US President Donald Trump’s tweets have set off fireworks of a different kind in Pakistan than those that greeted the New Year. In a blistering attack, Mr Trump lashed out at Pakistan for hoodwinking the world, especially the US with its counter-terrorism masquerade, and threated to hold up $255 million in foreign military aid to Islamabad.

If Trump’s dire warnings have rattled Pakistan’s powerful civilian-military establishment, they have brought much cheer in India, which will be monitoring closely whether a beleaguered Islamabad will now walk the talk on terror. While there has been no official response from New Delhi to Mr Trump’s recent tweets, it is quite certain that the tightening of the noose around Pakistan will help India in intensifying its pressure on Pakistan to take concrete actions against terror outfits operating from its territory.

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” an angry Trump tweeted, dampening New Year festivities for Pakistan’s rulers.

US mounting pressure on Pakistan

Since announcing the Afghan policy last August, the US has stepped up its rhetorical attack on Pakistan, revealing its growing frustration with its long- time problematic ally. The outburst is seen as reaction to the consistent thwarting of US interests and demands by the Pakistani establishment in the fight against terror. The continued support provided to the Taliban leaders inside Pakistan was pointed out by Gen. John Nicholson, commander of the NATO coalition in Afghanistan in November, when he accused Islamabad of sheltering drug-lords.

The US Congress’s removal of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) from the list of groups against which Pakistan was required to act in exchange for aid bore little fruit. Islamabad’s covert support for the Haqqani network was evident when it denied America the access to the operative who was captured during the rescue of an American-Canadian couple last October. The release of 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed by a Pakistani court in November drew a sharp response from the US administration that demanded “immediate re-arrest and prosecution” of the LeT mastermind.

“The president has made clear the US expects Pakistan to take decisive action against terrorists and militants on its soil, and that Pakistan’s actions in support of the South Asia strategy will ultimately determine the trajectory of our relationship, including future security assistance,” a White House national security council spokesman said.

Pakistan’s retort

Pakistan has predictably fallen back on its victim card. Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khwaja Asif tweeted, “Pak as anti-terror ally has given free to US: land & air communication, military bases & intel cooperation that decimated Al-Qaeda over last 16yrs, but they have given us nothing but invective & mistrust. They overlook cross-border safe havens of terrorists who murder Pakistanis”. The establishment’s first response was to officially summon US ambassador in Islamabad David Hale to demand an explanation. While the details of the discussion have not emerged, the streets in Karachi saw protests by a group of religious-political parties. The statement that came out after the meeting of Pakistan’s National Security Committee denounced Trump’s remarks as “completely incomprehensible”. “They contradicted facts manifestly, struck with great insensitivity at the trust between two nations built over generations,” the statement said.

Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani observed quite perceptively that “It’s the first time a US president has put his own name and reputation behind the pressure on Pakistan. George [W] Bush never said anything directly and Barack Obama, even after the discovery of Osama bin Laden, left it to officials to deliver the message of displeasure.”

China springs to Pakistan’s defence

Isolated for its consistent use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy, Pakistan found some solace from its all-weather mentor. Expressing China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang dismissed Trump’s allegations saying “Pakistan has made enormous efforts and sacrifice for the fight against terrorism and has made very outstanding contribution to the global cause of counter terrorism. The international community should acknowledge that”.”China and Pakistan are all weather partners. We stand ready to promote and deepen our all-round cooperation so as to bring benefits to the two sides,” he added.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has deepened Beijing’s stakes in promoting Pakistan’s interests. In the first trilateral meeting of the foreign ministers of China, Pakistan and Afghanistan last week, Beijing declared its plan to extend the CPEC to Afghanistan. Denying that the tweets from the American President would affect its commitment to the Af-Pak peace process, Mr Geng said “We believe as neighbours China, Pakistan and Afghanistan are closely linked not only geographically but also in terms of common interests. It is natural for us to enhance communication and exchanges”.



Snubbing Pakistan for sponsoring terrorism and calling upon Pakistan to vacate the portion of Kashmir that remains under its illegal occupation is not new to the Indian policy approach. What is new is the assertion by the Narendra Modi Government on the need to reverse the game by shifting the discourse on Kashmir. New Delhi’s new move is accompanied by the sudden sprouting of videos showing Pakistani atrocities in Gilgit and Baltistan (GB).

