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CPEC: Opportunity for Iran and Pakistan

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Historically, Iran and Pakistan enjoyed friendly relations and this relationship has noticeably improved in the recent years. The two countries have been successful in harmonizing their differences over Afghanistan where they have no more to enter into contestation, given Iran’s reconciliation with the Taliban and the two countries’ common threat perceptions over the rise of the Islamic State in the ‘AfPak’ region.Pakistan’s regional posture is India-centric, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also enunciated on several occasions a policy of encircling and isolating Pakistan regionally and internationally. Along those lines, India has substantially increased its influence in Afghanistan, and it has recently, too, started stepping up its engagement with Iran. Meanwhile, Pakistan, instead of countering Indian engagement in Iran, is directing its ire at Iran itself. This has further alienated Tehran, which has its own interests to pursue.

As per 2013 Pew Poll found that 69 per cent of Pakistanis had a favourable view of Iran, the highest percentage of 39 countries polled worldwide on perceptions of the Islamic Republic. According to a survey, conducted by the Pakistan Institute of Peace in 2013, political and religious parties in Pakistan hold on to the notion that Pakistan’s ties with Iran should not be determined by the fears of upsetting the US but need to be based on Pakistan’s own national interest. It will not only improve relations with Iran, but also promote security, economic cooperation and, sectarian harmony. According to a report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2013, while Pakistan ranked as the 11th largest trading partner of Iran, trade between the two countries has been well below its true potential despite geography and the infrastructure available under the Economic Organization Cooperation (ECO) framework. There is, however, a high volume of trade between the two countries through third country channels, smuggling and other illegal modes of financial transactions, mainly because of the western imposed sanctions on Iran, and the threats of penalties on the countries doing business with Iran.

Covering a land area of 1,648,195 km2 (636,372 sq mi), Iran is the second-largest country in the Middle East and the 18th-largest in the world. With 78.4 million inhabitants, Iran is the world’s 17th-most-populous country. It is the only country with both a Caspian Sea and an Indian Ocean coastline The country’s central location in Eurasia and Western Asia, and its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz, makes it of great geostrategic importance. Iran is heir to one of the world’s oldest civilizations, beginning with the formation of the Proto-Elamite and Elamite kingdoms in 3200–2800 BC. The area was first unified by the Iranian Medes in 625 BC, who became the dominant cultural and political power in the region.It is important to note that Tehran is very closely watching the realignments taking place in the region as well as at the international levels to assess its future plan of action. With a new block emerging in the region, Iran is fast shifting its weight towards China. Iran can join this coalition which aspires to keep the region peaceful and economically vibrant.

Iran, situated astride the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman and Caspian Sea, has Pakistan, Armenia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Turkey as its neighboring states. Being an energy abundant country, exports petroleum, cement, chemical products, carpets and fruits and imports capital goods, consumer goods, Industrial supplies and technical services. Iran’s trading partners include China, Japan, India, Turkey, South Korea and UAE. Initially opposing Gwadar as a perceived economic threat to Chahbahar, Tehran has recently shown its inclination to participate in CPEC with an intent to enhance land connectivity for trade purposes. With Iran’s positive disposition towards CPEC the erstwhile Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline could be rechristened as Iran-Pakistan-China (IPC) Pipeline. Iran’s participation in the Project is likely to go a long way in bringing stability to the region, particularly Afghanistan. A train link connecting Pakistan, Iran and Turkey78 will not only strengthen Pakistan-Iran-Turkey partnership but would also ensure a safe trade route from South-Asia to Middle East and from Turkey right into Europe.

The willingness shown recently by President Rouhani to join with the world’s economic giant through CPEC is actually not linked to benefit economically but also the strategic significance of this new emerging alliance is also being taken care of.The bottom line is that both Iran and Pakistan regard China as a bulwark against US hegemony. The CPEC also brings in an economic dimension.Moving on, Iran’s inclusion in CPEC will help Pakistan in a number of ways. One, Iran’s re-entry into the active international fold after the recent lifting of sanctions bodes well for Islamabad. For Iran, there’s no looking back. Trade and economic representatives from all over the world are scrambling to Tehran to woo Iran to do business with them. Analysts are predicting a turnaround of fortunes for the Iranians as well as transformation of the oil market mechanistic dynamics.

