It was a somber and formal moment as ever. The US Senate Armed Services Committee was in session a week ago to quiz James Mattis, US Defence Secretary. Senator Charles Peter asked a pointed question; “The One Belt One Road strategy seeks to secure China’s control over both the continental and the maritime interest…. what role do you see China playing in Afghanistan, and particularly related to their One Belt One Road”.
A well composed James Mattis left no ambiguity by responding that “In a globalized world, there are many belts and many roads, and no one nation should put itself into a position of dictating ‘one belt, one road’. He went on to further clarify saying that, “ the One Belt One Road also goes through a disputed territory, and I think, that in itself shows the vulnerability of trying to establish that sort of a dictate,” Mattis apparently referred to CPEC. With this comment he validated the longstanding position of India on CPEC project and casted unspecified shadows of uncertainty and hostility towards a project so galvanized by Pakistan as “game changer” for the country.
Opposition of India towards CPEC is well known since long. The dislike of US about OBOR in particular and CPEC in general was not a secret either. It gradually got into diplomatic guise and a policy discourse when US supported India’s opposition to the Chinese’ OBOR project in the joint statement issued after PM Narendra Modi’s meeting with President Donald Trump in June.
Events have been fast paced since August this year when Donald Trump unveiled his so called New Afghan policy and blamed Pakistan for providing safe heavens to the terrorists. He lauded the role of India in same breadth and with this formally cemented the policy choices of his country for regional security doctrine for the times to come, at least for medium term.
CPEC is a mega investment project; one of its own kind in Pakistan economic history. It is vital and critical not only due to its massive investment size but more so due to its multiple and integrated impact on the economy. CPEC envisaged two third of its proposed investment in power generation and distribution along with host of railway, road, port and industrial parks investments. Despite initially bickering about routs of CPEC, frequent criticism about transparency in energy projects and blanket protection to Chinese investors ignoring a level playing field for domestic investors, CPEC projects moved with fairly impressive pace.
India has been opposing the CPEC project on the pretext that its main road passes through Gilgit Baltistan area which it claims as disputed territory. There has been almost no taker of Indian position in world of diplomacy but India has been hammering out its opposition at every forum. Last year, India skipped the OBOR conference in Beijing on the same grounds.
Pakistan has suffered at the hands of global powers’ rivalries and vested interests in the past when it had to abandon its plan to import gas from Iran to fulfill its severe gas shortages. Economic and security vulnerabilities of Pakistan weighed heavy and this project could never mature.
Economic vulnerabilities of Pakistan have compounded over the years and so did the security issues. Continued border skirmishes with India seem a new norm. Border and cross border terrorism issues with Afghanistan have kept igniting to new highs despite efforts to put them down.
At home, as if prolonged and dragged political wrangling was not enough, economy seems a new buzz word to vindicate the sitting government and PMLN. Suddenly, it has dawned on most of star anchors and analysts on media that economic security of the nation is at risk. Most of them are leaving no stone unturned to prove that economy is about to collapse; off course squaring the blame to the ruling party.
Agreed, economy is not in great shape but it certainly is not evaporating either. A matured and balanced approach is needed when fragile issues like economy are discussed. Let the fragility of economy not be used like as another political hotspot. It’s time to observe some method in the madness while taking on the rivals by ripping of any positive perception about the national economy.
In this regional and international backdrop where the biggest ever investment project of Pakistan, CPEC, has sadly found its way into regional security doctrine of US, a sense of unity is needed at national level. It would be a national service by all to spare the economy from point scoring and let it survive with its own challenges. If any lesson from Donald Trump’s hostile adventure on Iran Nuclear Deal can be inferred, surely it may be to save the game changer project from being another causality of hegemonic wrangling of world powers.
It’s time for diplomacy and carefully crafted foreign policy to show its wonders to diffuse the hostilities and save the already vulnerable economy from another shock. Let CPEC not be a collateral damage in regional conflict and global hegemonic maneuvering.