The recent press conference by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister and the DG ISPR brought to light India’s subversive activities to destabilise the country as well as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). They claimed that not only is India promoting sub-nationalism in Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) and Azad Kashmir but it has also established a dedicated cell and a militia to disrupt CPEC projects and has set aside $60 million for this purpose.
India’s stance on CPEC has been no secret but it’s the first time that Pakistan has come out with the specifics. It shows intensifying covert operations against CPEC, India’s growing discomfort with the cozying Pak-China relations, and the rising geopolitical tensions in the region.
What is India’s problem with CPEC? Firstly, it’s the decades-old India-Pakistan rivalry that is in play here. But more than that it’s the consolidation of long-term Chinese interests in Pakistan that is the real source of India’s discomfort. CPEC means unhindered Chinese access to and continued presence in Gwadar, which when looked at in the light of ‘all-weather Pak-China friendship’ means that India will have to think twice before engaging Pakistan in conventional warfare. Then comes the issue of G-B. The CPEC arteries connecting Xinjiang to Gwadar crisscross through this mountainous territory that India has long claimed to be hers. The Chinese-financed CPEC strengthens Islamabad’s claim on G-B, something that has not been received well in New Delhi. China’s stake in G-B also significantly restricts India’s options to resist Pakistan’s decision to grant G-B the status of a province.
Lastly, it is hard to ignore the changing international and regional political landscape. Regional conflicts, hostility and acrimonious politics has traditionally impeded economic co-operation within South Asia, which remains one of the least integrated and co-operative regions in the world with minimal movement of goods, individuals and investments across countries. This however could have changed with the China-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), building on China’s strong economic and trade relationships with India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. But India, under the baggage of bitter Sino-Indian history and blinded by animosity with Pakistan, decided to stay away from BRI and hence forego this historic opportunity to create a new economic bloc in South Asia. This Indian stance was at least partially influenced by an aggressive anti-China US policy under the Trump administration and its ambition for a free and open Indo-Pacific strategy. Then the recent border skirmishes between China and India added fuel to the fire. These covert operations in Pakistan are therefore a way for India to indirectly settle its score with China, which could not be settled in the battleground of Ladakh.
How should Pakistan respond?
For starters, we need to get our house in order. The institutional apparatus for CPEC implementation remains in limbo, with the CPEC Authority Ordinance expired. Even before its expiry, it wasn’t entirely clear how the CPEC Authority worked with the ministries and provinces. Any further lapse on this front would mean more fodder for CPEC’s opponents.
Then comes the narrative-building part. International media is rife with anti-CPEC stories, floated by Indian propaganda machine, spewing venom. Our side of the story is missing from the international scene and that’s what needs to be told, backed by figures and facts.
Lastly, we must realise that the future of Balochistan is inseparable from the future of CPEC. A prosperous Balochistan would strengthen CPEC’s foundation, whereas an impoverished province with rampant unemployment would create a permanent threat. Therefore, it’s time to put in place a Balochistan strategy for CPEC, laying out a clear plan of action on how the Baloch people can reap the dividends of this multi-billion dollar investment that has the potential to change Pakistan’s destiny.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 17th, 2020.