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Extension of CPEC into a Tripartite Partnership or nowhere?

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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.

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South Asia

The “Neo-Cold War” in the Indian Ocean Region

Kagusthan Ariaratnam

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Addressing an event last week at London’s Oxford University, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said some people are seeing “imaginary Chinese Naval bases in Sri Lanka. Whereas the Hambantota Port (in southern Sri Lanka) is a commercial joint venture between our Ports Authority and China Merchants – a company listed in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.”

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has denied US’ claims that China might build a “forward military base” at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port which has been leased out to Beijing by Colombo. Sri Lanka failed to pay a Chinese loan of $1.4 billion and had to lease the China-developed port to Beijing for 99 years. Both New Delhi and Washington had in the past expressed concerns that Beijing could use the harbor for military purposes.

Image courtesy of Google

The USA, China, and India are the major powers playing their key role in the “Neo-Cold War” in Central Asian landmass and the strategic sea lanes of the world in the Indian Ocean where 90% of the world trade is being transported everyday including oil. It is this extension of the shadowy Cold War race that can be viewed as the reason for the recent comment made by the US Vice President Mike Pence that China is using “debt diplomacy” to expand its global footprint and Hambantota “may soon become a forward military base for China’s expanding navy”.

According to some analysts, the deep-water port, which is near a main shipping route between Asia and Europe, is likely to play a major role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

In his book “Monsoon” Robert D. Kaplan (2010), a senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security notes the following:

[…] the Indian Ocean will turn into the heart of a new geopolitical map, shifting from a unilateral world power to multilateral power cooperation. This transition is caused by the changing economic and military conditions of the USA, China and India. The Indian Ocean will play a big role in the 21st century’s confrontation for geopolitical power. The greater Indian Ocean region covers an arc of Islam, from the Sahara Desert to the Indonesian archipelago. Its western reaches include Somalia, Yemen, Iran, and Pakistan — constituting a network of dynamic trade as well as a network of global terrorism, piracy, and drug trafficking […]

Two third of the global maritime trade passes through a handful of relatively narrow shipping lanes, among which five geographic “chokepoints” or narrow channels that are gateway to and from Indian ocean: (1) Strait of Hormuz (2) Bab el-Mandab Passage (3) Palk Strait (4) Malacca and Singapore Straits and (5) Sunda Strait.

While Lutz Kleveman (2003), argues that the Central Asia is increasingly becoming the most important geostrategic region for the future commodities, Michael Richardson (2004) on the other hand explains that the global economy depends on the free flow of shipping through the strategic international straits, waterways, and canals in the Indian Ocean.

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA)  report published in 2017, “world chokepoints for maritime transit of oil are a critical part of global energy security. About 63% of the world’s oil production moves on maritime routes. The Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca are the world’s most important strategic chokepoints by volume of oil transit” (p.1). These channels are critically important to the world trade because so much of it passes through them. For instance, half of the world’s oil production is moved by tankers through these maritime routes. The blockage of a chokepoint, even for a day, can lead to substantial increases in total energy costs and thus these chokepoints are critical part of global energy security.  Hence, whoever control these chockpoints, waterways, and sea routes in the Indian Ocean maritime domain will reshape the region as an emerging global power.

In a recent analysis of globalization and its impact on Central Asia and Indian Ocean region, researcher Daniel Alphonsus (2015), notes that the twists and turns of political, economic and military turbulence were significant to all great players’ grand strategies:

(1) the One Belt, One Road (OBOR), China’s anticipated strategy to increase connectivity and trade between Eurasian nations, a part of which is the future Maritime Silk Road (MSR), aimed at furthering collaboration between south east Asia, Oceania and East Africa; (2) Project Mausam, India’s struggle to reconnect with its ancient trading partners along the Indian Ocean, broadly viewed as its answer to the MSR; and (3) the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor, the USA’s effort to better connect south and south east Asian nations. (p.3)

India the superpower of the subcontinent, has long feared China’s role in building outposts around its periphery. In a recent essay, an Indian commentator Brahma Chellaney wrote that the fusion of China’s economic and military interests “risk turning Sri Lanka into India’s Cuba” – a reference to how the Soviet Union courted Fidel Castro’s Cuba right on the United States’ doorstep. Located at the Indian Ocean’s crossroads gives Sri Lanka the strategic and economic weight in both MSR and Project Mausam plans. MSR highlights Sri Lanka’s position on the east-west sea route, while Project Mausam’s aim to create an “Indian Ocean World” places Sri Lanka at the center of the twenty-first century’s defining economic, strategic and institutional frameworks. Furthermore, alongside the MSR, China is building an energy pipeline through Pakistan to secure Arabian petroleum, which is a measure intended to bypass the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Malacca altogether.

