A two-day National Conference on “Changing Security Situation in South Asia and Development of CPEC” was organized by the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) in collaboration with the Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF), Germany (Pakistan office) on September 19-20, 2017 at Islamabad Hotel, Islamabad. The conference comprised of four working sessions in addition to inaugural and concluding sessions. Eleven presentations were made by eminent Pakistani scholars that covered various themes ranging from “Geopolitics of Region and Development of CPEC” to “Impact of CPEC on the National Security of Pakistan” and from “Regional Security and CPEC” to “CPEC: A Win-Win Corridor for the Region.”
The South Asian region has remained marred by traditional and non-traditional security threats (NTSTs) of almost all types and forms. To name a few out of many, the notable NTSTs include poverty, environmental degradation, water and food security, a low level of literacy, poor health facilities, and lack of infrastructure in general. Furthermore, poor economic integration and un-resolved interstate political issues among the members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) have often hindered the progress and development of the region, making it one of the most vulnerable regions in the world even in the present era of geo-economics.
The increasing aspirations of the economic giant China are likely to have lasting impact on the regional security and economic development of the South Asian states. Coupled with the Chinese approach of “non-intervention in internal matters” the idea of inclusive development under the Chinese “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) has laid the foundation for infrastructural and human development in the region. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is one of the flagship projects of the BRI, under which China is making large overseas investments in Pakistan. China and Pakistan have often repeated their stances that the CPEC is an economic corridor and a major stabilizing factor in the volatile and uncertain regional security paradigm of South Asia. With both China and Pakistan aspiring to have friendly relations with their neighbours, the CPEC, once operational, might well provide long-term economic benefits to the whole region and beyond.
Such developments are seconded by recent political developments in the region. Russia-Pakistan relations are rejuvenating with frequent high level bilateral visits and improved defence cooperation as well as support for the CPEC. Central Asian Republics (CARs) have welcomed this bilateral project, whereas Iran has officially requested to join the CPEC, and Afghanistan too has expressed desire to become a part of the same. Two major European countries, i.e., the United Kingdom (UK) and France have consented to be part of the CPEC. Turkey has supported the initiative and expressed her desire to invest in CPEC-related projects. This international acceptance of the CPEC might convert into an economic association of trade and development not only for the region, but also for the international community.
The security situation in South Asia has been in a constant flux due to simmering and volatile situation in Afghanistan coupled with the presence of terrorism and extremism. The region also remains inundated with un-resolved territorial disputes, particularly the Kashmir issue with the potential to disturb the regional peace. The recent Indian aspirations to revise an already settled Indus Water Treaty (IWT) has further complicated the relations between the two major countries of South Asia, i.e. Pakistan and India. In spite of these challenges, the fact is that after consistent efforts and immense sacrifices; Pakistan has been able to improve the security situation in the country, which would not only guarantee the dividends of the CPEC for Pakistan but also for the entire region.
Though the CPEC has provided an avenue of cooperation for many regional and extra-regional countries to further their economic interests, the role of some state and non-state actors may limit the full regional benefits of the CPEC. In this context, the worsening security situation in Afghanistan, opposition to the CPEC by India, issues of maritime security, and the lack of support to the project by some extra-regional powers act as constraints for the entire South Asian region to economic benefit from the CPEC. All countries of the region, including India, will greatly benefit from the greater regional and economic integration through CPEC.
In this prevailing security scenario and to find answers to some pertinent questions of how the current regional and international security situation is likely to impact the security of Pakistan and what could the CPEC offer in terms of stabilising the regional security and vice versa, the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), together with the Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF), Germany (Pakistan Office), organized a two-day National Conference on “Changing Security Situation in South Asia and Development of CPEC” at Islamabad Hotel, Islamabad on 19-20 September 2017. Eminent subject experts, from all over Pakistan, were invited to speak at the conference and shared their knowledge and experience to devise meaningful policy recommendations.
Ambassador (R) Abdul Basit, President IPRI, welcomed the distinguished guests and eminent speakers in the conference. He hoped that deliberations over the next two days on different aspects of the subject would enhance our understanding of the challenges and opportunities available in South Asia and respective issues in right perspective. While dwelling on the theme of the conference, he said that peace and development are interlinked. He added that expecting sustained economic growth in a regional environment driven by deep mistrust, disputes and conflicts would be an unrealistic hope. Unfortunately, South Asia, which is home to more than 1/6th of the world’s population continues to be mired in disputes. These are serious impediments to realizing the economic potential of this region as well as the development aspirations of the people of South Asia. It is no coincidence that South Asia continues to be the least integrated region of the world. For instance, the intra-regional trade in South Asia accounts for 5 per cent as compared to the 40 per cent of South East Asia and 60 per cent of the European Union. The reasons for this are well-known. The situation in Afghanistan needs to be dealt with a holistic approach, whereas Pakistan and India also need to settle their longstanding disputes, especially the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, which is the root cause of all problems. Pakistan has always strived and is working for the normalization of its relations with all the neighbours. Pakistan’s neighbours first policy is driven by the national desire to move from conflict management to conflict resolution. It is hoped that India, as the biggest country in South Asia, will revisit its approach because disengagement and confrontation are self-defeating. There is a need to lay solid foundations for bilateral trust and regional cooperation. He added that history tells that sustainable and balanced regional cooperative framework cannot build on unpredictable and tenuous bilateral relations.
