan is the only way forward to end the bloodshed in Kashmir.”
While addressing the State Assembly on January 10, 2018 Mufti again batted in favour of dialogue between both countries:
“Resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan is the only way forward to end the bloodshed in Kashmir,” she said.
It is highly unlikely, that any significant moves are likely to be made towards resuming engagement between both countries. Pakistan will go into election mode very soon, and even otherwise the current civilian government led by ShahidKhaqanAbbasi is not really in control. Post the elections of 2018, a PML-N Government led by Shahbaz Sharif, may be in a better position to reach out to India.
On the Indian side, PM Modi has numerous domestic challenges, and given the current narrative and atmosphere, it is highly unlikely that he will resume engagement with Pakistan. Before the Parliamentary elections of May 2019, there are a number of state elections, where national security issues may not be the decisive factor but they do matter. One of the states which goes to elections in December 2018 interestingly is Rajasthan — a state which shares borders with Pakistan.
Both sides, India and Pakistan, would do well to pay heed to the recommendation of the Standing Committee about adopting an incremental approach towards engagement. Former PM, Dr. Manmohan Singh who has been criticized on more than one occasion for being weak and soft on Pakistan, may not have been great at symbolism, like his successor, yet he never completely shut the doors of engagement, and adopted an incremental approach. While a lot has been written and said about how Dr. Singh and Musharraf were close to reaching a settlement on contentious issues including Kashmir. It would be pertinent to point out, that the period between 2011-2014 was successful in terms of economic engagement. This period witnessed a number of interactions between high level officials from both sides, upgradation of the border infrastructure at Attari (an Integrated Check Post was set up with an eye on giving a fillip to bilateral trade between both countries) and a rise in bilateral trade.
Then President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, during his meeting with former Indian Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh in New Delhi in April 2012, spoke about the dire need for both countries to de-hyphenate economics from politics, and follow an approach similar to that of India and China. Zardari reiterated the point, that while New Delhi and Beijing, have numerous political differences, these differences have not come in the way of economic linkages between both countries. Here it would be important to point out, that post the Doklamstand off in 2017, there were signals of economic relations between both countries suffering with India imposing restrictions on the important of Chinese goods such as tyres, tempered glass and toys.
If both countries are to revive engagement, and ensure that it is successful. It is important, to focus less on personal chemistry, and more on concrete issues ,and identify specific areas of economic cooperation as well as people to people linkages, which are doable.
Second, there can not be a blow hot, blow cold approach. Personal visits by leaders, and meetings between senior government officials should be avoided. Excessive media attention and hype ensure that such efforts fail. Instead, it is better that engagement between junior officials is encouraged.
Third, engagement at the sub-national level is important. In the past, the two Punjabs have played a positive role in improving ties between both countries. Efforts should be made to rekindle economic and cultural linkages between both provinces. While currently, the situation may not be conducive, post the elections of 2018 it may not be a bad idea for the Chief Ministers of both the Punjab’s to explore possible linkages. The Chief Minister of Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh (India) had also mooted the idea of selling surplus power to Pakistan. While the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi did give approval to this idea, it could not go ahead because of tensions between both countries. Interestingly in November 2017, Shahbaz Sharif, CM of Punjab (Pakistan) in a letter to Captain Amarinder Singh had also proposed that both sides jointly combat the issue of smog and pollution. In the letter Sharif wrote:
‘I would like to invite you for entering into a regional cooperation arrangement to tackle the issue of smog as well as environmental pollution. Let us join hands for securing a prosperous future for the people of our two provinces’.
It is thus important for the Central government to seek inputs from Chief Ministers of all border-states (Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and Rajasthan) and accordingly explore possibilities of common ground.
