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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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Pakistan PM visited Sri Lanka to further strengthen the existing friendship to new heights

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Prime Minister Imran Khan during the Sri Lanka visit. PHOTO COURTESY: FACEBOOK/IMRAN KHAN

At the formal invitation of the Prime Minister of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, H.E. Imran Khan, paid a two-day official visit to Sri Lanka on 23-24 February 2021.

Prime Minister Imran Khan was accompanied by an elevated-level delegation comprising Federal Ministers and senior Government officials. The first-ever visit by the Prime Minister of Pakistan to Sri Lanka since the formation of the new governments in both countries clearly reflects the warmth and goodwill between the two countries’ governments and peoples. Prime Minister Imran Khan received a warm traditional welcome from the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Sri Lanka’s Ministers.

During the visit, Prime Minister Imran Khan held delegation-level discussions with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka. Both sides comprehensively appraised the multifaceted bilateral relationship in various fields of cooperation. The talks were held in a warm and cordial environment, marked by mutual trust and respect. The visit offeredboth sides a timely opportunity to further shape upon their close and regular consultations, particularly in the areas identified during the recently held Foreign Secretary level Bilateral Political Consultations, Joint Economic Commission session, and the Commerce Secretaries-level Talks.

Both sides reached a wide-ranging consensus on ways and means to strengthen cooperation further comprehensively and decided to hold frequent meetings; promote high-level and delegation-level exchanges; and enhance the process of consultations, collaboration, and synchronization between their respective institutions. Prime Minister Imran Khan reiterated Pakistan’s support for the socio-economic development of Sri Lanka in line with the vision of a “peaceful neighborhood.”

The two sides reviewed the all-encompassing engagement between the two countries in promoting cultural linkages, human resource development, capacity building in diverse areas, and educational and technical cooperation. The Pakistan side announced 100 scholarships in health sciences and medicines (MBBS and BDS) as part of the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Higher Education Cooperation Programme (PSLHECP). The Sri Lankan side appreciated the cooperation being extended by Pakistan in human resource development and capacity building.

While comprehending the existence of boundless potential of religious tourism to Buddhist archeological sites and perceiving the close ancient and cultural ties dating back to Gandhara civilization, the two sides emphasized the importance of augmenting cooperation in the field of tourism and highlighted the benefits of sharing expertise in the hospitality industry, including training and capacity building. The Pakistan side declared its initiative of establishing the Asian Civilization and Culture Centre at the University of Peradeniya, Kandy. Both sides recognized the importance of enhancing air connectivity to promote people-to-people contact, tourism, trade, and culture.

In order to explore new avenues for enhancing bilateral trade and investment between the two countries, a high-level Pakistan-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Conference was held on 24 February 2021. The Conference provided an opportunity for effective and meaningful engagement between the business communities of the two countries. At the Conference, both Pakistan and Sri Lanka sides reiterated the importance of strengthening economic relations in critical areas of mutual interest and diversifying trade and investment. The two sides emphasized the importance of realizing the goal of achieving a US$ 1 billion bilateral trade target and also agreed to work towards broadening and deepening of Pakistan Sri Lank Free Trade Agreement.

During the visit, the following MoUs between Pakistan and Sri Lanka were signed:

i. Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Government of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan on Cooperation in Tourism

ii. Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Cooperation between the Board of Investment of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Board of Investment of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan

iii. Memorandum of Understanding between Industrial Technology Institute (ITI), the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, and International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences, University of Karachi Islamic Republic of Pakistan

iv Intent Cooperation between Industrial Technology Institute of Sri Lanka and COMSATS University Islamabad

v. Memorandum of Understanding between University of Colombo, Sri Lanka and Lahore School of Economics, Pakistan

Prime Minister Imran Khan and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa together accredited the Sri Lanka-Pakistan Parliamentary Friendship Association reconstitution. Both sides highlighted the need to strengthen parliamentary cooperation between two sides.