Mr. Omer Ali, Programme Coordinator, Hans Seidel Foundation (HSF), Germany (Pakistan Office), Islamabad on behalf of Mr. Kristof, Resident Representative, HSF warmly welcomed participants. He said that China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as a buzzword has elicited a high number of conferences, seminars and activities in the two years since the signing of the groundbreaking Memorandum of Understanding by Chinese President Xi Jinping in April 2015 during his visit to Pakistan. Ever since, the cordial relationship, which China and Pakistan have been enjoying almost throughout their complete history, and which has led to qualifications such as the “all-weather friendship” being as “high as the Himalayas”, has reached its zenith by the advent of yet another “Game-Changer” further deepening that relationship with a number of accompanying initiatives by the Chinese Government. He added that both China and Pakistan have their own stakes and perks for welcoming an ever-deeper cooperation which is quite unique in recent Weltpolitik. While China among many reasons has finally succeeded in obtaining direct access to the Arabian Sea, thereby circumventing the bottleneck of the Malacca Straits, which might well change the complete strategic set-up in the Far East, Pakistan primarily benefits economically from revenue generated by increased trade and investment opportunities. This in turn leaves Pakistan in a much stronger negotiating position globally and prone to increase the direly needed cooperation with all other neighbouring countries. At the same time, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor provides the opportunity for raising many secluded layers of society from abject poverty. He added that the aim of this conference was to evaluate the strategic implications and opportunities academically, which the development of the CPEC holds. Such analysis in turn will provide the grounds for policy makers and planners to take informed decisions and help implement the CPEC to obtain a desirable outcome.
H.E. Mr. Sun Weidong, Ambassador of People’s Republic of China (PRC) to Pakistan, while acknowledging the Pakistan’s contributions in the promotion of China-Pakistan friendship and cooperation said that this collaboration is across the board consensus of the people of two countries. He added that in order to well-understand CPEC, the corridor must be analysed from a larger perspective of China’s foreign cooperation ambitions. These cooperation ambitions are based on three keywords, i.e. Partnership, Win-Win Benefit and Regional Cooperation. He said that in 2014, during his visit to some South Asian countries, President Xi Jinping pointed that China would like to take Belt and Road Initiatives as the two wings towards economic take off and prosperity with the South Asian countries. He highlighted that a peaceful, stable, developing and prosperous South Asia is not only in line with the interests of the countries and people in this region but also in line with the interests of China. Currently, we are accelerating cooperation on many important projects. China is pushing CPEC and other initiatives like Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC) with Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives. China and South Asia together will form a huge market of three billion population in total. It is also the fastest growing region and largest emerging market in the world. He opined that economic and trade cooperation between China and South Asia has great potentials and China is willing to take advantage of these favourable conditions. He shared that under the Belt and Road Initiative, CPEC can be considered as one of the earliest, fastest and most effective project. It has now entered into the stage of the early harvest. Nineteen projects worth US$ 18.5 billion are growing like bamboo shoots for Pakistan. As the flagship project of BRI, CPEC has accumulated valuable experience for China and Pakistan and even the regional countries to push forward the in-depth development of the initiative. He said that the two sides have agreed to the principles of equality and mutual benefit, as they are achieving shared growth through friendly discussion and close collaboration, adhering to the ideals of openness, inclusiveness and transparency. He added that with the steady growth of CPEC, the geographic and economic advantages of Pakistan will be fully intact. He explained that the opportunities brought by CPEC would go far beyond the bilateral scope. The smooth progress of CPEC requires a stable internal and external environment, coherent policies and sound supply of infrastructure like water, electricity, roads and communication. It also needs favorable environment for security, investment and public opinions for which, China is laying a firm foundation of future development of CPEC. He opined that China and Pakistan are good neighbours, friends, partners and brothers and this friendship is based on mutual understanding, trust and support. Both sides have set up a state-to-state relationship example for the world. The future is brighter for Pakistan-China Friendship by constructing CPEC and many other projects. Both countries will achieve a win-win result. It is through the promotion of this all-weathered strategic partnership that more can be contributed to the peace, stability, security and prosperity of the region.
