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The American Factor of CPEC  

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U.S.-CHINA-XI JINPING-TRUMP-MEETING by .
Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) meets with his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump (Xinhua/Lan Hongguang) (zyd)

 

Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean have great significance for America. If they want to save their interests, and interests of the European countries in this region, then they have to formulate appropriate strategies to protect their rights. It is believed that the balance of power may change in the region if all the CPEC related projects are completed, as there are hidden strategic and military aspect to the CPEC….writes Dr Shabir Choudhry

U.S.-CHINA-XI JINPING-TRUMP-MEETING by .
Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) meets with his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump in the latter’s Florida resort of Mar-a-Lago in the United States (Xinhua/Lan Hongguang) (zyd)

Americans have this ability to smell danger to their national interests in advance; and take appropriate measures to ensure that the danger is kept far away from their borders. They also know how to protect their defence, strategic and economic interests around the world. This is why some people claim, ‘America is a neighbour of every country’.

Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean have great significance for America. If they want to save their interests, and interests of the European countries in this region, then they have to formulate appropriate strategies to protect their rights. It is believed that the balance of power may change in the region if all the CPEC related projects are completed, as there are hidden strategic and military aspect to the CPEC.

Many analysts believe that it is not a simply economic corridor, because the CPEC is a ‘tool for geo – strategic control which will destabilise regional and global security for decades’. Some Pakistani strategic experts who are angry with the central government point out that if the CPEC is completed as intended then it will have the ability to cause ‘havoc’; and to stop this, international powers should support ‘oppressed peoples in Pakistan to face the onslaught and fight back’.

The CPEC, after leaving the Chinese territory, is vulnerable all the way to the Gwadar port. Those who want to sabotage the CPEC transport and trade can target it in Gilgit Baltistan, in KPK and in Balochistan. It is very long route with full of potential hazard points from where it is not too difficult to hit the targets. 

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U.S. President Donald Trump walks to the Oval Office after returning to the White House in Washington D.C. (Xinhua/Yin Bogu) (lrz)

Senator Mushahid Hasan Syed, who is a Member Parliamentary Committee on the CPEC, and who is regarded as an expert in international relations said, ‘China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is not only the part of OBOR but in fact, it is its pillar. “Pakistan is the only country which is sharing the land and maritime route for the project. I believe that China is becoming the centre of economy and in the 21st century’s balance of power – be it political, strategic or economy are also shifting from West to East.”

Many people say that this century will see a rise of Asia, and countries like China and India will have indispensable role in this, provided they stay away from military confrontation. Rise of China will undermine importance of some other big players of international politics. Questions are being debated in many circles:

If America, India, UAE, Iran, Japan, Britain and other Western and Middle Eastern countries will remain quiet and let China dictate international politics?   Will they allow China to become a credible threat to their interests in Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea and in the Indian Ocean?  Or will they work out strategies to contain the fast rising Chinese influence?

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. (File Photo: Xinhua/PID/IANS) by .
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (File Photo: Xinhua/PID/IANS)

It must be noted that there is a strong military aspect to the CPEC; and China will have a credible military presence in Gwadar, especially Chinese naval ships and submarines; and a joint naval task force. As the Gwadar port is very important in China’s ‘String of Pearls’, it is because of this America view the CPEC and Chinese control of Gwadar with suspicion.

America would like Pakistan to achieve economic and political stability, which would help Pakistan to combat extremism and terrorism. In this context, they would not oppose the Chinese presence in Pakistan to support on commercial and economic fronts. However, they would not like a strong Chinese military presence in Gilgit Baltistan and in and around Gwadar Port.

Despite some resentment and bitterness in certain sections, the US has been a very important friend and ally of Pakistan, which has provided enormous military and economic aid. Leaving aside what America gave to Pakistan prior to 2003, however, since 2003, America has provided Pakistan:     $10.5 billion in economic assistance;    $7.6 billion in security-related aid;  $13 billion in counter-terrorism support besides that recently the U.S. Senate passed $1.1 billion under the Security Enhancement Act on account of mutual strategic partnership.