For Pakistan, Iran’s resurgence is nothing but good news, especially as far as the long-forgotten Iran-Pakistan pipeline project is concerned. There is now a reason to believe that some progress will be made in the changed set of circumstances.Before Iran was hit by international sanctions, bilateral trade between with Pakistan was around $1.6 billion annually. After the economy-crippling sanctions were imposed, Pak-Iran bilateral trade was reduced to around $300 million. Now that the West lifted its sanctions against Iran due to the nuclear deal reached in 2015, the Iranian economy and, consequently, Pak-Iran bilateral trade, are slowly recovering.

Having said that trade and energy cooperation between Pakistan and Iran can be increased through the revival of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. The gas pipeline could meet 25 per cent of Pakistan’s energy needs. The total cost of the project is estimated at US$7.50 billion with the cost, on the Pakistani side, of about US$1.25 billion. The project would supply 750 mcft daily through its 1700 km length, and it is estimated that at least 5000 MW of electricity could be generated through the use of Iranian gas. The pipeline can also become a part of the larger China-Pakistan Economic Corridor initiative;.According to South Asia analyst Michael Kugelman, “Iran may have concerns about Gwadar from a geopolitical standpoint, given that Gwadar and the broader pattern of Chinese investment in Pakistan is a competitor to the India-led transport infrastructure project that centers around the port of Chabahar in Iran. Based on scale and amount of investment, the Chinese investments in Pakistan are more formidable than India’s in Iran.” Kugelman continues, “At the same time, Gwadar could have benefits for Iran. China has suggested its broader CPEC project in Pakistan could include financing the Pakistani side of a new gas pipeline from Iran. Also, China’s massive investments in Pakistan could merely be the precursor to broader Chinese regional infrastructure investments, including in Iran. Who knows – we could even see the Chinese making some contributions to Chabahar. Anything is possible.”

Pakistan is especially interested in improving and coordinating its economic relations with Iran. With the lifting of the international sanctions on Iran, all legal hurdles of doing trade with Iran have now been removed. This will give a boost to economic relations between the two countries and both the countries would no longer have to rely on indirect trade. While economic relations will be the major focus of future relations, there will be many foreign policy issues that will impact such relations. Of particular concern would be China’s efforts to develop the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and Iran’s growing relations with India.

The mounting ties between China and Iran is an important factor that needs to be weighed by the leadership in Pakistan to immediately take necessary steps to ensure a trilateral cooperation among Pakistan, Iran and China. There is an added factor to push this kind of cooperation forward. During a visit to Iran by Chinese President Xi Jinping in January 2016, both Iran and China signed a US$600 billion trade deal. Both agreed to expand multidimensional ties and increase bilateral trade more than tenfold in the next decade. The two countries signed seventeen accords including agreements on cooperation in nuclear energy to become a part of China’s One Belt, One Road‟ initiative.

For Iran, the corridor would provide the  country with much  required openness to the  east. In  addition, Iran‘s  entrance in  this venture would  lead  to  an  era  of  improved  economic  development  across  the  Sistan-Baluchistan  province  by enhancing trade  between Pakistan,  China, and Iran  and would  offer a  cost-effective gateway to  the Gulf region for states like Russia and India. Presently, the need for Pakistan is to take into account the concerns of Iran especially if  Pakistan  wants to balance India‘s  influence  in the region and  wishes to fulfill the old dream of Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. iran must look forward to the removal of non-tariff barriers and Pakistan must set mechanism to purchase oil from Iran instead of going miles away. Strategic importance of Gawadar does haunt neighboring countries but Pakistan has to mainstream this right strategic narrative of cooperation for greater good of both countries. Pakistan as friendly gesture could lay modes of connectivity between Chabahar and Gawadar.

Islamabad based freelance contributor and researcher. His area of research is south Asia special focus on china India relations.

