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Islamabad

March 18, 2018
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CPEC, Chabahar and Indian challenge

Islamabad

March 18, 2018

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Since the start of the global war on terror by the US and coalition forces in Afghanistan in 2001, India has been struggling to propagate that Pakistan was the epicentre of terrorism in the region. India has been doing that with two main objectives; one, to alienate the US and European major powers against Pakistan, anticipating that ultimately Pakistan will be penalised by the US in ways to undermine its nuclear capability to give a clear edge to India in South Asia; second, by trying to equate the indigenous freedom struggle of the Kashmiris’ as terrorism, India wanted that the western countries should not support the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. However, to India’s disappointment, while Pakistan became a part of the coalition to fight the war on terror, the US and other western powers also witnessed that Pakistan’s role in the fighting was against terror, was of central value and therefore they did not buy India’s false propaganda against Pakistan.

Nevertheless, after becoming a strategic partner of the US and having been declared by the US as a lynchpin of its Asia pivot policy, aimed at containing rising China, India was feeling much elevated and privileged. In this backdrop, in the changed post withdrawal scenario (from Afghanistan), India was further encouraged to note that the US was tending to favor her over Pakistan in South Asia and its support for the Kashmir issue was looking to be eroding. In 2015, to India’s utter surprise, Pakistan-China signed an agreement to construct the CPEC and Gwadar Port planned to connect China and Pakistan with other regional and extra-regional countries and vice versa. India was extremely dismayed to learn that the CPEC project involving Chinese investment of billions in Pakistan, was going to be a game-changer for transforming Pakistan’s economy in a major way.

Because of huge projected economic benefits of CPEC to Pakistan and its very deeply evolving strategic partnership with China, India has become much frustrated and it has started a propaganda campaign opposing the CPEC and diplomatically isolating Pakistan. This is being done to deny CPEC's economic and strategic advantages to Pakistan and China, instead of choosing to join this mega project to reap related economic benefits for its people and to create peaceful and friendly environment in South Asia by resolving disputes with Pakistan through negotiations.

India’s objective to develop the strategically-located Chabahar Port, along with Afghanistan road and rail network, is meant to counter China and Pakistan’s alliance in South West Asia. India is to invest millions on development of the Chabahar port, but the bigger questions of feasibility of logistical linkages still remain unanswered. However, the question is whether India would gain much from the Chabahar port and whether its efforts to bypass Gwadar would pay dividends? In fact, the cost and freight of the shipments from India to Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asian states would be prohibitive.

Thus, ultimately cost effectiveness will decide about the success of the ports, as distance from Mumbai to Chabahar is 930 nautical miles (1,800 kilometers), and from Chabahar to Kabul is 1,851 kilometer, whereas distance from Gwadar to Kabul is 450 kilometers.

If India thinks that the US will continue to provide it all the required strategic military support to make it a major world power and prefers it over Pakistan in South Asia even if it refuses to cooperate with the US in its Asia pivot strategy to limit Chinese and Russian influence in Asia, it cannot happen that way. Even if India continues to pursue its independent foreign policy, as it did by not supporting the US against Russia over the Ukraine crisis, in its sanctions against Iran and in the Syrian conflict, the US may or may not continue to consider it as its major strategic and defense partner. In the long run, such a one-sided game cannot survive. But even if India really becomes a part of the Asia pivot policy of the US, for peace in Afghanistan the US will continue to maintain good relations with Pakistan as well and India will not be able to isolate Pakistan. This is more so when China and Pakistan are now deeply connected through the CPEC project and Russia is aspiring to build good relations with Pakistan to cooperate on Afghanistan. Moreover, India has also seen that many countries like Russia, Iran and the UK have already expressed their desire to join the CPEC. Hence, since it is not now possible to dent the CPEC project and isolate Pakistan, it is more logical for India to resolve its outstanding disputes with Pakistan through dialogue and join the CPEC to reap connected economic benefits rather than opposing it.

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