In a significant policy shift the United States of America has recently objected to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) citing that the project runs through the internationally disputed territory. The US allusion is towards the Gilgit-Baltisitan region of Pakistan, which India argues is part of the greater Kashmir region. As Kashmir is a disputed territory between Pakistan and India, therefore, any project by a third country or involving a third country is in violation of international treaties and UN resolutions, or so the US would have it, in slavish imitation of New Delhi.
Although the US objection to the CPEC is on very weak grounds, but the same has been made to achieve certain strategic objectives. Regarding the weakness of Washington’s reservations over CPEC, firstly, Gilgit-Baltistan is not part of Kashmir. Therefore, the question of objection does not arise at all. Supposedly, if the US argument regarding the CPEC holds water, even then the US is not an international policeman to tell countries what to do and what not to do. On the other hand India on its part of Kashmir has launched many infrastructure projects, but the US has not been objecting to them.
Most importantly CPEC is a project of economic development and stability and Pakistan is its main beneficiary. The US at least must be convinced that the stability in the entire Af-Pak and South Asian region is connected with the political stability and economic development of Pakistan. Therefore, any such project in which the development and stability of Pakistan is involved must logically be supported by the US. In case of CPEC, Washington must be more supportive because the entire investment is coming from China. The US has always been complaining of Pakistan having received billions of dollars from the former, but to no effect in terms of Islamabad’s support to the US-led global war on terror. So in case of CPEC, Pakistan and the wider region would attain stability without US taxpayers’ money, which should be a win-win situation for all. It is important to note that US President Donald Trump’s policy in this regard is contrary to the policy of the previous president Barack Obama. The latter’s administration had been supportive of CPEC because it would infuse economic prosperity and development in the region and, ultimately, would be instrumental in its stability. Despite these benefits why is the US raising objections to CPEC now?
There could be two main reasons for the US objections to CPEC. The first is that the US considers China as a strategic competitor and a rising economic giant. Therefore, Washington under the hawkish Trump, is doing whatever it can to stop China from becoming the leading economic power. This may sound strange but, in fact, it is the hard reality of international politics that every state thinks for itself and therefore it is the sovereign right of the US to do whatever it could to stop China from becoming the leading economic and, ultimately, military power.
However, from Pakistan’s standpoint, this strategic rivalry between Beijing and Washington does not augur well for its own future development and economic progress. The fact of the matter is that CPEC is part of the $900 billion plus China’s initiative of One Belt One Road (OBOR) which would involve a number of north-south economic corridors across Asia as well as connecting the Eurasian landmass for trade and commerce. Obviously by investing so heavily in the OBOR initiative, China has on its agenda to become an unrivalled economic superpower. This does not fit well into the plans of American strategists. However, the American policymakers must think beyond China; it is the question of stability and prosperity of Pakistan without which, as earlier said, the whole region could not be peaceful and stable. In case US is having issues with OBOR at least it should have no problem with CPEC which is only part of it. In fact, China, since the launch of CPEC, has been desirous of making Afghanistan a part of it, albeit its inclusion cannot be immediate. But, on their part, the Americans must consider that despite fact that it has been in the longest war of its history in Afghanistan, it could not secure either the country or stabilize it, not even by spending nearly one trillion dollars there. One of the key reasons for America’s failure in Afghanistan has been that Washington could not economically develop Afghanistan and put its economy on sustainable lines. By joining CPEC, there are great prospects for Afghanistan to achieve the much-needed economic stability and financial sustainability. In this way, the CPEC including Afghanistan would facilitate Washington to leave Afghanistan, in a sustainable position. The question is whether it wants to leave?
Against this backdrop, if the US still goes ahead with its objection to CPEC, then this vividly indicates that it has other intentions. Here it may be mentioned that many experts have argued, over a decade, that the US wants to have a firm presence in Afghanistan because of the strategic location of the country. By ensconcing itself in Afghanistan, the US could run a check on Russia, China and Iran as well as Pakistan. The last three are immediate neighbours of Afghanistan.
The second important reason due to which the US seems to have raised objections on CPEC is India, which has not been at all in favour of CPEC. The obvious reason for Delhi’s problem with CPEC is that it would give benefits to Pakistan, its arch rival and China, also an enemy. On the other hand, India also thinks that through CPEC, China would be able to have a near-total control of the strategic Pakistani port of Gwadar. In Donald Trump’s strategy for South Asia and Af-Pak, India is of central importance. Washington thinks that India could play an anchoring role in peace and stability in the region by both lending a helping hand for peace and security in Afghanistan and by keeping a check on Pakistan. The US reportedly even asked India to contribute its troops to the Afghan war theatre, but Delhi refused to do so as it knows how difficult it would be to manage the situation. However, on its part India must have asked the US at the highest level, to do whatever it could to stop implementation on CPEC. The US, so far could raise only an objection to the project, and that also untenable and self-serving.
Interestingly, Beijing is very much aware of India and the US’s objection to CPEC and wants to address their genuine concerns. According to the Indian media, China was prepared to consider renaming CPEC if it would end India’s reservations over it. In this connection Chinese Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui was quoted as saying that the OBOR had no connection to “sovereignty disputes.” “China has no intention to get involved in the sovereignty and territorial disputes between India and Pakistan,” Mr. Luo told the audience of mostly retired armed service officers at a Delhi military-operated think tank in May.
Thus, the US and India must realize that CPEC is a core project upon which the stability and prosperity of the region depends in the coming years, therefore, they should desist from erecting roadblocks in the way of the project.