Pakistan has to walk the proverbial razor’s edge while planning and executing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a project that is being viewed as a veritable game changer for the country in the coming decade.
The revival of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and the concomitant weakness of the Ashraf Ghani-led Afghan government in Kabul are likely to impinge upon Pak-China interests, due to a congruence of the interests of regional and international forces inimical to CPEC. The managed chaos and creative disorder conflict theories given by scholars like Keegan and Kaplan become relevant in case of the CPEC and the Afghan imbroglio.
The predictable and mechanistic conflict paradigms once advocated for by the Clausewitz, Jomini, and Liddell Hart schools have now given way to non-linear ‘creative disorder’ conflict dynamics in the mountain fastnesses of Afghanistan. The strategic consequence of the managed chaos in Afghanistan may well be the spill-over of violence and instability to Khyber Pakhtunwa (KP) and Balochistan.
The US’s residual presence in Afghanistan and its huge infrastructural investment in Afghanistan are now making sense to several observers, who suspect an insidious compact between a few regional and global state actors, who view the CPEC as a threat to their security and economic interests.
The planned operationalisation of the Gwadar Port by 2017 would give a definite strategic edge to China, vis-à-vis its global competitors, besides opening up an economical sea commerce option for it. The building up of Chahbahar as a regional competitor to Gwadar gels with the Indian strategy of keeping Pakistan subservient, Afghanistan on the boil and China thwarted. The interests of US and its Asia-Pacific allies, like Australia, Japan, and South Korea, also coincide with India, when it comes to the development of an alternative to the CPEC through Afghanistan and Central Asia. Pakistan’s best bet, under the deliberately foisted ‘creative disorder’ in the CPEC zone, would be a combination of a steely resolve to push ahead with the project and aggressive diplomacy to project the benefits of the project for entire region.
The intransigence of the Taliban and the visionless obduracy of the Afghan government are continually playing into the hands of the anti-CPEC forces. By keeping Afghanistan unstable, along with concomitant unrest in the Balochistan and KP provinces of Pakistan, the anti-CPEC forces hope to delay and disrupt the timely development of Gwadar Port and the associated communication infrastructure of Pak China corridor.
The pacification of Iran through the P5+1 deal has opened up the possibility of Iranian collaboration with India and its strategic allies that want to derail CPEC. The conflation of the progress in the Afghan government-Taliban peace parleys with the US’s relations with Pakistan has again given a negative tinge of transactional expediency to Pak-US relations at a very crucial juncture.
If Pakistan wants to prevent the derailment of CPEC, it has to manage the Taliban situation to its advantage a little more adroitly. Backchannel linkages with the non-truculent factions of the Taliban need to be fostered at this crucial juncture. The ethnic particularism and externally abetted insurgency in Balochistan needs to be crushed, and the Fata region needs to be cleared of militant sanctuaries in order to secure our western flank. In order to keep Indians machinations at bay, aggressive counter-espionage, as well as diplomatic efforts, should be marshalled simultaneously.
If the anti-CPEC forces manage to foment an uprising in the CPEC areas, through active collaboration with some political quislings in Pakistan, the consequent Chinese frustration might result in a costly hiatus in the project. For Pakistan’s economy, the derailing of the CPEC would be catastrophic in all its negative ramifications. All national security and diplomatic resources therefore need to be marshalled to secure our Western borders, along with managing a refractory coalition of element resistant to the Taliban in Afghanistan, to Pakistan’s advantage.
Chinese cooperation in the field of security should also be solicited in order to create a symbiosis of both countries’ capabilities, creating a mutually beneficial dependency. Much depends on our resolve and strategy; whether we walk on the razor’s edge or on the promenade of prosperity.
The writer is a PhD scholar at Nust.