Mr. Ahsan Iqbal, Federal Minister for Interior and Narcotics Control, said that the initiation of CPEC has drawn a lot of attention as its potential remained widely analysed, discussed and debated across the world. At the moment, a new world order is evolving which is chaotic. Amidst turmoil, world witnesses’ acute issues of people’s mistrust, the occurrence of Brexit and election of Donald Trump as the US’ President are two examples to quote. The first half of the 20th Century was consumed in decolonization i.e., states struggling to liberate themselves from foreign occupation, while the other half was consumed in the formation of political and ideological blocs and Cold War politics. Given the meagre socioeconomic stature of Asian states, then, they were able to take sides. Mr. Iqbal stated that 21st Century presented to us new order and new reality, with its foundations based on four I’s, i.e. individual, industry, investment and information. This century is about economics, the rise of individual, global networking and technology. Groups like G7 and G20 stand out, to be the blocs of this century.
In the similar context, he said that CPEC is a tremendous opportunity that has come to Pakistan, in specific and South Asia, in general. He opined that today states have to provide a better standard of living to their people through right economic vision alongside provision of peace and development. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is based on pragmatic thinking to ensure sustainable global development specifically when world is facing an economic slowdown. South Asia being a highly dense and militarized zone remains to be a least integrated region. The traditional security concerns in the region emerge from the issues of unfinished agenda of partition and rise of fundamentalism. Mr. Iqbal considered internal instability, fast urbanization process, lack of proper education, employment and entrepreneurship and least regional collaboration among member states as the four structural problems of South Asia, impeding interaction and cooperation. He suggested that South Asian states should continue to seek solutions of key issues and conflicts. South and Central Asia along with China are considered three engines of future economic growth. Through initiatives of connectivity such as CPEC, Pakistan can become a hub of trade and commerce, which is also envisaged in the Vision 2025 of Pakistan. CPEC envisages an inclusive development in Pakistan, opening gateways for trade up till Europe via Central and West Asia.
Geopolitics of the Region and Development of CPEC
Dr. Farhan Hanif Siddiqi, Assistant Professor, School of Politics and International Relations (SPIR), Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad while giving his presentation on “CPEC and Geo-Politico-Economic Trends of the Region: An Appraisal” opined that presently one can witness a cult of the offensive in South Asia. Global and Regional powers are becoming increasingly aggressive. This is where CPEC presents a radical break. The project breaks the zero-sum geo-politics in the region by presenting a model of geo-economics which is a positive-sum for all countries. Contrary to popular belief, he explained that Pak-India relations have oscillated between periods of antagonism and periods of cooperation. The relationship has not always been marred with hostility. In his opinion, South Asian states are looking at economic ventures through geopolitical lines. India’s absence in the recently concluded One Belt One Road (OBOR) Summit in China is a glaring example. He explained that Pakistan’s economic model has always been foreign-aid dependant. In this regard, CPEC provides an alternative with a focus on foreign investment. The fundamental model of the project is good. In the end, he reiterated that South Asian states need to revise their hostile geopolitics and work towards reconciliatory geo-economics.
Dr. Syed Rifaat Hussain, Head Government and Public Policy, National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Islamabad while presenting on “South Asian Security and CPEC: Pakistan’s Perspective” said that South Asia is no longer a subordinate system as believed by western scholars. Looking at economic trends, nuclearisation and technology trends, shows autonomy in South Asia. Despite the autonomy, he argued that South Asia is the least economically integrated region of the world. It remains a segmented region as less than 7 percent trade takes place within South Asia compared with other regions in the world. India has maritime and land borders with all South Asian countries which gives it power and influence vis-à-vis other countries except Pakistan which has resisted Indian hegemony. CPEC would frustrate India’s aspirations for regional hegemony as the project would further provide impetus to China’s $11 trillion economy having 8 percent growth rate. He argued that Pakistan sees CPEC as a game-changer as the relocation of excess Chinese industries to Pakistan will create thousands of jobs leading to a more inclusive and peaceful South Asia in general and Pakistan in particular.
Dr. Fazl-ur-Rahman, Assistant Professor, National Defence University (NDU), Islamabad and Non-Resident Consultant, IPRI while presenting on “South Asian Security and CPEC: Chinese Perspective” explained that peripheral security is the top priority for Chinese policymakers after reforms in China in 1978-79. This is also reflected in China’s neighbourhood policy as it tries to disengage its neighbours from any kind of conflict. Thus, it plays a very pro-active role in diffusing conflicts. Peace through development is the current policy of China in South Asia. China is trying to uplift the economic system in the region to create peace through development. In the larger scheme of things, OBOR is a mechanism through which China is influencing the global economic system. Peculiar geographic dynamics make South Asia more conflict prone. In this regard, China suggests a model for Pak-India relations whereby both countries should put issues on the back burner and concentrate on economic cooperation.