Instead of building dams or power plants in Pakistan, America gave huge amounts in cash; and allowed the Pakistanis to spend that money according to their preferences and needs. Unlike America, China refrained from handing cash amounts to Pakistani military and political leadership, may be because they knew Pakistanis are good at pocketing big chunk of that.

Although China and America are big trading partners, but Washington actively wants to contain Chinese influence in South China Sea with help of allies like India, Japan, Indonesia and Singapore. As far as America is concerned, Gwadar is the most important in China’s ‘String of pearls’. This term symbolises the naval bases that China dominates in that region.

Prime Miniusgter Nawaz Sharif with his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang

Irrespective of strategic and economic rivalry, China and America cannot afford a military confrontation. They have very strong economic and commercial ties, and are heavily dependent on each other as far as business is concerned. Pakistan will have to learn how to protect and promote its national interests; and must acquire diplomatic skills to deal with both major powers in such a way that they don’t get annoyed.

To some experts, it makes a perfect sense for America to encourage and support India to give Pakistan the same bitter medicine they have been giving to India in Kashmir and in other parts of India for many decades. In other words, encourage rebellious elements in various parts of Pakistan, in Gilgit Baltistan and in Pakistani occupied Jammu and Kashmir to take arms against Pakistan.

In this regard, in September 2016, the US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner in a reply to a question if India and America were working together against the CPEC, said:  “I would dismiss it outright. We have a strong bilateral relationship with Pakistan, but one that is premised on counter-terrorism cooperation and – as part of that conversation, or that dialogue and that cooperation that we have on counter-terrorism issues, we made it very clear that Pakistan can’t pick and choose which terrorist groups it goes after and it has to go after those groups that seek to do harm to its neighbours and may seek refuge on Pakistani soil.”

Modi visits the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Nawaz Sharif’s home in Raiwind, where his grand-daughter’s wedding is being held, in Pakistan

Just like America, India is also interested in containing China; and unlike China, India has some border disputes with China too. So, it is natural that there will be China – India rivalry and competition in the region and beyond, especially when India is also trying to cut out its international role. Despite good trading relations and apparently friendly relations some people fear that there could be a military confrontation between them.

I do not think China and India can afford a military confrontation, as both countries have a big economic agenda, which is essential for any international role. Both countries have matured leadership, and they have sensibly avoided a military clash since the war of 1962; and have agreed to resolve disputes by a process of dialogue.

Notwithstanding the trade and friendly relations, India is anxious about the CPEC, as New Delhi perceives it as an encirclement of India. Also, India believes, Gilgit Baltistan is an Indian territory and the CPEC will go through that; and presence of the Chinese army will endanger Indian national security, and strengthen Pakistani occupation of that region. Indian security experts feel that Pakistan and China have joined hands to endanger the Indian national interests. They jointly present a serious threat, and their aim is to encircle and contain India.

Furthermore, lease of Gwadar to China and a credible Chinese military presence in that region will change balance of power in that region; and present a serious threat to Indian national interests, including trade and maritime transport. So, it is India’s legitimate right to keep an eye on developments taking place in the neighbourhood; and especially watch issues and projects related the CPEC.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets the Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif, in Ufa, Russia on July 10, 2015

This is where, some experts say, India and America have a common agenda. Whether one like it or not, India is the third major player in this Geo-strategic region; and it rightly perceives this mega economic venture and a large scale naval mobilization a serious threat to its security, and puts global sea lanes at risk.

Some commentators believe India is strongly against the CPEC and rising Chinese and Pakistani influence in the region; and is actively working to sabotage the CPEC projects by promoting insurgency in Balochistan. In this regard, New Delhi has developed closer military and economic ties with America. That practically meant good bye to the old policy of non – alignment. Realising India’s shift, Russia also openly came out to consolidate relations with Pakistan; and expressed its interest in the CPEC. Russia even sent its elite forces to do military exercises in Gilgit Baltistan and FATA to combat terrorism.

