Geopolitics

CPEC & India’s Challenge
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 15 Mar , 2017

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has drawn strong interests of not only the two partners, but also the attention of entire West-, Central- and South Asian nations plus Russia, if not the Middle-East.  In India, Times of India trumpeted a breaking news towards last year end, saying – “Russia backs China – Pak corridor and keeps India on tenterhooks”. Substantial head-shakes followed in diplomatic and political circles with India fuming in disenchantment with consequences for decision-making reverberating into future. CPEC presents India a tough problem, but it was in the making when at least over a decade ago China began work on China-Pak Karakorum high-way. Neither easy solutions, nor clear-cut perceptions are at hand even today. But it need not remain that way. A way out is feasible.

China’s long-term intentions with CPEC go beyond Pakistan’s boundaries. It wants to capture the markets of oil-rich Arab nations and that of entire Africa…

The CPEC is a serious reality from India’s political, strategic and economic interests. Indian public reaction made it out as though India got a painful hit below the belt. One of India’s top strategic analysts, Brahma Chellaney, sought for augmented India-U.S.-Japan relations as a consequence.  The matter, however, is more  complex with political implications sadly misread/over-read.

A principal truth is, India’s hands are as much tied as are Russia’s, due to varying dependencies affecting both with respective uniqueness. Chellaney, has always been a patron of stronger India – U.S. – Japan ties. However, on this issue, a “liberal” perception is needed, due to its complexity. For e.g., one cannot be sure whether CPEC is wholly against India’s “core interest”, as Chellaney might want us to believe, especially when seen from long-term economic interests of all South and Central Asian States and China, particularly from Eurasian and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) angles. There are other cold factors defining this problem one needs to be considered :

•  China’s long-term intentions with CPEC go beyond Pakistan’s boundaries. It wants to capture the markets of oil-rich Arab nations and that of entire Africa to flood that continent with cheap Chinese goods in exchange for ensuring raw materials from entire Africa and Middle East at low price for China’s industries. As a consequence China  will not stop with CPEC, but will go further building an African rail-road network for the entire continent and would squeeze India out of Africa . That would help China catapult to the powerful number one status in world economy dislodging the US, curtailing American power.

Russia will do everything not to hurt or go against China’s major economic interests, because indirectly Russia stands to gain commercially from CPEC, even if it hurts old friend India a bit.

•  Russia, labouring under Western sanctions, is keen to extract any economic advantage it can from the China-Pak project, especially when China has placed a massive $400 Billion energy order for Russia’s oil and gas export.  As “quid-pro-quo”, Russia has reciprocated with state-of-the-art military hardware (S-400 Anti-Missile Defence) for China against potential U.S. threat in South China Sea and the Pacific coastal border rim. China is Russia’s biggest external financier. Thus, Russia will do everything not to hurt or go against China’s major economic interests, because indirectly Russia stands to gain commercially from CPEC, even if it hurts old friend India a bit. It is pure economics that drives Moscow, plus Russia’s belief that improving Pakistan’s economy now in shambles will help reduce terror growth within Pakistan. It knows too that India is dependent on Russia for military hardware and will not want to risk that relationship, as no one has transferred military and strategic high-tech to India as Russia has. In fact PM Modi recently exemplified it when he declared India-Russia relations as an “abiding” one (see RIR report …..) It’s also time India had no illusions about Russian game-play.

•  For all practical purposes the division of Kashmir since 1948 with Cease Fire Line (CFL)/Line of Control (LOC) has been in place and is not likely to change in future. India, however, can make it clear that while India will not, in principle, accept that division in Pakistan’s favour, it will not object to a CPEC bringing benefits to India and other South and Central Asian nations. Cooperating on CPEC does in no way imply India is palming Gilgit-Baltistan over to a Pakistan that illegally occupied it.