While Pakistan has effectively sustained its Kashmir agenda for seven decades, India has been defensive and sporadic in its claim over Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Hopefully, the rhetoric this time is not a propaganda stunt and the policy shift will gain traction. As a step to wreck Pakistan’s agenda, India has correctly proscribed the Hurriyat factor from the NSA-level talk – denying Pakistan any leeway on both terror and political dialogue.

While changing the Kashmir narrative is important, India needs to pay serious attention to the changing nature of power play that has brought PoK to the forefront of China’s geopolitical calculations. The region came under spotlight after Xi Jinping announced plans for developing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and pledged USD 46 billion for building transport and energy connectivity to link Pakistan with China’s ambitious flagship project ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR). The August 2015 “Karamay Declaration” detailed Pakistan’s role in China’s global scheme. Lately, even Russia has indicated its interest in joining the bandwagon to prop up Pakistan’s strategic significance for Eurasian integration.

While the Sino-Pak axis in PoK is nothing new, the sheer magnitude of the CPEC plan makes it clear that it is not confined to the single limited objective of boosting Pakistan’s prosperity. On the face of it, CPEC signifies the laying of a crucial bridge for China to access the Indian Ocean and conversely for Pakistan to access Eurasia. While the need to capitalise on their political and geographical proximities explain this logic, this is not the entire truth. There is far more to China contemplating heavy investments in a country as perilously poised as Pakistan is.

Significance and Implications of CPEC

India needs to grasp the motivation, significance and implications of this new China-Pakistan nexus. First, CPEC implies a further deepening of the Sino-Pak alignment which began to intensify after the Osama Bin Laden episode. Moving from “all-weather friendship” to “iron brother” status, China began to liken its ties with Pakistan to the US links with Israel. Xi Jinping considers Pakistan as a frontline state in the war against terror and is of the view that “its sacrifices can’t be forgotten” by China. China expects the CPEC to yield far-reaching economic benefits, and regional security is instrumental for this purpose.

Second, and related to this, is the strategic intent of besieging India. The alignment of Karakoram (land) with Gwadar (sea), both having commercial and military utility, could serve as strategic chokepoints vis-à-vis India. As Andrew Small notes in his book The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics, “Pakistan is both a Chinese pawn (against India) and platform for power projection…..a long history of secret deals between their two armies – overrides the problems with Islamic extremism.”

Third, China is mindful of Pakistan’s vulnerabilities and the latter’s links with terror that could result in unpredicted consequences. The possibility of the Af-Pak belt becoming a safe haven for Uighur militants once the US troops leave is very much on Chinese minds. Beijing’s eagerness for Afghan reconciliation talks explains that. Yet, Beijing will shield Pakistan while trading on terrorism with terrorists (jihadists, the Taliban and al-Qaeda), all of whom receive arms in exchange for refraining from exporting terror into Xinjiang.

Fourth, some analysts view the CPEC in the context of offsetting the growing US-India intimacy as well as China’s quid pro quo to counter India’s “Act East” policy. Although such a comparison is nothing but hyperbole, Pakistan does have utility to China for keeping India always edgy. This is a China’s nuanced strategy to deter any possible India-US direct prying in Tibetan and Uighur issues. In reality, China would prefer not to bail out Pakistan in moments of its peril.

Finally, against this backdrop, Beijing is keen to employ its prêt-à-porter domestic-external interwoven strategy that had been earlier tested in the Xinjiang-Central Asia frontier to fix problems at home and abroad. Therefore, CPEC is a perfect counter-offensive defence strategy for dealing with threats emanating from the Af-Pak region.

Concerns for India

India needs to be concerned about China attempting to replicate in PoK the well-perfected policy it has applied earlier in Tibet, Xinjiang and across Central Asia. Beijing would be seeking a historic opportunity to fill up gaps where India has largely failed. Considering PoK’s strategic location as a connecting point of South, West, Central and East Asia, China’s move has implications for limiting India’s outreach to the critical Eurasian region.

