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Can CPEC help defuse tensions?

Anecdotally, it used to be said that where and when caravans moved across borders of nations their armies generally did not cross over to fight. OBOR is a China-sponsored grand project, linking continents of Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The CPEC leg forms a major part and is in South Asia. CPEC is meant to be a busy commercial thoroughfare for transfer of trade and goods and promote energy and industrial development. It is expected to consummate by 2025 and yield dividends. Notwithstanding regional tensions, the Sino-Pakistan commitment to logically complete the project could have profound and far-reaching implications for South Asia.

The contention of this piece is that the CPEC project with China’s assistance could prove a potent confidence building factor in normalising Pakistan-India relations. For, it envisions regional connectivity by spurring trade, business, investment and development across 56 countries.

This is not the first time that tensions between India and Pakistan have peaked and then subsided – once better sense prevailed. Interestingly, Sino-Indian trade amounts to over $70 billion a year and is likely to rise further in the coming years. Both China and India are immediate neighbours, nuclear powers and also rising powers; given their huge population, they need investment, energy, trade and access to markets and resources. Both are eager to invest and trade with outside world; both are desirous to match their hard power with soft power. In this, China’s ‘dragon economy’ has excelled the Indian ‘elephant economy’ in terms of rate of growth. Further, India, on its part, has none of the kind of global projects of aid, trade or connectivity to match those of China.

Sino-Indian northern border is quiescent for quite some time as both nations have decided to place the border dispute on the backburner as they trade and economically interact. While India is a democracy, albeit fumbling and faulty one, China is a one-party communist state with a focused outlook and an emerging global power. Its economy has rocketed in the last two decades.

In fact, China and India are geo-political competitors while being engaged more in co-operation mode. This precludes any provocative action or activities by either side to upend their economic interests. The same holds true for Sino-US relations despite some latent distrust. In fact, most of Western and other world economies are dependent in seeing China as a politically and economically stable actor. During the 1998 global recession, it was China that buffered the shock when the world economy faced. Any major conflict in East Asia or Indo-Pak subcontinent will serve nobody and collectively damage interests of the US, China, India and Pakistan.

Notwithstanding PM Modi’s sometimes jingoistic rhetoric, the Indian military planners have always had second thoughts about launching any surgical strikes against Pakistan as often threatened. Militaries generally act rationally especially when they are nuclear-armed. Both Indian and Pakistani armies are professional and military planners are averse to indulge in physical confrontation if peaceful choices are available.

India is seen as a large trading, business and investment partner, together with an ally against global terrorism and as a Third World democracy. While it may be at this time reluctant to join the CPEC, but if and when CPEC project near consummation, it may have second thoughts about its decision. Iran and Afghanistan too have expressed interest to join CPEC.

Already possessing soft power, ie, democracy, technology, sizeable Indian diaspora, IT, education and sizeable middle class market – India needs to move ahead in taking the initiative with neighbours. Of late in Pakistan, there is significant progress against extremism and terrorism. As a counter-strategy Pakistan has realized that military is only one arm of comprehensive national security: trade, investments, connectivity building a robust economy, national unity, civil-military harmony, inter-provincial amity, good governance and normalisation with neighbours, building of soft power – are important mechanisms to ward off any internal or external threats.

Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policies need realistic, visionary outlook, reflecting genuine national interests. Creditably, the menace of militancy and terrorism has been successfully dealth with by the armed forces; now the civil leadership has to pick up the gauntlet and work harder in improving the socio-economic landscape.

For, in the age of geo-economics the Cold War paradigm is slowly but surely getting redundant: hence both India and Pakistan need to realise this paradigmatic shift and harness the benefits of ‘gain-gain’ philosophies without any further loss of time.

Maqsudul Hasan Nuri, "Can CPEC help defuse tensions?," Business Recorder. 2017-05-19.
Keywords: Economics , Grand project , Industrial development , Global power , Global recession , Economic interests , China , Pakistan , Asia , America , Europe , Middle East , Africa , Afghanistan , Iran , India , OBOR , CPEC