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South Asia

The need of China- Pakistan ties

Muhammad Usman Ghani

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At times the significance of neighboring countries can’t be denied or ignored. History is the biggest beholder that any country who fancied cordial terms with its neighbors has enjoyed the taste of development and otherwise. In the contemporary world, the links get to establish on the plank of how strong are you economically. Gone are the days when the relationships would foster for the reason of being the nuclear might. At the present era, the countries offer you even hand in case you are economically well instituted and dominate the world market. China the world’s biggest emerging economy is fantasized by the majority of the countries. The countries perceive China as an ideal country to foster good terms.

In this respect, Pakistan is fortunate enough to have the best terms with China. The amicable terms of Pakistan and China are an eyesore for many countries particularly the U.S. and India. The saga of Pak-Sino ties began in 1951 when Pakistan recognized nationalist turned communist China. From those very moments, the relationship between both states experienced the unending boom. The friendship between China and Pakistan has now strengthened much more than ever. The rationale behind that intimate bond is now transactional and strategic needs of both the states.

China an economic giant shares 523kms border with Pakistan and situated in the northeast side of the latter. During recent times its significance for Pakistan has grown multiple times. China is vital for Pakistan strategically and transactionally. The BRI (Belt Road Initiative) that envisages China’s connectivity with the world incorporates CPEC is fate changer for Pakistan. The thriving consummation of CPEC would ensure Pakistan’s economic triumph. Pakistan shares a history of a troubled relationship with India. As per the designs of India, it wants Pakistan diplomatically isolated from each front. When it comes to Afghanistan, the North Alliance there doesn’t enjoy good terms with Pakistan. It doesn’t possess virtuous viewpoints about Pakistan. It has ever blamed Pakistan for the instability in Afghanistan. In the west, Pakistan has another neighbor Iran, with which the relationship rosary is somewhat fragile. The U.S. sanctions bearer country (Iran) has mixed contemplations about Pakistan. The story of Pakistan’s ties with Russia doesn’t portray the perfect portrait. Across the continent, there is a global power the U.S. that has a longing desire to dictate Pakistan. It has commanded Pakistan whether it is the cold war or the global war against terror. The U.S. outpoured the money in Pakistan whenever it desired and froze the aid according to its desire. Thus, Pakistan is not at good terms with the U.S.

Amidst all the scenario, Pakistan is in dire need to maintain good terms with the one that could mitigate its sufferings. In this respect, China holds the best prospect. Besides, China always came forward to assist Pakistan on international organizations like the U.N. and the S.C.O (Shanghai Corporation Organization). Along with it China being the dominant member of N.S.G (Nuclear supplier group) has always endorsed Pakistan’s membership bid. On the other side, China negates India’s desire to become a member of the N.S.G. The resolution of the Kashmir issue is among the national interest of Pakistan, and China always stood by Pakistan in this matter. The matter is not confined here, China being an industrial and the technological giant outpours its products in Pakistan. The transfer of technology and products from China to Pakistan has helped the latter up to a greater extent.

Indeed China has been kind to Pakistan, but the question is; why China showers its magnanimity over Pakistan.

The answer has multiple dimensions. Aforementioned, China is dominating the global economy. It is emerging as the world’s biggest economy by upsetting the U.S. This upkeep of China is an eyesore for the U.S. Globally, China shares irksome ties with the U.S.  Last year the U.S. entered into the trade war with China. When it comes to the region, Asia, China finds India as its competitor that seeks regional dominance. Additionally, the consummation of the BRI has now become considerably important for China. China is well aware of these challenges and astute enough to read the trends of the time. It deems Pakistan as a considerate opportunity in this respect.

Pakistan and India are rival countries and vie for the dominance in the South-Asia. Also, India seeks Pakistan’s isolation on the diplomatic front. Whether it is LOC skirmish, water dispute, and the Kashmir issue; India and Pakistan ever remain at loggerheads over any of these issues. Such stalemate is an ideal context for China because the U.S. has opted India as its strategic ally in South-Asia. China, Pakistan, and India all the three countries share borders with each other. Regrettably, these three countries have reservations over territory and have fought wars as well. The nexus of Pakistan and China is undoubtedly capable of countering the Indian interests. However, this nexus is more in favor of China than Pakistan. Engaged in other affairs like trade war, operating the BRI, seeking an alliance with other states; China doesn’t want to involve more in countering India. China sees Pakistan as the best option for this purpose because this serves the interests of China and Pakistan as well.