In conclusion, it is important that engagement between both countries is not held hostage to the desires of certain hostile elements, though off course it is equally important that Pakistan genuinely reigns in on terror groups targeting India. On the Indian side, the government needs to strike a balance between ground realities, while not being bogged down excessively by the shrill ultra nationalist propaganda of the electronic media. It is also important, to continuously think outside the box and keep all important stakeholders on board, for ensuring that all doors of engagement are not shut.
Trump’s Dilemma: Pakistan’s Improved Narrative is Imperative
The uneasy Pak-US ties since Donald Trump’s new Afghan Policy (21st August, 2017) suffered a new year set back when on Monday Trump accused Islamabad as a ‘Liar’. This is really not the first time Pakistan has been accused or blamed; subsequently 9/11 all we got as a nation to our unyielding efforts against terrorism were the exhortations to ‘do more’.In his first tweet of the year on Monday 3rd January, Trump bullied to cut aid to Pakistan for purportedly deceiving the US and offering “little help” in its chase for ‘terrorists’ in Afghanistan. He also stated thatthe US has ‘foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over last 15 years’.
Notwithstanding, Islamabad and Washington walked a diplomatic tight rope for a couple of months which might put the relationship to a collision course but misconceptions merit clarifications.There is an ineluctable need for the twitter obsessed US president to recall that the US funds allocated to Pakistan, an impressive bit goes to the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), which is the reimbursement for costs incurred by Pakistan for participating in the US-led ‘Global War on Terror’ and supporting US operations in Afghanistan. Likewise, Pakistan also has sustained unbearable human and financial losses in the said war and has always desired sustainable peace and peace talks in Afghanistan for an avowed ‘Enduring Freedom’ of the people of Afghanistan.
The escalated war of words followed by the latest stresses in the bilateral relationship between the two countries has not come as a surprise. Since August the US has been trying to put Islamabad undersqueeze on the ‘Haqqanis’ and the ‘safe havens’ for the ‘agents of chaos’.
Now the very question that arises here is that as Trump pledged to change the nature of relationship between the US and Pakistan, what would be that probable course of change?
One hardly requires a crystal ball to extrapolate it, for Islamabad would be pressed harder with cuts in the financial aids leading to sanctions or embargoes. This is the height of incongruity on the part of the US,where once there were initiatives such as the Kerry-Lugar civilian-focused aid and endeavors to spur regional trade and productivity primarily because of Pakistan’s durable role in the US led ‘War on Terror’,now there is slight more than wrangling over bills and military equipment.
Moreover, Trump administration this time wants India to perform major duties on its behalf. For instance the ‘greater’ Indian role defined in Trump’s Afghan policy has been translated into a ‘leading global power and stronger strategic and defense partner’ to the US in the National Security Strategy Trump administration avowed last month. This could encourage India to boast its military might because of the acknowledgment incentive from a super power. Again this is no less than an irony that the US demands a more robust defense and strategic partnership from a nation notorious for its atrocities and abuse of human rights chiefly in Kashmir valley. Likewise, the US is also aware of the fact that welcoming India as a ‘leading Global power’ is an assured recipe for Pakistan-India proxy wars in region in general and on Afghan soil in particular.
Nevertheless there is also no denying of the fact that amidst Pakistan, the civil-military dynamics has largely and clearly affected the trajectory of Pak-US relations and steered it in the direction of being wholly security based. A part of blame must surely lie with the civilians and the present PML-N in particular.
Trump and his administration must acknowledge the sacrifices Pakistan has made so far and should also stop bullying like a head master disciplining his students, for this is certainly not the diplomatic way to deal with the allies. US needs to admit the fact that without Pakistan’s support peace could never be achieved in the region. And this time to earn Pakistan’s support the US ought to put a halt on the dual standards it is pursuing in the region. Thus seeking greater Indian role by keeping a blind eye on the decades long Kashmir issue, cross border and the state sponsored terrorism by India will certainly not fetch regional security that US often harps on about.
To conclude it is only Pakistan-US cooperation in fighting terrorism that served the US national security interests as well as the larger interests of the international community.
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