By Dr. Abdul Ruff
The China-Pakistan Axis has caused serious problems for world’s top power USA and South Asian giant India. The United States, as a stabilizer of the balance of power in Asia, has backed India as a potential competitor with China. The rivalry visibly surfaced when U.S.-backed India failed in its bid to be included in Nuclear Suppliers Group over Chinese opposition. India held China solely responsible for its failure. Decades ago, the looming threat of Soviet expansion in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean
Asian economic and military giant currently is engaged in two issues: China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as part of its One Belt agenda and South China Sea where it is fortifying its base. The CPEC will connect China’s largest province, Xinjiang, with Pakistan’s Gwadar port in Balochistan, the largest and most impoverished province of Pakistan. Balochistan has been under attack by separatists, insurgents, and Islamic militants – now including the Islamic State (ISIS) – for over a decade. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a series of projects that stands to connect the Asian giant to Central Asia and Europe in the long run. Beijing has agreed to invest $46 billion for CPEC.
The idea of Gwadar port development has boosted image of China. Washington could not understand the importance of the Gwadar port — until China took it over. The port will open gateways for China to destinations where the United States is already present or intends to maintain its hegemony, including Central Asia and the Gulf States.
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has considerably annoyed both USA and India which fears deadly consequences of the project in the long run. USA diluted and downgraded its ties with Pakistan more due to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project offering China importance in the region than the US murder of Osama Bin Laden. The CPEC in fact kills Asia Pivot of USA. Hence Americans are angry with Pakistan, calling for slashing military aid package.. A rise in violence may be the most effective way to scare Beijing off the ambitious plan. And Islamabad has repeatedly accused India and other foes of CPEC of fomenting attacks with just that goal in mind.
America’s ‘Asia Pivot’ policy, to contain China-Russia and China’s fast growing economy cum efficient diplomatic clout, has not yielded the estimated or expected results so far, at least. But Beijing has already advanced to some extend its ‘One Belt, One Road’ agenda revolving around old Silk Road, greatly upsetting USA and near strategic partner India.
The closest land route for India to access Central Asia is to the west, through Pakistan; however despite many bilateral efforts the two countries have yet to reach an agreement that would allow Indian trucks on Pakistani soil. Therefore, as an alternate though longer route, India will access Iran’s Chabahar from the sea, and from there its goods will enter Afghanistan and eventually Central Asia and Russia. Moreover, Afghanistan will now have access to Indian Ocean, which was not possible without passing through Pakistan earlier.
The attraction of Gwadar port is the main reason for China to build a 2,000 km of road and rail infrastructure worth $10.63 billion in Pakistan, stretching from Gwadar to eventually connect with Kasghar. According to reports, a network of gas pipelines will be set up to finally connect Pakistan with Iran. Tehran has already completed its part, as per a 2013 deal, and is waiting for Pakistan to finish its section. This was originally envisioned as a so-called peace pipeline among Iran, Pakistan, and India but it now seems China will replace India and feed its energy hungry industry with Iranian gas. India greatly opposes the proposed CPEC route and development at Gwadar port mainly because the proposed route passes through the controversial territories of Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir between India-Pakistan. India has invested in Iran’s Chabahar port – just 72 km from its rival Gwadar port. In May 2016, India, Iran, and Afghanistan signed a trade corridor deal giving India land access to Central Asia from Chabahar, bypassing Pakistan.
In February 2013, Pakistan awarded operational contract of Gwadar port to China amid American pressure to look for alternatives. This port is a linchpin for China’s dream of OBOR, providing the Maritime Silk Road with a link to the Arabian Sea. The port at the mouth of the Persian Gulf provides China with the shortest route to the oil rich Middle East, Africa, and most of the Western hemisphere. Gwadar will have the estimated capability to handle to 19 million tons of crude oil per year, which will be sent to China after being refined at the port.
Is India targeting Balochistan?
Recently, on August 8, a blast in Balochistan’s capital, Quetta, killed at least 95 people. The same day Pakistan’s prime minister and army chief visited the injured and labeled the attack an attempt to sabotage CPEC in an official statement. Balochistan’s chief minister accused India’s intelligence agency RAW of being behind the attack whereas national media linked the bombing to “India backed Afghanistan.”However, Islamabad offered no statement regarding an official document issued in July, which stated that1,000 bullet ridden corpses were found in Balochistan during last six years. This discrepancy gives a clear indication of what concerns government the most in the province.