India failed to see the writing on the wall when Pakistan carried out a series of steps to manipulate the legal and demographic profile, the last being a change of nomenclature from Northern Areas to Gilgit-Baltistan under the Empowerment and Self Rule Order (2009). An option for incorporating GB to make it as the fifth province of Pakistan is gaining serious consideration. There is also speculation that Pakistan could lease additional areas of GB to China. The opening a Chinese Consulate in PoK is in the offing. One should not be surprised by Beijing working on a plan to grab the entire GB along with the 5,000 square kilometre Shaksgam Valley held by China since 1963. Academic writings draw historical antecedent for China’s claims over the Hunza Valley.

For Islamabad, GB’s assimilation would mean quelling popular sentiment while also deflating India’s objections to Chinese activities. But this has not gone well with the Kashmiri separatists including the Hurriyat who are against GB’s incorporation into the Pakistani constitution.

Meanwhile, Chinese activities in GB are in full swing including the building of hydropower projects at Neelum-Jhelum, Kohala and Chakothi-Hattian that will generate 2,569 MW of power by 2020. The China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) recently completed five tunnels over the Attabad Lake in Hunza Valley. Widening of the Jaglot-Skardu Road is in progress. At the other end, China has taken 923 hectares on lease in Gwadar for developing a special economic zone (SEZ).

None of these developments stirred up an adequate Indian response. In fact, Beijing justified the CPEC as a “livelihood project” when concerns were raised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his May 2015 visit to China.

Clearly, India’s unhurried stance on PoK explains its unwillingness for changing the status quo. New Delhi has been making sporadic and pro forma protests on the PoK issue only for the purpose of countering Pakistan’s raising of the K word at the UN. And while Pakistan used global forums as the stick to beat India with on Kashmir, India remains loath to play the United Nations Security Council Resolution 47 of August 1948 that implicitly recognised Indian “sovereignty” over J&K and urged Pakistan to vacate territories under its “illegal occupation”.

The nature of developments taking place around PoK is too serious for India to ignore. With CPEC coming into effect, Pakistan has gone on a diplomatic spree offering to shape a “New Central Asia” through CPEC, asking the landlocked Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) members to use Pakistani ports. Pakistan is gaining greater credence in Eurasia as a possible partner. Kazakhstan has already expressed its desire to join the corridor. Renewed efforts are being made to reboot the Quadrilateral Traffic in Transit Agreement (QTTA) with Central Asian states. Pakistan joined the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) in 2010 and it separately seeks Transit Trade Agreement (TTA) with Afghanistan for access to Central Asia. To further boost intra-regional connectivity, Pakistan has recently acceded to the TIR Convention.

Involving Iran in the corridor is another ambition. With the current financial down turn in China, it is hard to predict whether CPEC will actually come to fruition. However, the trajectory and even a partial success would be consequential for limiting Indian influence in BRICS and SCO.

Opportunity for India

Modi’s government is apt in retrieving the PoK agenda. Placing GB along with Ladakh (82 per cent of J&K) on the political centre stage could easily undermine the Pakistani rhetoric on the Kashmir issue. Mere murmuring is not enough; India needs to start working on Pakistan’s domestic resistance i.e. in Baluchistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and GB over CPEC. The “Modi effect” is already working after he offered help to the people of PoK during the 2014 floods. GB is now abuzz with pro-freedom slogans as the people are fed up with decades of Pakistani atrocities, terrorism, and sectarian killings.

Options for India

India should stop making intermittent and tentative overtures and instead adopt a robust policy on PoK. A counter strategy should go beyond building partnerships with the US in the Asia-Pacific. Quite clearly, India’s non-endorsement or indifference to China’s Silk Road proposal appears to be short-sighted thinking, perhaps stemming from suspicion and insecurity.

In any case, India’s options are limited. In contrast to the Asia-Pacific, the US is not alarmed at Beijing’s push; instead it has been seeking convergence with China perhaps necessitated by the need to share the burden of containing terrorism in Afghanistan. In fact, Washington’s own New Silk Route initiative has fallen short perhaps due to shifting priorities and its inability to commit adequate funds. Geopolitically, China too is not risking a zero-sum game with the US in Eurasia. To be also sure, China also knows that the current priority of the West is to break Russia’s ambitions in Eurasia rather than to counter China’s move.