Impact of CPEC on the National Security of Pakistan
Admiral (R) Asaf Humayun, HI(M), Former Director General, National Centre for Maritime Policy Research at the Bahria University, Karachi, in his presentation on ‘CPEC: Pakistan’s Vision of Maritime Security’ said that the stabilizing factors for maritime security are commercial interests, countering Somali piracy by a global coalition of maritime forces, containment of regional conflicts on land and nuclear weapons in the Indian Ocean. However, the issues surrounding the protection and use of oceans are trans-boundary in nature and require strong cooperation. He cautioned that the development of CPEC and the use of the Gwadar Port will increase Pakistan’s maritime security responsibilities and challenges, especially those related to sea-based nuclear weapons; the rise of India as a maritime power; non-traditional security threats like climate change, smuggling, cyber warfare and piracy; ISIS presence in littoral states; and threats of subversion. He said that India is overtly hostile to CPEC and launching covert operations in areas of Pakistan’s responsibility. He recommended that to counter these challenges, Pakistan needs to use CPEC as an inclusive forum to alleviate poverty in the country; pursue maritime security cooperation, but should be prepared to meet enemy designs; and establish a naval harbour at Gwadar Port or in its vicinity, so that maritime security can be augmented for CPEC.
Professor Dr. Muhammad Masoom Yasinzai, Rector of the International Islamic University, Islamabad (IIUI) speaking on ‘CPEC: An Engine to Human Resource Development in Pakistan’ said that CPEC has the potential of making Pakistan one of the most strategically important countries in the region. However, Pakistan has a weak labour market and lacks quality vocational training centres since the Higher Education Commission has not succeeded in building bridges between academia and industry. He stressed to build Human Resource for the collaborative linkages and intellectual connectivity which symbolizes the spirit of CPEC. He said that along with building the CPEC -University Alliance, further focus is required to develop the capacity of our existing HEIs in Baluchistan, Gilgit Baltistan, Coastal areas and other areas where we are highly deficient in labour markets and quality vocational training.
He recommended that Pakistan’s institutions of higher learning need to become more relevant and update their syllabi and even faculty capacities to bridge the human capacity gaps in areas like civil engineering, especially railways and tunnels, electrical and instrumentation engineering, architectural planning, supply chain management and business incubation experts, transportation and logistics, industrial electronics, and energy.
Professor Dr. Ashfaque Hasan Khan, Dean, School of Social Sciences, National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) presented his views on ‘CPEC: Its Impact on Economic Security of Pakistan.’ He told the audience that Pakistan’s economy is currently passing through the difficult times. CPEC has the potential to take the economy out of the challenging phase. It has the potential to strengthen the economic security of Pakistan as well. CPEC, once implemented fully has the potential to transform Pakistan’s economy from a low growth mode (3-4%) to a higher (7-8% p.a.) and sustainable growth economy; removing key infrastructural bottlenecks, promoting balanced regional growth and development; shaping new industry clusters, improving living standards and social mobility; and promoting regional connectivity.
He pointed out that while India can scuttle the benefits of CPEC cooperation through Afghanistan, it can be neutralized by reinvigorating the Quadrilateral Transit Agreement signed in 1995 by China, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic. In his views, CPEC – Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) cooperation can be a game-changer for approximately 2 billion people in the region. However, he also stressed that Pakistan’s leadership needs to be serious in implementing projects, and to focus on human capital development, particularly towards the Institutions of Higher Learning. He suggested that a pool of skilled manpower in the country in general and Balochistan in particular needs to be generated. He said that a crash programme needs to be launched to provide requisite skills to the people of Gwadar and Balochistan as a whole for promoting social stability in the country. It is also important to build capacity of Pakistan’s bureaucracy to handle multi-dimensional projects; and set up a CPEC Development Authority comprising civil and military officers for better coordination, smooth and timely execution and completion of projects.
Regional Security and CPEC
Professor Dr. A. Z. Hilali, Chairman, Department of Political Science, University of Peshawar, Peshawar while making a presentation on “Development of CPEC and the Interests of Regional States: An Evaluation” said that CPEC is the recognition of Pakistan’s strategic location and will act as a double edged sword i.e, an opportunity as well as a threat to its internal and external enemies. He explained that the majority of relevant stakeholders in Afghanistan is supporting CPEC but historical communist elements and pro-Indian lobby is pressurizing Kabul to oppose CPEC. Torkham-Jalalabad road and Peshawar-Torkham road are some of the projects that will improve connectivity between the two countries. Iran has also formally expressed its desire to join the multi-billion dollar project of CPEC. Central Asian states have also expressed interest in joining CPEC as the project would be a key facilitator to bridge the regions of South and Central Asia in four main areas i.e, energy, transportation, trade policy and trade facilitation. Middle East exports crude oil to China and this is being transported after covering 10,000 miles by sea. After completion of CPEC, it will be reduced to 2500 km through Gwadar Port to Kashgar.
