Dr Muhammad Khan
In July 2011, the former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton proposed the idea of a Silk Road connecting India with Central Asia through Pakistan and Afghanistan. Named as “New Silk Road”, Ms Clinton emphasized India in a speech in Chennai, India to revive the old Silk Road and also link India with South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) through ‘Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor’. Since both these projects were aimed at linking India with two very important Asian regions (Central Asia and ASEAN), therefore, India was asked to take the lead role.
Nevertheless, this idea remained in dormant during the second term of Obama with a less assertive Congress Government in New Delhi. In April-May 2017, a new debate started between Trump and Modi governments in Washington over these projects with a new name, Road and Port Connectivity, synonymous to Chinese One belt, One Road project. With Trump in Washington and Modi, an assertive leader in New Delhi, there is all the possibilities of the revival of ‘New Silk Road’ and port connectivity with ASEAN and Pacific region. The underlying idea is how to counter or at least offset the impact of the Chinese project of global linkage through One Belt, One Road (renamed as Belt and Road Initiative-BRI). This project will link China with; Europe, Africa, all regions of Asia, Australia and even with American Continent.
During the recent visit of US Secretary of state Rex Tillerson, there have been in depth discussions over the idea with new proposals incorporated into it. As reported by the ‘Hindustan Times’ according to new plans of action, India and United States will be ‘partner to build road connectivity in the sub-continent and a port connectivity in the Indo-Pacific.’ As revealed after the visit of Rex Tillerson, there will be road connectivity between India and central Asia through Pakistan and Afghanistan. The technique adopted, will be such that, even Pakistan will be, ‘inclined to participate in the move.’ Besides, through open sea, Indian ports will be connected to the countries of Asia-Pacific. Indirectly, this provides India the long desired linkage between Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean; the concept of Indo-Pacific.
Before overtly propagating the idea of ‘Road and Port connectivity’ US Secretary of State and US Defence Secretary General James Mattis (R) started opposing the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. Since there was no reason with India and US for this opposition, therefore, it was said that, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is passing through the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir (Gilgit-Baltistan area). It is worth mentioning that already this area is linked with China through KKH, constructed in 1960s. In 1960s, US companies made Mangla Dam, a huge water reservoir with the facility of electricity production on the soil of Jammu and Kashmir, a disputed territory, will US justify that? Furthermore, the people of GB have all the rights to prosper economically and spend a comfortable life, which they get through CPEC. This all is in line with the basic fundamental human rights, enshrined in the UN Charter and Human Rights Declaration-1848. Then, why the dispute has been kept alive despite having passed over two dozen of UN resolutions for the solution of Jammu and Kashmir dispute.
As an Asian country with 1.3 billion population and a growing economy India has to understand that, Chinese BRI (OBOR) is indeed a soft approach of linking east with west and north with south. This Chinese project will be linking the poor under developed and third world states with the developing and developed world. In the on-going wave of globalisation this project will create economic interdependency and resultant end of conflicts at the global and regional level. Therefore, opposing it on behest of an extra-regional power may not benefit India on the long-term.
India has to understand that, US is doing this all for its own national interests, for the continuation of its super power status and India will be used as tool to further the US interests. Though in the process, India may get temporary benefits, however, on the long-term, Indian and US alliance system will create fissure in the broader regions of Asia with a very serious implication for South Asia. The Road and Port connectivity will indeed, enhance conflicts in Asia-Pacific region, where US is eying at containment of China through an alliance system.
— The writer, Professor of Politics and International Relations, is based in Islamabad.
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Dr Muhammad Khan