Additionally, if Russia moves closer to Pakistan, India’s reliance on Moscow for protecting its interests would become less salient. Against the looming threat of terrorism and extremism, any prospect for joining the Silk Route dynamics could open up an opportunity for India to cooperate in soft political areas including greater understanding of the Uighur problem that we know little about. Another equally important challenge is to break the current tight geopolitical spot India finds itself in, wedged between a wall of Pakistani hostility and the fear of cooperating with China.

Also, India can do little to stop OBOR or scuttle the CPEC. Almost all the countries in the subcontinent are excited about the project. India’s non-participation would lead to isolation and loss of clout at the regional level.

Being the world’s second largest economy and India’s largest trading partner, New Delhi is unable to ignore China anyway. To be sure, OBOR may be carrying security undertones but India also requires massive infrastructure investment and only China seems to have the surplus capital. Without partnering with China, India’s integration in Asian regionalisation would be less than smooth. Chinese companies are building infrastructure in India and there is little difference whether one gains by helping or limiting China’s influence. It cannot be in India’s interest to support the project and not reap all the economic benefits of those projects. It is important to establish a fine balance between economics with security.

India also cannot ignore the significance of the symbolism of history. After all, it was the Silk Route on which Indian trade and philosophy (Buddhism) travelled to the rest of Asia. Modi himself showed an inclination towards and confidence in dealing with China for building an Asian century. At Ufa, Modi displayed pragmatism by seeking convergence with China and Russia. As China is fast transforming internally, the imperatives of cultural affinity will demand closer propinquity between India and China.

Thus, staying outside cannot be to India’s advantage. New Delhi needs to re-conceptualise and seek new realities on the ground. China has called upon India to join the Silk Route and India should respond positively while accepting a trade-off here and there.

A wise approach would be to join the regional networking process just as India joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). There is nothing wrong in exploring OBOR as an alternative as long as India’s security interests are not compromised. Remaining disconnected would only instil greater insecurity and fears of Chinese encirclement. What Modi requires is a policy that would help to overcome predicaments that have thus far stymied India’s role in Asia.

A Counter Strategy

India needs to work on its own counter strategy by offering a plan for a direct India-China Silk Route Corridor (ICSRC) that could run along the traditional Ladakh-Xinjiang axis. A shift in thinking can no longer be put off, for it would mean not just about breaking the connectivity bottlenecks but about finding interlocking economic interests between its northern states and the Eurasian growth story.

The ICSRC could provide an alternate transport, energy, trade, fibre optics and communication highway that could originate from a port in Gujarat run across northern India to connect with Kashgar in western China through the Indus Valley in Ladakh. The initiative would have multiple advantages for both India and China without compromising on their respective security concerns. These include:

  1. The corridor could bring massive Chinese investments for building infrastructure in India that would boost the economy and generate greater employment opportunities.
  2. India could earn billions as fee from pipeline transit.
  3. An energy corridor would help India gain a durable guarantee against any Chinese misadventure across the border.
  4. There could be a trade-off here in terms of India possibly getting long-distance transport and energy pipelines from Russia through western China.
  5. ICSRC would blunt the impact of the CPEC.
  6. For China, ICSRC would be more reliable and less hazardous than risking investments in terrorism-plagued Pakistan.
  7. ICSRC would open a historic opportunity for India to physically connect with markets in China, Eurasia, Europe, and beyond. And,
  8. India could offer several other alternate outlets for China through the Northeast or Sikkim that are nearer to Chinese growth centres.

If the idea were to be pushed forward, it could become a grand announcement indicating India’s willingness to deepen economic engagement with China and would be something akin to how Russia and China started two decades ago. ICSRC could help revive the shared legacy of a common history and culture enriched by the trade in silk and spices. The development could pave the way for strengthening trust between the two countries and eventually contribute to the solution of the boundary problem.

ICSRC could prove to be a masterstroke of a counter-strategy in India’s long-term domestic and foreign policies. It would be a coup de maître for India in dealing with multiple challenges of countering an expansive Chinese foreign policy, aggressive Pakistani designs, the growing threat of extremism, and addressing the connectivity issues.