•  Russia’s hitherto veto-backup support for India at the UNSC is something India’s foreign policy makers cannot lightly overlook. What if Russia in future abstains from voting at the UNSC, if China were to raise the Kashmir issue in connection with CPEC, as the U.S. under Obama did recently on Israeli West Bank settlements, especially when India is not that strong militarily vis-à-vis China and Pakistan together, nor economically vis-à-vis China to ignore eventual UNSC sanctions. India then will be forced to seek veto support from the U.K., France and the U.S. and all three, as we know from past colonial/imperial history, will bind India with heavy conditions tying India’s hands in total dependency!

Hafeez Saeed’s recent house-arrest ordered by Pak government seems to lend semblance of pleasing Beijing’s demand on a terror-insulated CPEC functioning.

•  China with more than $50 Bn CPEC investment envisaged and Russia rendering open support, signal, that both will potentially wield enormous influence over Pakistan’s  policies in years to come, especially under Eurasian Union and SCO., that would tie Pakistan’s hands. (Already Hafeez Saeed’s recent house-arrest ordered by Pak government seems to lend semblance of pleasing Beijing’s demand on a terror-insulated CPEC functioning). Under such a dependency, it will not serve Pakistan’s economic interests if ISI were to promote terrorism in an area over which the CPEC passes through. Undoubtedly, Russia and China are explicitly opportunistic on CPEC; consequently the former benignly, but the latter aggressively, have shoved India’s claim of Gilgit-Baltistan in POK and Pakistan’s  Member of Parliment’s (MP) apprehensions of Pak soil becoming another East India Company to dustbin. In the Eurasian Union, it is Russia and in SCO China, who call shots and gyrate direction and goals. India is relegated to a secondary role only and Pakistan least of all with exception to anti-terror agenda for an ISI-inspired in-house machinations Pak can ill-afford for rational economic reasons; Pakistani military too has expressed its tacit approval of such a perception recently. In fact one Pak general has even asked India to join hands on CPEC with back-support from China.

•  A dilapidated Pakistani economy improving via CPEC is not a disadvantage for India; rather it would be bolstered to embark on more trade with India.

•  Russia has big political and security stakes in the Syrian war to defeat ISIS and hence seeks dialogue with Taliban forces (something India does not relish due India’s support for Afghan security) to wean it out from ISIS network. Isolation of Taliban is better than ISIS collusion with them as per Russian perception. That could also pre-empt invisible Pak-in-house terror mauling CPEC business success.

One should not forget that China’s need of Russia as Nuclear Superpower backup is pitted against United States and Russia is opportunely exploiting it to have China finance its economic agenda.

•  China can sell its goods to India via Gwadar port that enables India to bargain for lower product price instead of the expensive long route via the Indian Ocean. Additionally, China can pressure Pak to open a CPEC land outlet exit directly to India carrying Chinese goods destined for India.

•  The political hurdle for India from CPEC seems, India will get pressured to back-roll tangible support openly or in kind for a “Free Baluchistan” movement. Both Iran and Russia are averse to Baluchi independence support.

•  Iran, for whom India builds the Chabahar port, like Russia, supports CPEC and keenly wants to get connected with it for trade profits.  India has to factor in that in its calculus. Additionally, India should massively augment efforts to complete that sea-port with an additional airport to land goods to be distributed to Middle-East and other close African nations requesting Iran to grant the port a duty-free goods status, like Aden was once. That would make it a window shop for quality Indian, Iranian and Russian goods. That would help India compete with China in the Middle East and  Africa. India so far has been too slow on this mission despite contract that now Iran seems to have got “unenlightened”.

•  In view of Indo – U.S. – Japanese Malabar naval exercise, there is nothing India can non-contradictorily complain about Russia helping Pakistan in a small way to fight terror or Russia’s collusion with China on defence matters, or its support for CPEC. One should not forget that China’s need of Russia as Nuclear Superpower backup is pitted against United States and Russia is opportunely exploiting it to have China finance its economic agenda.

