The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the principal constituent of China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) – a plan to give effect to China-initiated economic activity and trade in the surrounding regions of China’s western border. CPEC is an ambitious programme entailing mega Chinese investments into Pakistan’s economy. CPEC’s ambit is apparently being extended to include Afghanistan.
The explicit purpose, repeatedly stated, is to bolster Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s economies and the consequent economic amelioration of those countries. $57 billion has been earmarked for that purpose by China. Nevertheless, between the lines, scope for anti-Indian acts is discernible. In brazen disregard of Indian sensitivities, the CPEC passes through Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir (PoK). That territory is claimed by India. It is bound to object, till solution to the Kashmir dilemma is reached.
Pakistan administers that part of Kashmir. But, it is a disputed area. China is breezily announcing that its neutral position on Kashmir remains unchanged; it is only emphasizing on the economic aspect of the plan. If it is indeed neutral, then it should recognize the prevailing sensitivity of the case and put in abeyance any plans to include any part of Kashmir within the realms of CPEC. In the past, China has objected to developmental programmes in Arunachal Pradesh on the pretext that as per China, the border between India and China at that sector is not final. In reality, the state has been and will be an integral part of India.
Furthermore, it taunts India by periodically issuing stapled visas to residents of the Jammu and Kashmir, if any of them wishes to visit China. Indian Objection to the use of PoK for CPEC cannot be dubbed unjustified by China.
It is intriguing to discern the pattern of pretexts China comes up when faced against seeming odds. To questions regarding Indian concerns about the nature of CPEC, China is stating that it is not directed against any country. Assistance to bettering economic livelihood of the people of the concerned countries is the principal, overriding purpose. Would that be genuinely achieved? The essential approach of BRI is of providing loans to the concerned countries, which would be used by them to pay mostly Chinese companies, which would undertake potential economic investments. How would the mountain of debt be ultimately paid off?
It could be surmised without much effort, that given a notable measure of institutional hatred Pakistan nurtures against India, it has agreed, without much demur, to China’s economic penetration into Pakistan. It probably views it as yet another way to signal to India of the extent of adherence it receives from its “all-weather” friend, China. That by so doing it often paves the path for more quagmires for itself appears to often elude the Pakistani establishment.
That Chinese investments would accrue a humongous debt for Pakistan is being questioned in certain quarters of that country. Furthermore, China has itself accumulated a collective private and public debt of about 260 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Through the BRI and by extension the CPEC, it appears to be transporting a substantial part of its internal debt to other countries, through a potential veneer of economic development projects. It brings the smell of the attributes of nineteenth century international economic interactions, where economic domination by one economically dominant country of another relatively backward country was a prelude to political influence in the economically underdeveloped country.
By extending the CPEC project to Afghanistan, China has indicated of greater participation in and assistance to Afghanistan’s economic development. Afghanistan is geographically contiguous to the China-Pakistan border. That is an expedient factor for China. But, by doing so, China should be wary that it might be stepping into a volatile, incendiary geopolitics. Pakistan and Afghanistan have been traditional rivals for at least the past seventy years. Pakistan’s intent to exert greater influence in Afghanistan, led to a brief period of Pakistan-supported Taliban rule in that country. That era of regressive rule has reinforced the antagonism of many Afghans and the Afghan government towards Pakistan. Would China be able to transcend these complex patterns of inter-state mistrusts?
China appears to be clearly activating its rivalry with India by deciding to support Afghan economic reconstruction through CPEC. India has actuated its endeavours for fruitful, friendly ties with Afghanistan by trading through the Chabahar Port in Iran.
Nearly 116 developmental projects in 31 provinces of Afghanistan receive Indian assistance; they include hydropower generation centres, farmland water conservation projects and renewable energy, among others. Does China want to undermine this growing constructive relationship between Kabul and New Delhi? Is the extension of the CPEC a ploy towards that purpose? If so, then that would be a very narrow-minded, unethical, and ultimately self-defeating act. This is purely pursuance of a rivalry, where there is no context.
The author is an analyst, writing on international economics and world politics. Vie