Professor Dr. Moonis Ahmar, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Karachi, Karachi presented his paper on “Development of CPEC: Impact of Regional Cooperation to End Extremism in the Region” and started his presentation by explaining that engaging Pakistani youth in projects covered under CPEC particularly roads, railways, solar and thermal power production will not only enhance their talent and skills but will also utilize their energies in a positive manner which may help dilute the level of frustration thus mitigating the threat of extremism in the country. He was of the opinion that large scale development projects under CPEC with proper planning and by taking local stakeholders on board can be a ‘great leap forward’ in reducing the level of unemployment, particularly in the backward regions of Balochistan and KPK and thus act as a bulwark against elements of extremism in these vulnerable regions.
Dr. Khuram Iqbal, Assistant Professor, Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, National Defence University (NDU), Islamabad presented his paper on “CPEC: A Corridor for Minimizing Political Fault-lines in the Region” and argued that the Indian response to CPEC has barred the potential of this mega developmental initiative to address the regional political fault-lines. It has transformed ideological terrorism into cold-war era “proxyism”. While explaining the political fault-lines in the region, he explained that any bilateral or multi-lateral issue, if left unresolved, could threaten regional security and impede regionalism in South Asia. To this end, he argued that interstate disputes including Jammu and Kashmir dispute are the main sources of political fault-lines in the region. He opined that India misperceives Pakistan as a residue to Central Asian invaders and is paranoid that Pakistan may convert its newly acquired wealth into military muscle and impede India’s rise. Increased Chinese economic stakes could also internationalize the Kashmir dispute. In response, India has tried to start many initiatives, but those have not materialized because of being more rhetorical with less substance. These include pitching Chahbahar against Gwadar, Project Mausam and Spice Route amongst others.
CPEC: A Win-Win Corridor for the Region
Professor Dr. Muhammad Alam Khan, Head of Department, the Area Study Center (Middle East), University of Balochistan, Quetta said that the envisaged framework of CPEC would link China to the resource-rich Middle East and African continent via Gwadar deep sea port and Karakoram Highway, providing China the shortest route to the Middle East. It is important to note that China consumes over 11 million barrels of oil per day, which is projected to exceed beyond 13 million barrels per day in 2020 whereas, China imports 60 percent of its oil needs from Middle East. Chinese total exports to the Middle East and North Africa have increased to US$ 140 billion in 2015 from US$ 122 billion in 2013. Since 2014, China has emerged to dominate as the main trading partner of the Middle Eastern region. He said that Pakistan and Iran share a long border of 900 kms and enjoy a history of cordial relationship. With no active conflict, both countries have various areas of convergences and divergences. Given the security priorities of both countries in their respective regions, Pakistan has a specific policy for India while Iran faces an apparent threat from Israel and the US. However, Saudi Arabia has remained to be an important factor in Pakistan-Iran bilateral relations, specifically after the 1979 revolution. Now that multiple factors such as situation in Afghanistan and security situation in Middle East are at play, concerns have emerged in the bilateral relations. Before the imposition of sanctions on Iran, its bilateral trade with Pakistan was around US$ 1.6 billion, later reduced to US$ 300 million and US$ 14 billion with India. Along the security threats, the factor of regional politics vis-à-vis Pak-Saudi strategic ties has impacted the relations and ties much, despite being immediate neighbours.
He added that with the initiation of CPEC, India desires access to resource-rich Central Asia via Iran as it has openly rejected the project. In this regard, Chabahar port facility serves an opening for India to enhance its meager trade with the Central Asian Republic (CARs). Meanwhile, Iran also engages Afghanistan to use the facility as an alternate to Pakistan’s Karachi port. For instance, the use of the Iranian port for Afghan cargo containers has increased up to 80,000 in 2013-14 from 30,000 in 2008-09. Given these developments, India through Iran and Afghanistan, is trying to establish a strategic triangle against Pakistan in the region. India’s increasing influence and activities in Pakistan’s immediate neighbourhood has raised serious concerns. The arrest of the Indian spy Commander Kulbhushan Yadav in Balochistan, due to supporting subversive activities in Pakistan, is one current example.
Besides India, he said that, China is also engaging Iran, mostly on the economic front. Chinese companies are investing in the Iranian oil sector since the bilateral trade between the two anti-US countries has hit the target of US$ 53 billion in 2013 from US$ 4 billion in 2003. During the visit of the Chinese President to Iran in January 2017, the two sides pledged to achieve a trade-target of around US$ 600 billion over the next decade, in addition to the signing of 17 agreements worth billions of US dollars. Surprisingly, Iran has the privilege to receive the maiden train of the revived New Silk Route from China in January 2016.