(The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author)

Courtesy: IDSA- China Pakistan Economic Corridor Needs a Counter Strategy


China has rejected India’s objections over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor running through the Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), saying it is a livelihood project with issues left over from history.

On May 31, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had conveyed India’s objection to China over the CPEC project when he met Chinese leaders in Beijing last month.

Beijing has also dismissed Mr Modi’s proposal to clarify the Line of Actual Control that serves as a de facto border between the two nations, saying it would rather prefer a pact with India on a code of conduct to maintain peace along the border. Both countries should reach an agreement on a code of conduct, as the attempts to clarify the boundary have failed in past, it said.

Speaking to an Indian media delegation in Beijing, Huang Xilian, Deputy Director General of the Asian Affairs of the Foreign Ministry, said that both India and China advocate freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and the two countries are on the same page on it.

The Chinese official said that India will object if a Chinese company goes to the disputed area claimed by another nation, similarly, China opposes India’s ONGC participation in oil exploration in the wells in the South China Sea (SCS) claimed by Vietnam.

Vietnam has awarded the oil exploration contracts to ONGC, eliciting strong protests from Beijing. India has, however, defended the move, saying the projects were purely for commercial purposes.

China claims most of the South China Sea, which overlaps claims of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

pak-china-railway (1)The hype surrounding the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), to be built through Gilgit Baltistan, resurfaced with the recent visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Pakistan. The visit yet again generated an animated discourse in the global media about the corridor’s future. The long-gestated CPEC project received initial traction during Nawaz Sharif’s visits to China in the year 2014. Subsequently, on his maiden visit to Pakistan in April 2015, the Chinese President reaffirmed the previously announced commitment, worth $46 billion, towards the CPEC. The CPEC is considered a significant project that seeks to cement Sino-Pakistan bilateral ties and further consolidate their strategic ties. The corridor will run through India’s periphery, more significantly, Gilgit Baltistan, claimed by India as part of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). In due course, this geographical reality of the CPEC could potentially impinge upon India’s geopolitical calculations and pose a strategic challenge.

China’s approach, India’s response

In December 2014, the Chinese state-run Xinhua published a statement announcing the closure of the strategic Khunjerab Pass and in the process referred to Gilgit Baltistan as part of Pakistan.1 Until then, China had maintained that J&K was a bilateral problem/dispute between India and Pakistan. Whether terming Gilgit Baltistan as part of Pakistan reflected a possible shift in the Chinese position on the J&K— a change from its previously held neutral position – was debated in the Indian media for a while. A section believes that by taking up a long term project such as the CPEC, the arteries of which will originate in Gilgit Baltistan, China has yet again tacitly approved Pakistan’s claim and control over this region. There was no reaction from the Indian official sources to the Xinhua statement. In the past, a similar statement was withdrawn after India registered a protest to the Chinese news agency.

Responding to a query in the Lok Sabha in December 2014, Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj noted:
“Government has seen reports with regard to China and Pakistan being involved in infrastructure building activities in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), including construction of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Government has conveyed its concerns to China about their activities in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, and asked them to cease such activities.”2

But somewhat contravening the above is a recent statement by India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan, who noted:

“India has no worry over the construction of Pakistan-China Economic Corridor as an economically strong Pakistan would bring stability in the region.”3

India is yet to comprehensively articulate its approach towards the CPEC despite the fact that the corridor bodes strategic implications for India. As stated, the corridor will pass through the Gilgit Baltistan region where China has invested in the past in infrastructure and hydropower projects. In the Gilgit Baltistan segment, the CPEC project design includes a major expansion of the Karakoram Highway, establishing industrial parks in special economic zones, constructing hydropower projects, railway line and road building. The project also entails building hydropower projects and motorways/highways in the so-called Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). India has occasionally raised objections to Chinese infrastructure investment in the region.

The origin of the CPEC could be traced to the Border Agreement of 1963, considered a milestone in China-Pakistan relations. The agreement ceded the 5000 plus square mile Trans Karakorum Tract to China and served as a precursor to the Karakoram Highway, conceived later as a strategic link defining China and Pakistan’s ‘all-weather friendship’. The then Defence Minister of India, Krishna Menon, elaborately enunciated India’s position on the issue at the UN, condemning the agreement as illegitimate. Besides, India lodged an “emphatic protest” to China and conveyed its concerns in a letter of protest.4 Decades down the line, while India’s policy orientation and broader claim on Gilgit Baltistan remains unchanged, its stance on Chinese investments in the Karakoram Highway, and Chinese efforts to leverage this territorial link to build a strategic corridor, is perceived to be weakening over time.

