The General, in a previous article in BharatShakti.in, had argued that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor was a carotid for China (https://bharatshakti.in/the-new-carotids-of-china/). However, it imposes huge costs on both China and Pakistan. For the Chinese the security of the corridor that passes through a volatile country could be rather steep. For Pakistan it leads to gradual colonisation.
The author also points out an advantage India may accrue should Pakistan declare Gilgit – Baltistan as its provinces. It’s an opportunity for Indians to review the status of J&K and even Article 370.
CPEC – THE CHINESE CAROTID, PAKISTANI JUGULAR AND AN INDIAN OPPORTUNITY
As events have unfolded the CPEC is now turning into a new jugular for Pakistan. It allows India to look beyond Pakistan as never before. In fact, the CPEC has acquired a life of its own and is fast becoming a revolving door phenomenon through which each of the principal actors must pass. The timing for passage through the revolving door will be different for each actor. It will dictate where they land on the other side. In this context it needs analysis as to what the CPEC portends for each of us.
The Chinese Ambitions and Compulsions
One Belt One Road- Freeway Ownership Chinese superpower ambitions are well established. Superpowerdom comes from control of economic freeways on land or sea. UK did it through sea control. USA also followed the sea control route. USSR adopted a combination of sea and land routes underpinned by communist ideology. China is now trying to create and control sea and land corridors through the “One Belt One Road” initiative. It wants to own these freeways so that superpower status is eternal. This is new – “Ownership of Freeways”. That explains it’s outlandish sovereignty claims over huge tracts of South China Sea and building Hambantota and Gwadar ports in such a way that it virtually owns them. The CPEC is the flagship of the “One Belt One Road” project. It is the laboratory in which all experiments will be carried out for rolling out its larger vision. The Chinese, therefore will go the full Monty to ensure success of CPEC. That’s why the hard sell in the international arena including the UN that CPEC is the next wonder for the world.
Disputed Territories The fact that the CPEC traverses disputed territory involving India is undisputed. Hence, the repeated attempts to coerce India into acquiescing or draw it into the project through entreaties. Highlighting dire consequences of Dalai Lamas visit to Arunachal, outlandish claims on disputed territories, highlighting the all-round benefits of CPEC to India are all part of this typical Mutt and Jeff approach. The bottom line for the CPEC to succeed is that it must go through undisputed territory. As an extension, Pakistan will be forced to declare the areas of Gilgit and Baltistan as its province. These reports are already surfacing in media.
Costs of Ownership There are costs involved for China. The costs are of protecting what you own or claim to be to be sovereign to you. When and if CPEC comes to play, China will have to protect it along with its claimed areas of South China Sea. That’s just increasing the area you must protect. China, in propagating its claims and ambitions in a ham-handed manner, is definitely not winning friends or good neighbors. That is the beginning of the Chinese overstretch; specially with its economy sputtering. It needs to be noted that no other superpower had to bear such costs. Can China afford it?
Pakistan… Caught in a Nutcracker
Euphoria vs Reality. Pakistan is euphoretic as to how CPEC would become the engine of the Pakistani economic miracle. The Chinese would invest and Pakistan would reap the benefit. Their venerable military and political rulers are promising the moon to public. The public is now waking up to see the contours of hard reality. There are questions of the economic and physical viability of the project. The cost has already bloated to 50 plus to 60 plus billion $. Inflation of 20% even without a brick being laid! Subcontinental projects have cost and time over runs of 100-200%. This is historical and cannot wished away. Who will foot the bill? One wonders. In any case, taking into account the opacity surrounding the project and past Pakistani ability to fool themselves, there is very little doubt that Pakistan will be in serious economic trouble. Some sane voices which are asking questions about the debt trap and other problems are being smothered. CPEC will go ahead full stream. The basic fact remains – Pakistan cannot and will never be able to pay China back. Trickle down benefits to the Pakistani public is hugely suspect.
Creeping or Sweeping Colonization? If one considers that the Chinese have factored these aspects, the price they will extract from Pakistan will be heavy and on an “all weather” basis. Already there is talk in the social media that CPEC portends “creeping colonization” of Pakistan. I sincerely feel that CPEC represents “sweeping Chinese colonization of Pakistan”. Pakistani sovereignty would have been permanently lost. Doubting the statement? Examine the Hambantota Port outcomes and see the Sri Lankan regrets.