Dr. Muhammad Mujeeb Afzal, Assistant Professor, School of Politics and International Relations (SPIR), Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad said that states at international level interact with each other on the basis of power and if we assess correctly the balance of power among them, we can make a good understanding of their mutual relationship. The processes, through which balance of power is maintained, are very delicate and perpetual as they involve various adjustments and readjustments in response to the domestic and international changes. These processes are i) the gap between the demand and availability of resources, ii) creating a balance between national security interests and welfare of the people and iii) assessment of the opponent’s ever changing power capabilities. India and Pakistan have a sharp imbalance in their power capabilities. Factors like population, geography, and other resources give India, an advantage. Historically, both states have also developed conflicting and competing self-views. In the given system of South Asia, Pakistan being a small state with leser resources wants to resolve Jammu and Kashmir dispute with India peacefully and wishes to secure its defence by maintaining minimum strategic deterrence. On the other hand, India considers itself a status-inconsistent state, both at the regional and international level and wishes to establish a regional hegemony to correct this inconsistency. India has always considered it as a breach in South Asian security which it has always studied as an issue of its own national security. Essentially, this phenomenon has exposed India’s own inability to have hard power resources to establish its hegemony both in terms of capital and technology. This competing phenomenon explains correctly Pakistan and India’s association with the Western defence pacts and the relationship with the former Soviet Union during the Cold War, respectively.
The end of the Cold War and the victory of capitalism have helped both India and China to rise economically. They have become very powerful trading nations. China, especially, with this new found wealth; wishes as to restructure the colonial trade dependency over the West. The West has created a very feudalistic structure in which East is interacting directly with the West, not with each other. China certainly aims to break this pattern and revive the old routes for mutual trade and interaction of inter-and intra-regions of the all the three continents including Asia, Africa and Europe. Similarly, the BRI project proposes integration at both levels, i.e. through the land and sea routes of the new Belt and Road Initiati and Maritime Silk Road respectively. China wishes to revive old trade routes and reunite them. The envisaged Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is expected to link the major trading centres of the continents through land and sea.
He pointed out that with the completion of BRI, by 2050, China is expected to be the largest economy in the world worth US$ 58.5 trillion. Pakistan’s economy will increase by 15 per cent till 2030 and will emerge as US$ 4.2 trillion economy by 2050. It will be a phenomenal change that would certainly impact the regional and international balance of power. He shared that India has rejected the economic explanation of BRI in general and its projects of CPEC and BCIM-EC, in specific. India thinks that it is essentially a process through which China wishes to create its own sphere of influence and encircle India, strategically.To counter that, India is establishing its alternative processes. Meanwhile, India also complained of not being involved in the consultative process of BRI to which, China is also hesitant. On Pakistani front, India has always put its sovereignty claims over the area of Gilgit-Baltistan, in opposition to CPEC. India thinks that initiatives like CPEC would strengthen Pakistan to further challenge its regional hegemony and will reduce Pakistan’s defence burden as it will be able to bear that because of CPEC related growth and revenues. Besides, India also thinks that such circumstances would make its policy for the isolation of Pakistan irrelevant.
He explained that India’s strategic partnership with the US cannot be seen as a complete counterweight to the rise of China. Also, there exists a perception that both Pakistan and China and Pakistan and India are being dealt by different commands of the US’ military. China and Pakistan together will control the Indian Ocean that it considers as Indian Lake. In its efforts to establish partnership with the US, Japan and Australia, India desires to exploit the opportunity and have access to the sophisticated and indigenous technology and expertise. Similarly, India is also trying to establish alternative routes to CPEC such as through Chabahar port of Iran, Zaranj-Dilaram Highway, link between India-Iran-Russia through International North-South Transit Corridor, Ashkhabad Agreement to link India-Oman-Iran-Central Asia and establishment of ports in the Nicobar and Andaman Islands and Sri Lanka, respectively. Will it be possible for India to counter China? In a shorter or middle period of time, it seems less impossible. China’s economy is five times bigger than India and it needs fifty years to catch China. He recommended that it is time when China and Pakistan both must think ways to reduce tensions through the resolution of issues with India.
Professor Dr. Ashfaque Hassan Khan, Dean, School of Social Sciences, National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Islamabad while concluding the session said that Indian economic power has been exaggerated and considered it as a part of the Western strategy to bring India at par with China at all levels. Given Pakistan’s per capita income to be US$ 1600 as compared to India’s as less than US$ 2000, he said that the difference is not much and India should only be considered as a dominant power if its per capita income is 7-8 times more than Pakistan. Further on diversifying options of connectivity of CPEC with regional countries, Dr. Khan added that as the situation deteriorates in Afghanistan, Pakistan must connect CPEC with Central Asian Republics by operaionalisation a route defined in the Quadrilateral Transit Trade Agreement (QTTA). While discussing Indian opposition to CPEC with reference to sovereignty claims, he said that Karakorum Highway has existed for over sixty years and has been under use for trade purposes to which India never opposed but why now with the initiation of CPEC.
