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Thursday June 13, 2024

India to undermine Afghanistan’s participation in CPEC

By Jan Achakzai
August 22, 2022

As Pakistan is internally focused on its political situation and economic revival, less attention is being paid to what India is doing to undermine Islamabad’s vital interest.

The proposition has to be consumed in the context of the recent Indian reaction to China and Pakistan’s common resolve to extend CPEC/BRI towards Afghanistan. It precedes the latest visit of an Indian high-level delegation to Iran’s Chabahar Port in a bid to expand what India believes is the North-South Trade Corridor – linking Central Asia with the South Asian region via Chabahar Corridor.

“China hopes to push the alignment of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with the development strategies of Afghanistan”, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi told Afghan interim Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi.

The two officials met in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit of foreign ministers. Afghanistan is a member of the SCO. Wang said Beijing “supports the extension of CPEC to Afghanistan and shares China’s development opportunities”.

Pakistan has already welcomed China’s commitment to extend CPEC towards Afghanistan. However, India has strongly reacted to the announcement of the two countries. India issued a statement (through its MEAs) warning against third countries’ participation in CPEC. It was an implicit reference to Afghanistan and also an underlying threat to the Taliban regime in Kabul.

There has been some news in Indian media about the inclusion of Afghanistan in CPEC, but no credible news on the subject came to the fore since Sept 2021 when Pakistan’s Ambassador to Afghanistan said this in a benign tone.

Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had also given an offensive statement on the so-called “Pak Occupied Kashmir” a day before which was responded to by Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry calling it “provocative” and “completely unacceptable”. As the Taliban are believed to be by and large friendly towards Pakistan, they may not accept Indian dictates and pressure exerted to stay away from joining CPEC and BRI. However, geopolitics is always fickle and there are no permanent friends and foes. The Taliban regime may reach an understanding with Delhi for exchange of other incentives i.e. market access, the Chabahar transit route and other benefits like trade and investments in Afghanistan.

Still there can be a clear quid pro quo between Islamabad and Kabul. Pakistan in exchange for land access to India can persuade the Taliban to ensure Islamabad’s access to Central Asia via WaKhan Corridor ( Wakhan Corridor is a narrow strip of territory in Afghanistan, extending to China and separating the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region of Tajikistan from the Gilgit-Baltistan region).

Secondly, Islamabad presses upon the Taliban to allow CPEC-related land infrastructure on exit points like Khyber and Chaman so roads are built between Kabul and Peshawar and Kabul and Quetta linking Gwadar and Karachi ports with Afghanistan directly through CPEC.

On the other hand, India has also complained to Russia that their tilt towards China on so many issues is not in India’s interest including support for the BRI/CPEC. However, whether Moscow keeps Indian interest at heart is another ball game. Moscow is in strategic alliance with Beijing working on many projects like developing ballistic missiles to supersonic technology.

Many defence watchers believe that probably amid worst economic and political instability in Pakistan, India seeks to open an external conflict aimed at choking Pakistan’s responses on the internal front. If this is true, it would have serious repercussions for Pakistan’s security interests. Nevertheless, Pakistan’s defense forces and its auxiliary institutions would be aware of India’s shenanigans linked with Afghanistan and CPEC. Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Balochistan and ex-adviser to the Balochistan Government on media and strategic communication. He tweets @Jan_Achakzai