When it comes to technological advancement, China has hit the mark in the world. Industries, power sector, automation houses, such departments require energy to run. Central Asian Republics (CARs) are renowned for being rich in energy resources, and the unique location of Pakistan joins it with the CARs. The CPEC is initiated for this purpose of providing the shortest route for transiting fuel to China from energy-rich countries, and Pakistan is playing its role as the energy-conduit state. Pakistan through the CPEC is conserving China’s transit cost and time as well.

China and the U.S. share a fraught history of bonds and remain at loggerheads; Pakistan in recent times has also experienced cold shoulder from the U.S. The cold war rival of the U.S., Russia is yet another camp that is not at good terms with the former. The neighbor of Pakistan, Iran that is reeling from the vicious cycle of the economic downturn is also the victim of the U.S. rage. Last year the U.S. torpedoed the JCPOA unilaterally, and during the same year, Donald Trump heralded the sanctions on Iran. Iran also initiated a project with India to counter the CPEC on its Chabahar port. China by the cooperation of Pakistan can incorporate Iran in the CPEC, and the alliance of China, Pakistan, Iran, and Russia can counter the dominance of the U.S.

The recent visit of Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan to Pakistan is a good omen for both countries. The Chinese reservations that reared head following the terrorist attack in Gawadar would diminish by the visit of vice president. Wang Qishan also held meetings with PM Imran Khan, President Arif Alvi, CM Usman Buzdar and Governor Punjab Chaudry Ghulam Sarwar.

It is also in the national interest of Pakistan that it should seek an alliance with other countries and the foreign policy agenda of Pakistan has also the same appeal. PM Imran Khan with his foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi must have to strengthen the bond further since the cordial bonds with China would ensure Pakistan’s prosperity.

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South Asia

India’s Continuing Tussle Between Hindu Nationalists And Reformists

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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On the evening of January 30, 1948, as he walked to his regular interfaith prayer meeting, Mahatma Gandhi was shot and killed.  The assassin Nathuram Godse was a Hindu nationalist who opposed Gandhi’s inclusiveness towards those of other faiths, particularly Muslims. 

Manifested in its worst form in the assassination of a revered figure, this conflict between liberal and nationalist Hindus continues to this day.  The chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, is the current target of the Hindu nationalist BJP’s scorn.

In India’s recent general election, the BJP and Narendra Modi the prime minister were returned to power with an increased majority in the lower house of India’s parliament.  Their usual poor showing in West Bengal, even though improved in this election, has led to comments designed to arouse public ire — like the state has been turned into a mini-Pakistan.  It is worth noting that Gandhi’s killer was a former member of the RSS, leaving it to form an armed group.  Also the RSS is considered the ideological fountainhead of the BJP, and Mr. Modi continues to be a member. 

Not long ago Gauri Lankesh was murdered outside her home for expressing liberal views.  This time in the Kolkata disturbances against Banerjee, it was a bust of a secular reformist liberal that was decapitated:  the venerated Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820-1891) was a lawyer, philosopher and reformist who contributed to rationalizing the Bengali alphabet and prose, and fought for Hindu widows’ right to remarry.

But the difference between Hindu nationalists and liberals is of earlier origin.  In the 19th century, social reformers like Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade were opposed by others like B. G. Tilak.  If Ranade supported the Age of Consent Bill raising the age when girls could be married from 10 to 12, then Tilak thought it to be an interference by foreigners in Indian customs and traditions.  Tilak had also formed cow protection societies raising communal tensions in his Bombay base — sound familiar to the present situation where meat eaters and leather tanners are often targeted?  Ranade sought to keep religion private and foresaw the potential conflict

The practice of celebrating the birthday of the god Ganesh was old and the ‘puja’ or worship usually performed in the home.  Tilak now encouraged a public ‘puja’, encouraging people to bring the Ganesh idols out of their homes and celebrate openly.  The festival of loud music and idols in procession continues to this day and is now spread out over ten days.