Both sides expressed satisfaction at the existing bilateral cooperation in the field of defense. They noted that the elevation of staff-level talks to Defence Dialogue has further provided a prospect to expand security sector relations. Prime Minister Imran Khan announced a new $50 million defense credit line facility. The two sides stressed the need for a strengthened partnership to support and coordinate with each other to deal with matters related to security, terrorism, organized crime, drug and narcotic trafficking, and intelligence-sharing.

In his efforts to strengthen sports diplomacy, Prime Minister Imran Khan participated in a shared session with the sports community of Sri Lanka on 24 February 2021. At this event, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Sports and Youth Namal Rajapaksa, in the Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardane, stated the commissioning of the “Imran Khan High-Performance Sports Centre” in Colombo.

The Pakistan side declared its decision to provide PKR 52 million to promote sports in Sri Lanka, including through training and equipment.

Both sides stressed the importance of inter-religious dialogue and harmony as a key to promoting cultural diversity, peaceful co-existence, and mutual empathy.

The two sides observed the close cooperation between the two countries at regional and international fora on mutual interest issues. They agreed to strengthen a coordinated approach on such matters further.

Both sides restated their commitment to the principles and intents of the SAARC Charter. They stressed the need for SAARC Member countries to build on convergences for the region’s people’s greater good. Both sides emphasized the need to convene the Charter Based bodies and agreed to take forward the SAARC process for further strengthening regional cooperation to achieve prosperity in the region.

Discussing the regional and global environment developments, the two sides restated their shared commitment to regional peace, security, and stability. Prime Minister Imran Khan underscored the need for peaceful resolution of unresolved disputes through constructive dialogue in accordance with international legitimacy.

In the context of regional connectivity, Prime Minister Imran Khan highlighted the opportunities presented by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of BRI, for regional economic growth and prosperity.

Discussing the extraordinary challenges postured by Covid – 19, the two sides highlighted the need for combined efforts to deal with the pandemic. Sri Lanka thanked Pakistan for the tremendous assistance extended to the return of stranded Sri Lankans in Pakistan since the Covid pandemic outbreak.

While echoing the new government’s commitment to strengthen the bilateral relations further, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka thanked the government and people of Pakistan for the persistent support extended by Pakistan to defend the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.

The Prime Minister of Pakistan extended an invitation to the President and the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka to visit Pakistan at their earliest convenience and thanked Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa for the warm cordiality extended to him and his delegation.

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Huge blast on the Afghanistan-Iran border

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Migrants at the IOM Islam Qala Reception Centre. The Centre provided services to thousands of Afghan returnees daily, prior to the catastrophic fire on 13 February. IOM/Nick Bishop

On Saturday 13 February the Islam Qala reception center owned by the IOM was demolished at the border between Afghanistan and Iran, leading to a pause to repatriation service for afghans. This led to a devastating burn. At least 40 people were killed because of this huge blast, while 17 were wounded. Tens of thousands of repatriated Afghans obtained humanitarian relief from the center International Organization of Migration, (IOM) in 2020. None were injured in the fire by IOM workers or migrants returning from Iran.Whatever sparked this explosion was not instantly apparent. The provincial governor of Herat, Wahid Qatali, said the Afghan first responders did not have the means to light the enormous fires and required Iran’s assistance by firefighting aircraft.”We can’t even discuss the victims for the time being,” Qatali told The Associated Press. Emergency crews and Afghan security services moved hundreds of fuel and gas tankers from the region, while an appeal for air-firefighting assistance was made available to the International Resolute Support Mission, quoted by Reuters as quoted by Katali.