Different countries are jockeying for positions and are making serious endeavours to make new deals and alliances. How this complicated situation will unfold in future it is difficult to predict. However, I feel the CPEC, despite its economic potential, can destabilise Pakistan and Gilgit Baltistan, as it can magnetise a major confrontation in the region because of the competing interests of various countries.

Some experts believe India and America, if they want to contain China and protect their interests in Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea, and in the Indian Ocean, then they have no option but to take some pre-emptive actions against the CPEC and projects related to that. One view is not to do anything tangible at this stage, and let the enemy spend its huge resources on the infrastructure. Once the project is near completion; then they can encourage the rebels or even send their own commandos to sabotage it.

The CPEC, after leaving the Chinese territory, is vulnerable all the way to the Gwadar port. Those who want to sabotage the CPEC transport and trade can target it in Gilgit Baltistan, in KPK and in Balochistan. It is very long route with full of potential hazard points from where it is not too difficult to hit the targets.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (R) shakes hands with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after a joint press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan on May 12, 2015. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said Tuesday that a peaceful Afghanistan would benefit Pakistan and Islamabad supports the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process (File)

Daniel Coats, Director of National Intelligence, told lawmakers during a Congressional hearing that the ‘CPEC will offer militants additional targets’. Longer the route, more vulnerable it becomes. Daniel Coats further says: “Islamabad’s failure to curb support to anti-India militants and New Delhi’s growing intolerance of this policy, coupled with a perceived lack of progress in Pakistan’s investigations into the January 2016 Pathankot cross-border attack, set the stage for a deterioration of bilateral relations in 2016.”

The National Intelligence Director further said, that ‘Pakistan-based terrorist groups “will present a sustained threat to US interests in the region and continue to plan and conduct attacks in India and Afghanistan.” They may not have big success against high value targets, but they can easily hit soft targets and inflict fear and chaos.  In his view, “The greatest threat to Pakistan’s internal security include Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, ISIS-K, Laskhar-e-Jhangvi, and Lashkar-e Jhangvi al-Alami”.

As pointed out at the beginning of the article that Americans know how to protect their defence, strategic and economic interests around the world. If they genuinely believe that sabotage of the CPEC related projects is in interest of America, then they will find ways to do that. In order to simply of the task, they have the ability to create a conducive environment in which other countries may feel obliged to join to accomplish this task.

In some cases, they don’t need to wave an American flag to do what they think is necessary to protect and advance the American interests. In that case, they can also use proxies. In prevailing situation countries are reluctant to use their own troops for certain tasks, they hire services of non-state actors or proxies to accomplish the tasks. Who knows better than the Americans how to create proxies and use them against their enemies.

If China can hire Blackwater terrorist private army to protect the CPEC route inside China, is it not possible that another country can hire the Blackwater to sabotage the CPEC in Gilgit Baltistan and in Pakistan? After all, it is business as far as Blackwater or Academy (new name of the organistaion) is concerned. They will probably take on any contract that will generate money for the shareholders of the company.

In South Asia, there are groups like TTP, IS, Taliban, Alqaaida, Blackwater, some Balochi groups and some religious groups who will do anything for money. Any country can hire their services, and if the price is attractive then these groups can virtually do anything, even attack a Masjid; kill a religious scholar or a medical specialist who saves lives of others.

It means we have interesting and very challenging time ahead of us; and let us see how the leaders of this region face these challenges and protect life, liberty and dignity of fellow human beings.

(Dr Shabir Choudhr is a London-based writer is a political analyst, TV anchor and author of many books. He is also the Chairman of South Asia Watch and Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs. Email:drshabirchoudhry@gmail.com. The views are personal)