The consequences had been predicted by Tilak’s reformist adversaries, notably Justice Ranade and G. G. Agarkar, the latter a friend 0f Tilak who had become a critic.  In September 1893, Bombay suffered its first communal riot leaving nearly 100 dead and 500 injured.  Minor clashes had already occurred over the incessantly loud music and general disruption of daily activity.

The religious flavor so imparted to the independence movement gave pause to Muslims; the glue binding secular society was being dissolved.  Feeling marginalized, they soon formed the Muslim League to protect their rights, and not long thereafter began to demand a separate homeland … Pakistan. 

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Nuclear Suppliers Group: 29th Plenary Meeting

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Following the June’s 2018 plenary in Latvia, Nuclear Supplier Group is once again all set to held its next meeting in June 2019 in Kazakhstan. From transparency till criteria based admittance and further discussion upon technical and political admittance, NSG stepped through the innumerable stages. The 29th meeting is expected to be mostly focused on the agenda of accepting the memberships of new applicants, India and Pakistan.

28th plenary meeting came forward with discussion of 48 governments on all the developments of NSG meetings till date along with observers. They revised the strong binding on prevention of proliferation of nuclear weapons.  Participating governments also exchanged the information regarding global proliferation challenges and implementation of NPT worldwide. It included reconfirmation of commitment of Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK) to United Nations Security Council resolutions 2371, 2375, 2397 and all previous resolutions.NSG also reviewed continued binding of Iran to Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and E3/EU+2. Discussions were also proceeded on requests of participation. As it was discussed earlier in 2016th meeting to create space for technical, legal and political aspects of non-NPT members.

Earlier NSG discussed about strengthening the transparency of the organization. It felt need to update its guidelines considering the nuclear related industry and global security. Strengthening the NSG policies, its transparency, Peaceful use of nuclear energy, prevention of nuclear proliferation, nuclear exports with appropriate safeguards, physical and technical protections, adherence to the NPT and JCPOA policies are the basic aims behind the organization. Previously NSG condemned DPRK’s nuclear tests and Iran’s nuclear program showing its strong assertion. The process however was often politicized and biased in historical events where China seems to be in favor of Pakistan while Russia and USA preferred India’s stance. Back in 2012 Australia supported India’s entry to the group. Previously India and America condemn the sale of nuclear reactors of China to Pakistan. It was the part of same series in global politics.

NSG released “Updated Control List” following the 28th plenary meeting to reaffirm the strong binding and implementation of NPT as well as JCPOA. In January 2019 China once again made it obvious with its statement. The admittance of non NPT members is against the basics of NSG. It will be worth assuming that the rules and regulations of NSG or any other international or national organization are always tend to get mold at the need of the hour. Governments are manipulating these basics according to their benefits. Acceptance of applications of membership by India and Pakistan would definitely mean to deviate from the basics of the NSG. As most of the meetings in previous decade were focused on criteria based membership and adherence to the NPT rules along with observation of IAEA principalities.

Going through the sequence of events Nuclear Supplier Group nurtured through the couple of years. Accepting the membership of non NPT members Pakistan and India are against guidelines of NSG. Nuclear non-proliferation and productive use of weapons is its basic principle. If NSG governments make a consensus upon accepting the memberships based on legal, technical and political reasons it will deviate from basic norms and principles of NSG. However flexibility is the second option. It can be the softest possible gesture in any kind of setup. Through flexible rules and regulations and to absorb changing whenever required, any organization can be best fitted into the system. Likewise NSG may become supple enough to consider the options otherwise then the non NPT membership condition. Flexibility is the beauty of anything. Rigidness does not let any setup modernize according to the hour of the hour. Same fits for the NSG membership for Pakistan and India. However on the other hand taking stake of the very basics of any organization would be behind normal. It may demolish its transparency and reputation. So NSG has choice whether to maintain its reputation or to become flexible enough to absorb the changes at greater platform.

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