Mohammad Rafiq shirzy, spokesperson for the district hospitals of Herat’s Provincial capital and also called Herat, said that more than 500 trucks were carrying natural gas and diesel that have been destroyed by the severity of the fire, and he said that it was impossible for ambulances to reach the injured or to reach the explosion site. Hossein Akhundzadeh, a regional Iranian trade official, told Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) about the explosion of more than 300 coal, diesel, and petrol cars. The flash has not yet been contained, and precise evidence was not provided,”It’s not known whether the drivers were able to escape or not. The blaze has not been contained yet and exact information is not available,”We don’t know whether the driver might escape or not.The Power Supply Ministry Spokesman, Wahidullah Tawhidi, said the fire was continuing after nightfall and that Afghanistan was pressuring Iran to close down its electricity supply. It has been said that the burning of two pylons has disconnected 100 tons of electricity imported into the Herat Province by Iran. He said 60% of Herat, one of Afghanistan’s leading provinces, was powerless.A dangerous route Afghan people often pursue overnight because of fear of gangs of violence, attacks between Herat City and Islam Qalah. Taliban gunmen, on the other hand, travel freely across the area.Afghan government troops assembled defensive positions and aided emergency ambulances and cars from and to the border. According to Iranian State TV, the fire spread to the Irish customs facilities Dogharoon, and first responders, including the fire departments, the Iranian army, and the border guards, managed to extinguish the fire. The natural gas and diesel trucks were sent away from the scene.As part of a national concession exempting Kabul from US sanctions against Iran, the United States permits Afghanistan to import fuel and oil from Iran.

According to a statement from the Aghan organization, on Monday, “IOM anticipates a substantial decline in rates of return through the Islam Qala in the days to come as migrants are now re-routed from Iran into the main border crossing of Milak province of Nimroz, which lies over 1,000 km south-west.They have shown that in 2020, there returned a high number of Afghans.Nick Bishop, program manager of IOM reported in a cross-border return reply that “the initial inspection of reception centers for the return showed significant damage to the roof and walls.”The staff of the Afghan Ministry for Refugees and Returns (MoRR) are relocating people in need here to the IOM transit center in Herat before IOM staff are back, awaiting a full assessment and inspection of the safety situation before IOM staff can resume their work from here. “The organization takes exceptional steps to secure the continuing humanitarian assistance can take place.

Unfortunately, as the fire began all the returning residents, who had already moved to their next location at our reception center, that day.There was a drastic rise in return rates last year, as COVID-19 caused many Afghans residing in neighboring Iran to lose jobs and livelihoods. By 2020, the largest year of return was almost 860,000 illegal Afghan immigrants back from Iran.Approximately 15,000 people cross the Islam Qala border point daily, while nearly 1,500 per day need humanitarian assistance. Approximately 60% of Herat province was helpless as a result of flames, said DABS, an Afghan power supplier.Islam Qala is one of the main ports of Afghanistan that traffic most officially with Iran. Afghanistan has earned concessions from Washington to buy oil and gas from Iran amid the sanctions of the United States.A risky stretch of highway between Herat and Islam Qala, where Afghans barely ride by night for fear of criminal gang attacks. In the area, the Taliban are still free to work.Hope to rapidly repair all damage to the reception facility as soon as possible and continue vital humanitarian services to Afghans returning through this major transit route, but we will require increased support to do so.

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‘External forces’ won’t decide the actions of New Delhi

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India’s farmer’s protest is in the news for a while for the obvious reasons. In a democracy there should be protests, it keeps the power balanced. However, in India, the protestors and the government are both facing a common challenge, that is the external influence. To which, Indian External Affairs Minister and other government wings already made public statements. Before understanding the external factors, one needs to look into the farmer’s protest.

What are the farm laws?

Last year Government of India passed three laws in order to bring a reform in the agriculture sector in India, which are:

  1. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act – provides for setting up a mechanism allowing the farmers to sell their farm produces outside the Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMCs). Any licence-holder trader can buy the produce from the farmers at mutually agreed prices. This trade of farm produces will be free of mandi (marketplace) tax imposed by the state governments.
  2. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance – Allows farmers to do contract farming and market their produces freely.
  3. Farm Services Act, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act – amendment to the existing Essential Commodities Act. This law now frees items such as foodgrains, pulses, edible oils and onion for trade except in extraordinary (read crisis) situations.