India’s Dilemma

Is it because of a realization that in a changed strategic landscape, the options for India vis-a-vis a project like CPEC are limited and complicated? Is India conflicted about whether to engage itself in the mega connectivity network project or stay out of it in accordance with its stated positon on Gilgit Baltistan and the so-called AJK? Participating in the project would require a major alteration in India’s policy. Overlooking the territorial dimension could be interpreted as a massive climb-down from its stated position. It may even be construed as acquiescing to the China-Pakistan alliance in the region and beyond. Thus, the CPEC poses a policy challenge to India on how best to strike a precarious balance between securing its strategic/territorial interests without at the same time being confrontational.

Be that as it may, India would need to take a clear positon on the CPEC sooner or later. Domestically, there has been, till now, no serious political or public debate on how India should approach the issue. In the absence of a rational public discourse, India is yet to articulate a clear stand or position on the CPEC. This is also owing to the fact that public debates in India on issues concerning China and Pakistan are often emotive and devoid of a rational evaluation of policy options. Charting a policy course is essential since China has, of late, through stray remarks extended an invitation for India to participate in the Silk Route ‘one route one belt’ project. The onus now lies on India to respond to such overtures. India has to take a call on whether it would like to be a party to the CPEC, sit on the fence, or convey its concerns more emphatically in a bid to discourage China.

CPEC may materialize despite scepticism

Ironically, in Pakistan itself, there is growing cynicism about the CPEC’s prospects and feasibility because of security-related concerns and inter-provincial political discord on route preferences. Nevertheless, given the Chinese determination to find a route to oil-rich West Asia through Pakistan, and the Pakistani desperation to provide every possible assurance to China about safeguarding its investments, the project is likely to be implemented, even if its scope may be limited. The Chinese decision to strike deals worth US$ 22 billion out of a total of $28 billion with private players rather than the Pakistan government has been touted as an indication of Chinese seriousness in investing in Pakistan. One has to remember that China and Pakistan have weathered geographical and logistical extremes in the past to build the highest metalled road on one of the toughest terrain, i.e. the Karakoram Highway. Moreover, the Pakistani decision to raise a special security division to protect Chinese workers and interests in Pakistan, consisting of 10,000 security personnel, including 5,000 from the elite special services group (SSG) of the Pakistan Army who are specially trained for counter-terrorism and security, indicates its resolve to implement the project in all earnestness.

While India’s overall stance on PoK remains understated, the commencement of the CPEC warrants more serious attention than what has been accorded so far. There is a need to carefully weigh the situation and devise a suitable and sustainable approach that could serve India’s long-term interests. It is imperative that some of the explicit strategic concerns regarding the CPEC figure in the bilateral round of talks during the Indian Prime Minister’s forthcoming visit to China.

(Courtesy of  IDSA)

pak-china-railwayThe sheer ambition and scale of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which was unveiled during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to Islamabad, is truly staggering. China’s unprecedented investment commitment to the tune of $46bn gives some substance to the hyperbolic expression “higher than the Himalayas, deeper than the Indian Ocean and sweeter than honey,” that has come to define bilateral relations between China and Pakistan for many decades.

Sans Economics

President Xi’s visit, although touted as a visit with economics as its core objective, had an obvious strategic dimension; one that involves defence trade. Besides the promise of supplying Pakistan with eight submarines, it has emerged that China will provide 110 latest JF-17 Thunder fighter jets to Pakistan as the two countries forge closer defence cooperation. Also built on a transfer-of-technology basis, the JF-17 can be read as Pakistan’s response to India’s Rafale deal, coming on the heels of the latter. Shrouded between 51 agreements to boost economic cooperation during Xi’s trip, there are clear strategic undertones, belying the notion that the visit was not just about pure economics.