Insurgency and armed conflicts in Balochistan are not a new phenomenon. The violence dates back to late 19th century when Balochistan came under the British empire. During the early 20th century, Balochistan strove to become a “British free” region; later on, it was forcibly annexed by newly founded Pakistan in 1948.
Though badly impoverished, Balochistan remains at the center for a successful CPEC and a peaceful South Asian region, and Balochistan’s importance has grown beyond all estimates.
The inhabitants of the mineral rich area, constituting one-third of Pakistan’s total area of 800,000 square kilometers, are still striving for provincial autonomy as promised by the father of the nation and the constitution of Pakistan. However, continuous suppression by the federal government through military might has turned this quest into a separatist movement.
The Pakistani leadership has publicly accused India and Afghanistan of involvement in insurgency and terrorism in Balochistan for decades. Interestingly, now it has also linked such activities to Iran, whose Sistan province borders Balochistan. The only land route that connects both countries travels through these regions. Pakistan is not happy with growing bilateral ties between its old rival India and old friend and ally Iran, especially given the potential impact on CPEC.
The Pakistani government is angry that Baloch separatists receive training in camps in Afghanistan established and fully funded by India. Balochistan also borders the tribal area of Pakistan, where forces are combating “terrorists” who fight for existence as humans with their own links to Afghanistan. The US Congress has also expressed concerns regarding human rights violations in Balochistan, making Pakistan wary of an intrusion into the Islamic Republic’s internal matters. Further, on the geopolitical stage, America is more supportive of India’s “Look East” policy than China’s OBOR and in past, Washington had proposed its own “New Silk Road” connecting South and Central Asia but was keen to invade energy rich Arab world. .
Historically, the separatist and freedom fighting sections in Balochistan have also been linked to both Afghanistan and India. In 1970s, Afghan President Daoud Khan established militant camps in his country to train Baloch separatists to join efforts of India and NATO to destabilize Pakistan. This continued to be the case until President Hamid Karzai’s government, when he assured Islamabad that Afghan soil would not be used against their neighbor. However, Pakistan continuously accuses the Indian embassy in Afghanistan of funding militants against Pakistan. The recent wave of terrorism in Balochistan has brought this blame game back. India still claims to be”innocent”, while killing Kashmiris in fake encounters.
Indian military has already murdered over 100,000 Kashmiri Muslims and used Hindus in Kashmir to castigate Kashmir Muslims.
Pakistan asserts that India is bent on sabotaging CPEC by funding and training anti-state elements in Balochistan. The claim is supported by India’s official concern over CPEC and a potential Chinese naval base in Gwadar to ensure Chinese maritime hegemony in Indian Ocean. On India’s 70th Independence Day on August 15, PM Narendra Modi added fuel to the fire. In his address to the nation, Modi said that Kashmiris and Balochs alike have thanked him for raising concerns regarding human rights violations by the Pakistani Balochistan state.
Pakistan termed the remarks as a proof of Indian meddling in its territory. Pakistan accuses India of fully focused on destabilizing neighbor Pakistan and silence Kashmiris.
In spite of concerted efforts by USA and Europe and even Russia, China has far refuse to engage itself in the so-called terror wars which are indeed a permanent war on Islam.
It is obviously not out of love for Islam, but it only does not want to waste its resources on wasteful things Washington has envisaged for the world powers. Beijing only offers support. In Afghanistan and Syria China only extends the necessary help but still refuses to be part of war mongers in Mideast.
China plays safe in war issues related to Syria or Afghanistan while it is interested only in reconstruction operations. Beijing could finance the NATO wars through USA without committing troops and terror goods. Russian involvement in Syrian may change the Chinese attitude to terror wars since it also targets Muslims in the country.
The China-Pakistan Axis is too strong for India to do anything about it. It only dutifully complains about increasing Pak-China military and economic ties to USA for necessary “strategic” action against Pakistan and USA also is helpless, though it cuts aid to Islamabad.