According to the government – the new laws will help to strengthen basic farm sector infrastructure through greater private investments. Successive governments have found financial constraints in investing in farm and rural infrastructure. It is argued that with food markets growing exponentially in India, private players would make agriculture profitable for the farmers.

Why farmers are protesting?

It’s been around 3 months since the Farmers are protesting in North India, on the highways en-route Delhi. Despite having rounds of talks between the government and the farmers, they’re yet to find a common understanding.

Farmers are worried as they feel this may impact the existing structure and lead to the corporatization of the agriculture sector in which the big corporations will exploit the farmers. Moreover, the new farm bill talks about the establishment of the private Agriculture Produce Market Committee, which in turn will end the role of middleman involved in the market, However, the middleman is seen by farmers, not as one exploiting them but one who provides services to them. Their number in two states – Punjab & Haryana could cross 100,000. So, farmers and middleman fear that this will ultimately result in huge job loss and impact the structure.

Another point farmers fears that from individual-to-individual relation, these bills will change the market into the individual to corporate relations. With a changed dispute settlement mechanism the farmers also are worried that their pleas could not get the desired settlement.

MSP – Minimum Support Price is another demand forwarded by the farmers, which they apprehend that allowing outside-APMC trade of farm produces would lead to lesser buying by the government agencies in the approved Mandis (marketplace). The protesting farmers say the new laws would thus make the MSP system irrelevant and they would not have any assured income from their farming. Right now, the government announces fixed MSP for around two dozen crops.

The working of the MSP system has been such over the years that it benefits only a handful of farmers at the all-India level. The Shanta Kumar committee set up by the Modi government in 2015 says that only six percent of farmers benefit from the MSP regime.

The catch here is that for farmers of some states such as Punjab and Haryana, the MSP system has worked well. In these two states procurement of paddy and wheat range around 75-80 per cent.

So, the fear that the MSP system may crumble and get dismantled after the new farm laws are implement has become a very emotive issue for the farmers of Punjab and Haryana. And, that is why they are the ones who are most vocal in their protest against the farm laws and demanding that the MSP should be made mandatory for both APMC and private Mandis (marketplace).

The government, however, is constantly in touch with the farmers and trying to resolve the issues through dialogue and till then the laws have been kept on hold while talks are held.

External group’s interference

Many external elements are interfering in the protests and challenging the government, including a few fringes and notorious separatist organisations which are based and nurtured by the West during the days of the cold war days for the obvious reasons. In the garb of human rights and democracy, they know it very well that how to destabilise a nation. There are many examples in front of us, the Russian protests being one of them. 

The world has seen how after the new U.S. government’s arrival in the United States set the narrative for the socialist lobby around the world. President Trump very well assessed the threats of such groups and kept them in check but the new administration seems to propagate their ideology as the state policy. 

When President Biden said, “We must meet the ‘new moment’ accelerating global challenges” it indicates toward continuing the policies of Obama administration with new added ‘Biden’ characteristics. 

The tweets by American celebrities and people with clear political leaning are not about the protests, they in fact, do not know much about the protest, and their idea is to attack the ideology which doesn’t meet theirs. India is a land of protests, revolution, ideas and ideologies and both the Government of India and Indians respect the thoughts across the spectrum.

One of the American Congresswomen said that she will continue to monitor this situation closely and another expressed the solidarity but their thoughts are not driven by the plights of farmers, rather a particular ideology.

Recently, the State Department welcomed the reforms by the Indian government and also advocates for the protests. Which is contradicting in itself. India as a bearer of an Independent Foreign Policy should avoid any validation by any foreign government and let not the tweets by a particular mindset decide the course of protest or government actions.

India as a democracy respect different ideas but can’t allow any ‘vested interest’ groups influence any actions by New Delhi.

From our partner International Affairs

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