Three and a Half Fronts Let’s look at the security angle. Pakistan will hence forth have three and a half fronts to contend with! An unstable Durrand line to the West, which is getting bombed by the Mother of all Bombs of USA . The second front is the traditional Eastern front with India. A half internal front due to its jihadi factory. Make no mistake CPEC is the third new front for Pakistan. Already forces are being raised to protect this new front! This has great implications in the Pakistani strategic calculus. Consider this – the new Pakistani front runs right in its middle in its heartland and is vulnerable to inimical forces of all other fronts.
Disputed Territories Fallout Declaring Gilgit and Baltistan as Pakistani provinces as some sections of the media have reported has ramifications. China will sooner or later force Pakistan to do that. Once that is done, its stance and claim on Kashmir will dilute irrevocably. In fact, Pakistan has a hard choice of either repudiating its claims on Kashmir by embracing the CPEC economic mirage or abandon its all-weather friend and continue with its historic obsession with Kashmir. The indications are that this will go down to the wire in Pakistan and will be eventually decided on the streets of Pakistan. We need to wait and watch. Either way the nutcracker situation will fester.
The Day After Of course, there is another reality of Pakistan which one should consider. It’s easy to build. What happens the day after? Who will maintain CPEC? Look at most of their dams including Mangla. They are silted and function with heavily depleted capacities. Soon the dams might exist with very little or no water. Apply this logic to CPEC. The future is bleak.
Exposed and Vulnerable Jugular. Whichever way one looks at it, the CPEC is going to be the Jugular for Pakistan—fully exposed and vulnerable. It will be the new bloodline of Pakistan right in its heartland areas. It promises of loss of sovereignty, economic and security problems. Pakistan has always prided itself on being a front-line state. It is now is guaranteed to retain its frontline status for a long time to come. The only difference is now the front will be all around – internal and external- self created and self destroyed.
Looking Beyond Horizons The CPEC presents a historic opportunity for India. It allows us to look beyond Pakistan and Kashmir. As and when Gilgit and Baltistan are declared Pakistani provinces, we can review the status of Kashmir – to the extent of abolition of Article 370. The mere fact that Pakistan has allowed China to build the CPEC in disputed territories has implications. We can now treat Kashmir as an internal matter to India alone without giving any quarter to Pakistan. The effects are already being felt on ground in Kashmir. There are already reports that on one hand Kashmiris want to be part of the CPEC. On the other, they are worried about Giligit and Baltistan being declared as Pakistani provinces. Kashmiris need to know that they can’t have their cake and eat it too. CPEC will force Pakistan to heavily dilute its stand on Kashmir. CPEC, virtually takes Pakistan out of the Kashmiri picture and we need to exploit this historic opportunity.
A Prosperous Pakistan? Till now Pakistan had no major economic vulnerability. CPEC will force Pakistan to look inwards towards its vulnerability. This new vulnerability can be exploited by India in more than many ways. Great opportunities abound. Even if CPEC succeeds and Pakistan prospers, it’s good. A prosperous Pakistan will learn to be more responsible since it will have a lot to lose if it remains irresponsible. In any eventuality, CPEC will enable India to look beyond normal Pakistan paradigms.
Chinese Opportunities What are our opportunities with China? Plenty. The New Carotids of China will be in our sights as I have outlined earlier. Sooner than later, China will have to turn to us. That will happen when China is fully committed and the stretch effect is felt. That’s the time we need to play our cards. We need to prepare ourselves for it.
Grasping the Opportunity The question then is that should we jump on to the CPEC band wagon as UK and other erstwhile colonials are doing? No, not at all. We are sitting pretty and we need to maintain our distance from this endeavor and raise the cost of this story. We need to build and focus our economic, diplomatic and military strengths in areas which will enable us to exploit the emerging historic opportunities. Outlines of such opportunities are on the horizon. The door is revolving. When and where do we jump? Can we grasp the moment? Is Raisina Hill thinking right!?
Lt Gen P R Shankar (Retired)
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BharatShakti.in)