A recent study done by a panel of experts and reported by the New York Times reveal that how the power has increasingly shifted towards China from the traditional US led world order in the past five years among small nation states in the region. The critical role played by the strategic sea ports China has been building in the rims of Indian Ocean including Port of Gwadar in Pakistan, Port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Port of Kyaukpyu in Myanmar and Port of Chittagong in Bangladesh clearly validates the argument that how these small states are being used as proxies in this power projection.

This ongoing political, economic and military rivalry between these global powers who are seeking sphere of influence in one of the world’s most important geostrategic regions is the beginning of a “Neo-Cold War” that Joseph Troupe refers as the post-Soviet era geopolitical conflict resulting from the multipolar New world order.

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South Asia

IMF bail-out Package and Pakistan

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Pakistan may approach IMF to bail-out the current economic crisis. It is not the first time that Pakistan will knock the doors of IMF. Since 1965, Pakistan has been to IMF 17 times. Almost all of the governments has availed IMF packages. Usually, IMF is a temporary relief and provide oxygen for short time so that the patient may recover and try to be self-sustained. The major role of IMF is to improve the governance or reforms, how the ill-economy of a country may recover quickly and become self-sustained. After having oxygen cylinder for 17 times within 5 decades, Pakistan’s economy could not recover to a stage, where we can be self-sustained and no more looking for IMF again and again. This is a question asked by the common man in Pakistan to their leadership.  People are worried that for how long do we have to run after IMF package? The nation has enjoyed 70 decades of independence and expects to be mature enough to survive under all circumstances without depending on a ventilator.

The immediate impact of decision to approach IMF, is the devaluation of Pakistani Rupees. By depreciating only one rupee to US dollar, our foreign debt increases 95 billion rupees.  Today we witness a depreciation of rupee by 15 approximately (fluctuating), means the increase in foreign debt by 1425 billion rupees. Yet, we have not negotiated with IMF regarding depreciation of Rupees. Usually IMF demand major depreciation but all government understands the implications of sharp devaluation, always try to bargain with IMF to the best of their capacity. I am sure, Government of Pakistan will also negotiate and get the best bargain.

IMF always imposes conditions to generate more revenue and the easiest way to create more income is imposing tax on major commodities including Gas, Electricity and Fuel. Pakistan has already increased the prices of Gas, Electricity and Fuel. It has had direct impact on basic necessities and commodities of life. We can witness a price hike of basic food, consumer items and so on. Except salaries, everything has gone up. While negotiating with IMF formally, we do not know how much tax will be increased and how much burden will be put on the common man.

We believe, our rulers know our capacity and will keep in mind the life of a common man and may not exceed the limit of burden to common man beyond its capacity. We are optimistic that all decisions will be taken in the best interest of the nation.

It is true, that Pakistan has been to IMF so many times, so this might be a justification for the PTI Government to avail IMF package. But, there are people with different approach. They have voted for change and for “Naya” (new) Pakistan. They do not expect from PTI to behave like previous several governments. If PTI uses the logic of previous governments, may not satisfy many people in Pakistan.

Especially, when Pakistan was in a position to take-off economically, we surrendered half way, may not be accepted by many people in Pakistan.

The government has explained that other options like economic assistance from friendly countries was also very expensive, so that they have preferred IMF as more competitive package. I wish, Government may educate public on the comparison of available options, their terms and conditions, their interest rate, their political conditions, etc. There might be something confidential, Government may avoid or hide, one may not mind and understand the sensitivity of some of the issues. But all permissible information on the terms and conditions of all options in comparison, may be placed on Ministry of Finance’s website or any other mode of dissemination of knowledge to its public.

Against the tradition, people of Pakistan have voted Imran Khan, who so ever was given ticket of PTI, public has voted him or her blindly in trust to Imran Khan. A few of his candidates might not be having very high capabilities or very good reputation, but, public has trusted Imran Khan blindly. Imran Khan is the third most popular leader in Pakistan, after Jinnah the father of nation, and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the Former Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1970s.