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

The visit and, more so, the nature of bilateral agreements between China and Pakistan have undoubtedly ruffled some feathers in the Indian strategic circles.An investment worth $28bn in new trade and investment deals is part of the mega $46bn that will be used to construct the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. The CPEC project will see the 3,000km trade route built over the next 15 years, with Chinese investments and companies building new roads and pipelines along the proposed route, which runs the length of Pakistan. Once complete (2030), it will give China the much coveted easy access to the Arabian Sea, Europe and even North Africa. The CPEC is likely to be the geostrategic conduit linking Kashgar in Xinjiang to Gwadar in Southern Pakistan. This corridor is part of the ‘belt’ that China is focussing on, in its “One Belt, One Road” initiative. The ‘belt,’ once complete, will tighten Beijing’s grip on the geopolitics of trade in South Asia, as China will try to connect its access to the Arabian Sea with its ‘road’ (its access to the Indian Ocean through its much hyped Marine Silk Road project).


The CPEC is likely to pull parts of Pakistan out of energy problems and is also expected to offer some job opportunities as it envisions Chinese investment in road, rail, electricity and other projects. For China, there are at least three positives once the CPEC is completed; it will provide China access to the Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean, Africa and Europe, transportation of goods and petroleum through the Gwadar deep sea port and subsequently through the super-highway to China will substantially cut down the amount of time that it currently takes to import oil and goods through the circuitous route up to Shanghai, and it will impart China the much sought regional heavy-weight status by encircling another heavy-weight of the region, India, completely. Unlike the ‘String of Pearls’ strategy which only has geostrategic nodal Chinese presence around India, the ‘belt and road’ creates the possibility of an encirclement strategy pivoted around India.


The completion of the CPEC is likely to stoke Chinese ambitions of increasing maritime footprints in the Indian Ocean. A robust and increasingly assertive Chinese navy (PLAN) will only fuel such ambitions. The Xinjiang province bordering Pakistan is the most restive, turbulent and insurgent region in China. Along with an access point for goods of value, the CPEC has a high degree of possibility of becoming a thriving ground for trans-national terrorism. The anti-state sentiment in Xinjiang will only exacerbate the likelihood for militant ideologies to connect across the CPEC, throwing a spanner in regional security and stability of South Asia. This could become one of the greatest security challenges for India too.

Zero-Sum Game?

Couched in India’s backyard, for all its noble intentions, the CPEC will be a festering concern for India. Free continental connectivity between Islamabad and Beijing through the disputed territory is already a sovereignty issue for India. A circuitous Chinese presence around India through its ‘belt and road’ strategy, of which the CPEC is an integral part, will set in another great game between India and China. After India’s efforts for a ‘zone of peace’ and ‘denuclearisation’ of the Indian Ocean, the CPEC, in the long term, could well create a zero-sum game between Beijing and New Delhi: an unfortunate strategic contestation that could stunt growth in both the countries.

China's PresidentChina’s President Xi Jinping will visit Pakistan next week, where he will sign a slew of crucial agreements on energy, infrastructure and other projects worth $46 billion. The showpiece outcome of the presidential visit will be the establishment of the mammoth China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

Alluding to President Xi’s upcoming visit, China’s Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao said this visit highlights the importance Beijing places on developing Pakistan-China relations. The president’s visit is expected to lay out a structured plan on strengthening multifaceted cooperation with Pakistan for next 5-10 years, but also take the relationship to a whole new level.

Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Chairman of Pakistan’s defence committee, was all praise for China, Pakistan’s all-weather friend. “China treats us as a friend, an ally, a partner and above all an equal — not how the Americans and others do,” he said.

Xi’s visit, the first visit by a Chinese leader to Islamabad in over nine years, is expected to see the signing of several agreements in the area of trade, infrastructure, energy, finance, science and technology. The real headline-hogging outcomes, however, will be the establishments of the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor. The corridor is planned to link China’s Western region of Xinjiang with Pakistan’s deepwater Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea. In addition to that, China will also be building railways, roads and other infrastructure in Pakistan — a huge assistance to Pakistan’s struggling economy.

China and Pakistan have long been strategic partners, especially in the areas of security and military. Beijing is currently the largest supplier of military hardware to Pakistan. As per a recent report, Pakistan is also planning to purchase eight nuclear submarines from China – a move that has caused much concern in India.

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