With CPEC success and India’s potential de facto acceptance and cooperation with it, will witness a flooding of Pak market overwhelmingly with Chinese cheap consumer goods.

•  With President Trump’s avowed soft-heart for Russia, American-led Cold War mongering is slated to stop; Western sanctions lifted will help Russia regain old European energy markets and augmented opening of Russian raw material markets for Western industries running into several digit  billion dollars. That would relieve Russia of its current bondage with China, thus enable it a stronger and more independent stand on Indo-Pak issues re-favouring India, because Trump is pro-Russia and pro-India, but seemingly not pro-China, if not anti-China. Thus a new extra leverage won via Trump presidency will melt unnecessary Indian fears of isolation, retroactively also dispense with Russian misgivings of augmented Indo -U.S. – Japan relations and military deals.

•  With CPEC success and India’s potential de facto acceptance and cooperation with it, will witness a flooding of Pak market overwhelmingly with Chinese cheap consumer goods. Even Indian goods could dislodge Pak goods from its very market. Thus the fear of Pak MP’s that Pakistan is pre-programmed to be the home of a new East India Company (aka CPEC), is not to be lightly shrugged off. Pakistani people will in addition have to pay for the Chinese energy-related projects, making debt-swollen Pakistan China’s first colony of the 21st century!

•  By joining CPEC with its registered reservation on POK, India can compete with China in the Pak market, instead of leaving it solely for China’s dominance in areas where India will have an edge.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

George Chakko

former U.N. correspondent, now retiree in Vienna, Austria.

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    1. Postscript-Update
      Barely 24 hours passed after my story was published in IDR ( March 15, 2017), the Times of India published (March 16, 2017) India’s Defence Ministry’s official objection to CPEC as openly breaching Indian sovereignty. In light of this MoD’s annual report to Parliament, let me add this postscript.

      Firstly, any consideration by India to cooperate with Pakistan and China on CPEC is possible and will make sense only if both these nations can succeed in putting a complete stop, meaning total elimination of all militant Jihadic operations within and from Pakistan aimed against India. No Indian leader can accept it otherwise. Consequently and conjointly, both India and China should enter into discreet bilateral talks on this to put pressure on Pak ISI to terminate all such operations, because it lies in both China’s and India’s interests. China should not overlook that Pak Jihadic operations can reach South-West China borderland where Chinese Muslims are concentrated because CPEC can potentially open radical ISIS elements of Middle-East entering Gwadar port to reach China via the CPEC corridor and operate as a bigger group with Chinese Muslim terror inputs for a bigger worldwide operation mauling peace in China and India. Right now the Chinese South-West Muslim population is isolated and its migratory movements strictly under Beijing’s control. But that could change if these groups get connected via CPEC with things then get out of hand bringing serious harm to China and eventually to India. This is a matter that neither China, nor India, or for that matter even Russia or other Central Asian States can neglect or overlook.

      The second connected issue is CPEC can evince India’s interest and cooperation, if and only if, Pak military can get over a self-created conflict and come out clean with an unequivocal clear-cut economic benefit agenda. On the one hand Pak military for its dominance of Pak politics and its hegemonic survival needs a hate-India campaign through ISI-germinated terror plots carried out in Kashmir or elsewhere in India, to spark counter action by India that in turn helps them to propagandise and entrench Pak military strength and relevance in Pak politics. On the other hand such terror actions, as have already been proved since Zia-Ul-Haq initiated them, will kill the CPEC functioning, make Pakistan world’s best terror state alive and harvest ill-will from India, China and the rest of the world. The Pak military has to get over this conflict and choose the right path. Only then can any Indian Prime Minister think of responding in a positive manner. The ball lies squarely in Pakistani court.

      George Chakko, former U.N. correspondent, now retiree in Vienna, Austria.
      Vienna, 18/ 03/ 2017 06 :00 am CET

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