People of Pakistan have blindly trusted in Imran Khan and possess very high expectations from him. I know, Imran Khan understands it very well. He is honest, brave and visionary leader and I believe he will not disappoint his voters.

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South Asia

Now India denies a friendly hand: Imran Khan debuts against arrogant neighbors

Sisir Devkota

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Imran Khan is facing the brunt for overly appeasing its arch rival-India. On September 22, Khan tweeted that he was disappointed over India’s arrogant reply to resume bilateral talks in the UNGA and that he had encountered many “small men” in big offices unable to perceive the larger picture.I am observing a south Asian order changing with Khan’s rise in Pakistani politics. We in Nepal need to grasp the possible reality before circumstances shall engulf our interests.

Observation 1

Narendra Modi was undoubtedly “The Prince”of South Asia from Niccolo Machiavelli’s 16th century classic political narrative. I sense the old prince acting in distress over the rise of a new one. Imran Khan’s invitation for a ministerial level meeting in New York; amidst the eyes of foreign diplomats could not have been a better approach by Pakistan in a long time. Instead, Indian foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj dismissed the offer, blaming Pakistan’s double standard in killing Indian forces and releasing Burhan Wani’s (India’s terrorist and Pakistan’s martyr) postal stamps. Khan did not sanction the postal release, but as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, he must be held accountable for failing to stop the killings,just when talks were supposed to happen. He should have addressed the highly sensitive Indian government. But, I do empathize with Khan’s statement, “small men in big offices”; as he clearly outlined the exact problem. He directly called upon the Indian government to think bigger and escape circumstances to solve historical problems. Narendra Modi has developed a new rhetoric these days; that India is not going to keep quiet over Pakistan’s actions. It fits the nature of Machiavelli’s Prince as an authority which can maintain national virtue. Unfortunately, I do not buy Modi’s rhetoric. The Prince has come a bit late in his tenure to act for Indian virtues. I am sure many at the UNGA would have noticed India’s apprehension in the same manner. I suspect that the ex-prince is facing insecurities over the fear of losing his charisma. Nepal, in particular was charmed by his personality when he first visited our capital, with promises that flooded our heart. And then, we faced his double standard; right after the massive earthquake in 2015. Nobody in Nepal will sympathize with Swaraj’s justification of cancelling the meeting.

Observation 2

Let me explain the source of insecurity. Modi has thrived by endorsing his personality. A tea man who worked for the railways under great financial hardships, became the poster man of India. He generated hope and trust that his counterparts had lost over the years. His eloquent stage performance can fool the harshest of critics into sympathizing his cause. People have only realized later; many macro economists in India now argue that demonetization was, perhaps, one of the worst decisions for India’s sake. Narendra Modi is India sounds truer than Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister of India.

Imran Khan, a former cricketer does not spring the same impression as Modi. Khan, a world champion in 1992, is known for his vision and leadership in Cricket. Comparatively, Khan does not need to sell his poster in South Asia. He does not cry over his speeches to garner mass euphoria. Ask anybody who’s into the sport and they will explain you the legend behind his name. I suspect that Modi has realized that he is going to lose the stardom in the face of Pakistan’s newly elected democratic leader. After all, the Indian PM cannot match Imran’s many achievements in both politics and cricket. I suspect that Modi has realized the fundamental difference in how his subjects inside India and beyond are going to perceive Imran’s personality. I expect more artificial discourses from India to tarnish Imran’s capabilities.

Nepal & Pakistan

You will not find Pakistan associated with Nepal so often than with India. Frankly, Nepal has never sympathized with Indian cause against Pakistan. We have developed a healthy and constructive foreign relations with the Islamic republic. However, there has always been a problem of one neighbor keeping eyes on our dealings with another. Indian interests have hindered proximity with past governments. Now, Imran Khan has facilitated the platform for deeper relations. He does not carry the baggage of his predecessors. He is a global icon, a cricket legend and a studious politician. He is not the result of mass hysteria. Imran Khan has pledged to improve Pakistan’s economy, reinstate foreign ties and boost regional trade. For me, he is South Asia’s new Machiavellian prince; one that can be at least trusted when he speaks.

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