While delivering concluding address, Minister for Defence, Engineer Khurram Dastgir said that in the South Asia security matrix, there was no room for the self-proclaimed and artificially boosted statistics. He said that the recently announced US policy on South Asia underscored a greater role for India in Afghanistan and the region, while not acknowledging the exponential contribution, counterterrorism success, and sacrifices of Pakistan for peace and regional stability. He added that there are strategic contradictions in the US approach, and most key regional and global players have not supported this declared US policy since it envisages India to be a Net Security Provider in the region.
Mr. Dastgir opined that regional security in the 21st Century can only be ensured through relationships and collaborations based on mutual trust and equality. He said that South Asia was undergoing an unprecedented transformation due to globalized economic trends and rising interdependencies, wherein the prosperity and stability of one nation would be indivisible from others. It is also home to countries that share much with each other culturally and geographically, but ironically progressing independently rather than in conjunction. The possible reason for limited cooperation lies in deep-rooted historic political differences due to colonial legacies and territorial disputes, which have not allowed the environment of trust to prevail and is being exploited by the extra regional states for their geopolitical interests. He said amidst these complex security threats, CPEC as part of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was a significant flagship project, which had gained global attention and had the potential to bring a paradigm shift in the destiny of this entire region, but here the caveat is that peace amongst the regional countries is a pre-requisite for success of this initiative.
He further said that the success of CPEC, hinged on the ability to deal with intricate national security issues, forging national consensus and preventing negative geo-political influences in the region. He cleared that the cooperation between Pakistan and China is focused on economic development through connectivity and is not against any other country and seeks to establish and sustain long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationships with the global and regional players. Meanwhile, there was unanimous agreement by the conference delegates that China had never changed its stance towards Pakistan and remained steadfast in supporting it at the international level. It was pointed that the CPEC is offering a development counter-narrative to Balochistan’s grievances, and the Government of Pakistan should involve the local people and engage the country’s young men and women in CPEC projects.
Vote of Thanks
In his vote of thanks, Ambassador (R) Abdul Basit, President of IPRI thanked the participants, media and the delegates for making the conference a success. He appreciated China’s diplomatic support by acknowledging Pakistan as a country on the front lines in the struggle against terrorism and its great sacrifices and contributions in trying to make the region a haven of stability and sustainable development.
- To realize the impact of CPEC on Pakistan’s political and economic standing, support at the country as well as regional levels is needed. The elements opposed to the corridor will try to spread insinuations of mistrust. There is a need to reject the voices and harbingers of doom and gloom which are trying to malign development projects like CPEC. There is a need to view these projects in the true perspective by looking ahead with optimism and hope for a better and brighter future for Pakistan and its people. In fact CPEC has put Pakistan in a much stronger negotiating position both at the regional and global levels.
- South Asia cannot afford to continue on its path of confrontation and hostility if it wants to become a powerful economic bloc. In this respect CPEC has the potential to transform the region from a conflict zone to a corridor of cooperation. To accrue maximum benefits and to get on to the path of regional progress, the regional players, in particular, India and Pakistan need to set aside their differences by resolving their disputes on priority, and enter the path of geo-economics.
- There is also a need to set up CPEC Development Authority comprising civil and military officers for better coordination, smooth and timely execution and completion of projects. The Authority should include senior officials from Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). The Authority should also set up its offices in all the four provincial capitals and in GB.
- The apprehensions that Chinese workers might take the lead in jobs can create doubts in the minds of the locals who may feel insecure and oppose the development projects. In such a situation, the government needs to give confidence to the locals. It should be pointed out that Chinese engineers/companies will facilitate educational links and technology transfer, which, in turn will be useful in uplifting of Balochistan. In this regard, in addition to government efforts, universities/academia, media and the think tanks should also play a positive role.
- To ensure the participation of locals in development work under CPEC, the Pakistani workforce needs to be prepared. There is a need to focus on human resource development, quality vocational training and the technical gap is needed to be bridged. Rigorous efforts are needed to link ground work requirement with the academic programmes. The initiative undertaken by the military to train 200 students from Balochistan and admitting them in NUST is a positive move. Similar initiatives should be undertaken, and the government needs to play the lead role in this regard.
- There is no doubt that Pakistan has a weak labour market and lacks quality vocational training centres. The Higher Education Commission has not succeeded in building bridges between academia and industry. Pakistan’s institutions of higher learning need to become more relevant and update their syllabi and even faculty capacities to bridge the human capacity gaps in areas like civil engineering, especially railways and tunnels, electrical & instrumentation engineering, architectural planning, supply chain management & business incubation experts, transportation & logistics, industrial electronics, and energy.
