Lt Gen Raza Muhammad Khan (R)
THE Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is the world’s largest platform for economic cooperation. The CPEC is located at the hub of the BRI and is a pivotal component of its 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. It can fetch unprecedented and unconditional prosperity and peace dividends for the entire South and Central Asian region and scores of the 60 plus BRI countries. As part of the CPEC, the Gwadar port can offer indirect benefits to many of the 32 littoral states of the Indian Ocean that may not be part of the BRI. Regrettably, some powers are opposing this progress for their own perverted and trivial reasons. They are creating overt and covert hurdles in its implementation and are displaying competitive, rather than cooperative reactions. Rival projects like the US sponsored ‘New Silk Road package’, in partnership with India and Afghanistan and the ‘Indo-Pacific Freedom Corridor’ proposed by India and Japan, have been prompted by the CPEC. Similarly, Indian investments in the Iranian port of Chabahar are intended to contest with growth of Gwadar port. China and Pakistan have rightly not shown any aversion to the competition, though India has already started misusing the Chabahar project for aiding, abetting and sponsoring RAW terrorist networks to disrupt the CPEC. Of greater concern are the numerous efforts and international conspiracies, engineered by India and supported by others, to sabotage the CPEC. The Pakistani CJCSC, Gen Zubair disclosed on 14 Nov that RAW had established a special cell at a cost of $500 million, for the purpose. Indian hostile activities in Pakistan intensified within days of the inauguration of the CPEC shipments. First, an Indian submarine illegally sneaked into Pakistani waters near Gwadar in Nov 2016 on a clandestine mission against the port but it beat a hasty retreat when challenged by the Pakistan Navy. Other attempts include numerous Indian terrorist activities in Balochistan in collaboration with Afghanistan, that are mentioned in the confessions of Commander Jhadav, advertisements with malicious content about Baluchistan, in Geneva in September and then in London in November. Earlier, US Congressman Rohrabacher had spoken of the ‘right’ of the people of Baluchistan to ‘self-determination’ at Washington in 2012 and at London in 2013. In Oct 2017, the US Defence Secretary parroted Indian objections to the CPEC during a Congressional hearing. Media reports in Nov revealed that the Indian NSA, Ajit Doval tried to seek Afghanistan’s permission in October, to set up a “small security presence” in Badakhshan province, close to the Pakistan and China border, probably to sabotage the CPEC in GB or even in Kyrgyzstan. India is also being encouraged to secure “small military bases” in Tajikistan for the same purpose. Last month, Ashraf Ghani, in the presence of Tillerson at Delhi, made his country’s support to the CPEC conditional with Indian use of Pakistani land routes for Afghan transit trade, knowing well that Pakistan cannot allow this due to lack of capacity, concerns about over congestion and saturation of the existing infrastructure and security reasons. Meanwhile, India continues to re-establish its broken links with the TTP, Jamaat-al-Ahraar, BLA and BLF terrorists in Afghanistan for creating chaos in Baluchistan and GB.
Frequent disinformation campaigns about CPEC have also simultaneously been launched inside Pakistan. All these highly provocative actions are part of a well thought and integrated, international conspiracy that is tantamount to an undeclared war, as they pose a direct threat to the national interests of not only China and Pakistan but many other countries that could benefit from the BRI and the CPEC. US support to India on the matter, in this environment is very short sighted indeed.
Though challenges to CPEC appear daunting but they can be surmounted. The Pakistani foreign office has taken note of some of more serious developments and has initiated appropriate action to condemn and reject hostile measures against the CPEC, calling them as an infringement of the UN Charter and impingement of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. However, this has been done somewhat cautiously and at a rather low level, so far. There is a need to concomitantly and officially communicate our concerns, at the highest level, to the head of the foreign governments that are opposing the CPEC. This should be done jointly and severally by Pakistan and China in consultation with the other countries that are part of the BRI. Our response should include manifold collective remedies and counteractions to compel the antagonists of the CPEC to desist from hurting our economic interests. The BRI has recently been written into China’s Constitution. Being a vital interest, the Pakistani government must also provide constitutional protection to the CPEC. Negative propaganda against the CPEC must be dispelled through Sino-Pak state and private media, ensuring transparency of planning as well as execution and arranging seminars and workshops.
As Afghanistan’s stability cannot be predicted and its policies are unlikely to change in the near future, any CPEC plans that are dependent for access to Central Asia via Afghanistan should be immediately scrapped and Afghanistan completely bypassed through revival of The “Quadrilateral Agreement on Traffic in Transit” (QATT) of 1995 that was signed in 2004 by the governments of China, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to facilitate direct transit trade among them. The heads of all four countries have already expressed their support for the QATT. This arrangement will also enable most other Central Asian Republics to access Gwadar without reliance on an insecure Afghanistan.
While the government has raised special security forces for the protection of the CPEC, this must be augmented with a Pak-China CPEC intelligence organization, satellite monitoring and enhanced maritime collaboration. Another multinational organization, led by China, must be formed, to respond to the threats posed to the BRI, through coordinated political, diplomatic, economic, security and surveillance measures. Despite heavy odds, many CPEC projects are already up and running. This is a clear message about the resilience and determination of the Chinese and the Pakistani people, who are committed to its success not only for their own benefit, but also for others to diversify and develop their economies. This should inspire everyone to support, rather than oppose the CPEC.
The author is the former President of the NDU.