Behind Pakistan’s CPEC offer

December 28, 2016 12:10 am | Updated 12:10 am IST

Days after a senior Pakistani General suggested that India should shun its “enmity” with Pakistan and join the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, the Chinese foreign ministry has called the offer a “goodwill gesture”, exhorting India to take it up. At face value, the suggestion is odd. India has no dialogue with Pakistan at present, and has opposed the project, bilaterally with China “at the highest level” as well as at the UN. Relations with China have deteriorated considerably since President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan to announce the project in April 2015. Initially, New Delhi sought to play down its significance, as it was made just weeks before Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelled to China, and the government would have hoped to dissuade Beijing from pushing the more objectionable projects that run through disputed territory. However, not only has the corridor taken shape rapidly, China and Pakistan have been drawn into a closer embrace, with Pakistan investing considerable resources in securing Chinese officials working on CPEC, and China redrawing its plans for the One Belt One Road to Central Asia to incorporate Pakistan’s interests. China has defended Pakistan against India’s efforts to pin it down with regard to support to terror groups, and to draw an obstructionist equivalence with India’s Nuclear Suppliers Group membership application. Given all this, the General’s suggestion can only be understood to have been made rhetorically, especially as it was accompanied by allegations of India’s “anti-Pakistan activities and subversion” in Balochistan.

While there can be little expectation of any room for India in CPEC at present, there is space for India to step back and see where China and Pakistan want to go with it. The offer to India was made along with offers to other “neighbouring countries”. Already, Iran wants Gwadar to be a “sister” port to Chabahar, and Turkmenistan and other Central Asian republics have shown interest in the warm-water port that will be a nodal point for goods through Pakistan to the Chinese city of Kashgar. Further north, despite its problems on terror from Pakistan, Afghanistan is becoming a nodal point for China’s connectivity projects to Iran. The meeting among Russian, Chinese and Pakistani officials on Afghanistan this week, and Russian engagement with the Taliban, indicate much more is changing in the region than just the alignment of highways and tunnels. While India has done well to shore up relations with others in the region, it cannot afford to be blindsided by their involvement with the OBOR project and Chinese plans. CPEC is no longer a project in Pakistan, but one that runs through it, a project that will link 64 countries.

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