- The holding of mutual trust and confidence in Sino-Pak relations will go a long way in strengthening the CPEC process. The time line mentioned for the completion of projects under CPEC must be strictly maintained by Pakistan. It will certainly raise Pakistan’s credibility and would enhance trust between the two countries. Further, Pakistan should not expect Chinese support on issues that go beyond Pakistan-China relations.
- The type of investment that China is making, how much of it is aid, grant, loan, investment etc.? If most of it is invested, then how much of it will be done through Chinese companies and what portion will be available to local entrepreneurs through Chinese banks and at what rates? What is the rate and timeframe of paybacks that the Chinese companies are planning on? And if expected profits do not come through, who is the undertaker or guarantor? These are important questions which need to be resolved.
- CPEC provides China with an alternate trade route (lessening dependence on Malacca Strait). With Gwadar’s operationalisation, China’s access to the Arabian Sea, South Asia and Central Asia will be enhanced. This will further raise Pakistan’s importance in regional countries’ calculus. Pakistan needs to exploit this to its advantage and try to further strengthen the partnership with China. There is a need to project to the outside world that Pakistan is not an isolated state, rather, as part of CPEC it is pivotal to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
- Indian opposition to CPEC is reflective of its hegemonic instincts. The Indian argument that the CPEC will pass through a disputed territory is baseless. The KKH passes through Gilgit-Baltistan, and the CPEC will be an extension of the already developed trade route. Besides, no law prevents the development in a disputed territory. This narrative needs appropriate promotion at regional as well as international quarters.
- Pakistan and China need to jointly counter the covert tactics employed to derail the corridor development. The arrest of Gulbushan Yadav from Balochistan and the support to Baloch and Sindhi nationalists from regional quarters are reflective of this threat. There is also a need to recognize the evolving nature of the threat in the context of regional animosity. India, other than abetting extremist groups, may provoke proxies. The hidden aim is to sabotage the Gwadar port, hence, Pakistan and China need to jointly counter the sabotage tactics directed at CPEC. In addition, mechanisms to jointly address terrorism also need to be formulated. In this respect there should be a joint Sino-Pak stance on issues related to the use of proxy groups by India and greater Chinese support for a multilateral approach to Jammu and Kashmir dispute is needed.
- To ensure the smooth functioning of CPEC followed by regional integration, an enabling environment is a must. The prime stakeholders – Pakistan and China need to remain steadfast in this endeavour and pursue the goals of regional integration/harmony. Convincing and offering all the regional countries to come forward and benefit from the advantages of the corridor, will help in removing many irritants and obstructions. In this context Pakistan and China need to build up trust with regional actors – Iran, Afghanistan and India.
- Iran should be invited to join CPEC. Iran’s Ambassador to Pakistan Mehdi Honardoost expressing Iran’s desire to join the CPEC while addressing the Oxbridge Lecture in Islamabad early this year must be taken seriously so that the bilateral trade may be increased to a considerable level. The perception of Gwadar-Chahbahar competition should be effectively countered and it should be promoted that both the ports will operate together in regional cooperation.
- The US needs to be taken into confidence that the corridor is an economic venture and will open the world trade for Afghanistan and Central Asia. The perception that the Gwadar port will be used for military purposes should be rebuffed. The Pakistan military personnel stationed at Gwadar port are protecting the port from miscreants’ threat.
- It also needs to be projected that the China’s economic growth is a stabilizing factor for the region. China’s geographic proximity to South Asia, coupled with the East Asian power’s economic growth is an opportunity for the smaller SAARC states. It is in the interest of SAARC to offer full membership to China to boost the process of regional cooperation. It will help to positively shape the present and future of the region.
- Institutional building under SAARC and ECO to strengthen communication linkages in South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia with CPEC playing a leading role can go a long way in promoting regional cooperation and dealing with the issues of extremism and violence.
- If CPEC related projects succeed, other countries of the region can also be taken on board so that regional cooperation, which is a distant dream in Central, South and West Asia, is transformed into a reality.
- The development of CPEC and the use of Gwadar port will increase Pakistan’s maritime security responsibilities and challenges, especially those related to sea-based nuclear weapons; the rise of India as a maritime power; nontraditional security threats like climate change, smuggling, cyber warfare and piracy; ISIS presence in littoral states; and threats of subversion. In order to counter these challenges, Pakistan needs to use CPEC as an inclusive forum to alleviate poverty in the country; pursue maritime security cooperation, but be also prepared to meet enemy designs by establishing a naval harbour at Gwadar port or in its vicinity, so that maritime security can be augmented for CPEC.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the speakers and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.