Pakistani General Invites India to Accede to a Sino-Pakistani Project

13.01.2017 Author: Vladimir Terehov

32423123123On December 21, Commander Southern Command Lt General Amir Riaz invited India to accede to an ambitious project on the establishment of a China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The invitation was extended as part of reconciliatory rhetoric, which Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had adopted some time ago in order to ease the tension building between the two nuclear powers. (Events of this year has brought the countries to the brink of war twice). Nonetheless, they still have opposing opinions as to who should be ensuring “peaceful atmosphere for talks.”

In fact, a bilateral agreement on the establishment of CPEC that would run from China’s western regions across Pakistan to the Gwadar port in the Arabian Sea was the major outcome of the April 2015 visit of Chinese leader XI Jinping to Pakistan. According to the agreement, China will undertake to invest a huge amount ($46bn) in the construction of transport routes and auxiliary industrial facilities in Pakistan.

By implementing the project, China would accomplish one of the most important strategic goals: it would gain access to the Indian Ocean, Africa’s eastern coast and the Persian Gulf. Today, the project is gaining importance since the prospects of creating a transport corridor across Myanmar (China has been pushing for this project for the past 20 years, since 1990) are melting away.

It would be worthy to note that China’s desire to build this project (with a strategic plan and clear goals) upon the amorphous and declarative in nature “revival of the Great Silk Road” concept is akin to a wishful political fantasy. If the key players of the new geopolitical game fail to resolve fundamental disagreements tearing them apart, this concept will remain half fantasy and will never transform into a real business project.

It was the nature of problems inherent in the tripartite China-India-Pakistan relations (which do not seem to have prospects for resolution in the near future) that prompted India to turn down Lt Gen Amir Riaz’s appeal to “shun enmity with Pakistan and enjoy the benefit of CPEC.”

It is easier said than done, though, since India is claiming those very territories where China and Pakistan are hoping to establish CPEC (as stressed in the reply issued by a spokesperson of the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

Territorial disputes have been a traditional cause of tension between Pakistan and India. The notorious “terrorists” based in Pakistan, are just the tip of the iceberg. Besides, they, most probably, play the role of a restraining tool aimed at the regional opponent. What is curious is that Pakistani also use the word “terrorists” when referring to the tribes inhabiting the region bordering on Afghanistan. This region used to be a real headache even in the times of “the British India” because it refused to recognize the borders its administration had arbitrarily established.

In his invitation for the Indian party to join CPEC, Lt Gen Riaz uses the same terminology. In doing so, he has, basically, addressed one of the core problems associated with the lingering unrest in Pakistani Balochistan—the region that, according to CPEC project, will host a significant section of the transport routes. CPEC’s end point, the Gwadar port is also located in Balochistan.

It would be worth noting that though Pakistan participates in CPEC, it is mostly Chinese project, and India and China have many unresolved issues. It is not only a material imbalance in the bilateral trade (where India has a negative balance), but also territorial issues and struggle for influence over small countries of the region (Nepal, Myanmar).

A dispute over ownership of the Indian state Arunachal Pradesh (which China unfailingly calls “the so-called Indian state” adding that “actually” it is proper to call it “South Tibet”) is one of the openly discussed territorial issues.

Many experts, however, believe that the Sino-Indian territorial disputes are even more profound in nature and concern the status of the entire Tibet.

And what to do with the “leader of Tibetan separatists” and current Dalai Lama “taking refuge in India”? Mongolia, whose leadership has recently learned the hard way that Beijing takes the problem of Tibet very seriously, is probably praying to Buddha for China to not fulfil its harsh promises.

Beijing would never treat India like that, of course, but after the December 11 meeting of Indian President P. Mukherjee and Dalai Lama (i.e., three weeks after the latter had visited Mongolia), Chinese official newspaper Global Times noted that there was a gap between India’s ambitions and its economic capability. The newspaper also said that India would push its luck if it decides to extend emergency aid to Ulan-Bator.

Another question that arises in connection with the Pakistani Lt General’s invitation is why was it not issued by a relevant ministry (for example, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), or the country’s prime minister or president?

To answer this question, one would have to recall that army constitutes the backbone of Pakistan’s state stricture (NEO has noted this fact in its previous articles). It is no coincidence, though. Pakistan is just responding to internal and external challenges by staking on its military forces.

Though Lt Gen Riaz’s address to the Indian leadership was undoubtedly a “fine gestures”, in the current circumstances, it will remain nothing more than just a gesture.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”