By Asia Maqsood
The US now realizes that OBOR as being a vehicle by which Beijing can catalyze an irreversible change in the strategic balance of power of new trade routes and markets. By prioritizing India in South Asian region negating Pakistan’s numerous efforts in Afghanistan would further deteriorate the regional stability. India’s stance on CPEC that it passes through the disputed territories recently obtained support by US and now Afghanistan is in the same camp. These all states should not undermine the prospects of development in the disputed territories through CPEC by China and Pakistan, otherwise they are negating the Sustainable Development Goals cannot be considered universal.
There are some tumultuous factors which are contributing in the growing Indo-Afghan nexus. First; historically India was the only South Asian country which recognized Soviet backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan War. After the withdrawal of Soviet, India remained consistent in providing Najibullah’s government with humanitarian aid. Second; India’s bilateral trade with Afghanistan is increasing gradually for example it was $684.47 million during the time span of 2014-15. India’s export increased at $422.56 million and imports from Afghanistan worth of $261.91 million during the same time period. It is pertinent to discuss here that despite the lack of direct land access, India is the second largest destination for Afghan exports. Third; the defence facet, last year India has delivered three Russian-made Mi-25 attack helicopters to Afghanistan (International Business Time Report). Fourth; India’s Prime Minister and President of Afghanistan M. Ashraf Ghani inaugurated the new Afghan Parliament building as India has constructed this building at worth of $90 million as a good will gesture. Fifth; According to Sushma Swaraj India is working with Afghanistan and Iran to develop a trilateral transit through the development of the Chabahar Port to connect with Afghanistan and beyond. And lastly the most influential factor is the extra regional role especially US role to bring close India to Afghanistan making this more important country in the South Asian region ignoring Pakistan’s role in War on Terror.
Furthermore, recent visit of Modi to US on 25-26 June, 2017 concluded the joint statement of both countries, announced that Washington would co-sponsor the Indo-Afghan export, Trade and Investment Fair in September 2017 and that support require a sufficient participation from India in bringing the statement called “increased stability and prosperity in Afghanistan.” Likewise, a Pentagon Report titled as “Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan” released in June, 2017 has labeled India as Afghanistan’s most reliable regional partner. Simultaneously this report underscored the Afghan oriented militant groups are being supported by Pakistan’s government. Following these statements, another development happened when the US Secretary of States Rex Tillerson’s unannounced visited to Kabul on Oct 23 at Bagram Airfield north of Kabul which is a largest US base in Afghanistan. Tillerson said “Clearly we have to continue to fight against the Taliban, against others, in order for them to understand they will never win a military victory,”. Recently, Donald Trump’s Administration has unveiled a strategy to try to defeat the taliban and other extremist groups in Afghanistan, and officials said more than 3,000 additional U.S. troops are being sent to the country to reinforce the 11,000 U.S. troops already stationed in the country.
He also emphasized that the US new strategy towards Afghanistan making this obvious that US is committed to work with Afghan government and with partners across the region ( the priority is given to India) to bring peace in Afghanistan and deny safe heavens to terrorist who threaten this objective ( accusation on Pakistan). It is pertinent to discuss here that if the objective is to bring peace to Afghanistan and the whole region as well then prioritizing one South Asian country is in this process of peace is unsound. Pakistan should be assimilated and the process of peace should be inclusive instead of biased.
Later on Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visited India just a day after Tillerson’s visit to Afghanistan and termed the Trump administration’s new South Asia strategy as a “game-changer” for the region as it “recommends multi-dimensional condition-based approach for the region.”
Then question arises that how this policy would be game changer in which just India is needed for US in terms of Afghanistan? Following these developments, Ghani said that Kabul will restrict Pakistan’s access to Central Asia if it is not given access to India through the CPEC project, according to the DNA (Daily News and Analysis) article by addressing a gathering at the Vivekananda International Foundation in New Delhi. He said that his country will not be a part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) unless it is given access to Pakistan’s Wagah and Attari border, DNA India reported. Hence it is inevitable here to raise the argument that real game changer of the region is also CPEC project being inclusive which is neither restricting Afghanistan nor India. The comment came a week after a meeting took place between representatives of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the United States in Oman, in which the revival of peace talks with the Taliban was discussed. Hence both Afghanistan and India should also perceive the CPEC project a threat to them. It also pertinent to discuss here that US backing India on CPEC by claiming that it runs through the disputed territory, how self -centered these nations on halting the development on those disputed regions and on other hand they are concerned with peace and prosperity in Afghanistan.
Summing up the above arguments, as President Ghani said, “Afghanistan’s no to CPEC unless Pakistan gives access India through CPEC”, is baseless and seems like under pressure of India. It gives the depiction that US has its own concerns to contain China’s influence in South Asia, India’s concerns to halt this project to contain China and claims over disputed territories. Eventually both US and India came together on their obnoxious stance on CPEC and now they are influencing Afghanistan against this development. However this project is simply a development project and would bring prosperity and regional connectivity of the whole South Asian region. Afghanistan should not be part of this containment policy instead it should focus on its development and cooperation with all neighboring countries.
As far as China and Pakistan are concerned, China would not give up CPEC just because of mere Indian protests. The Indian government will not cease its developmental activities in Arunachal Pradesh either (disputed territory). But is it not important to respect the voices of communities residing in disputed territories as a priority rather than following the institutional norms in developmental activities? From inter-governmental institutions like ADB/World Bank to each country sharing disputed territories like India or China or Pakistan, it is foremost important to stand up with rights to development of communities. Otherwise, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cannot be considered ‘universal’. The CPEC is a flagship of this initiative because it provides China with reliable non-Malacca access to the Indian Ocean. Russia has also backed this initiative.
Asia Maqsood works for Strategic Vision Institute in Islamabad, Pakistan