India, Pakistan continue to view the opening of trading routes as threat to their security

Pakistan is small and comparatively weak, so it seeks extra-regional alliances before facing up to the Indian threat

Written by Khaled Ahmed | Updated: June 11, 2016 9:43 am
india, pakistan, india pakistan, pakistan china, indo pak trade routes, indo pak border, Chabahar, Chabahar corridor, india pakistan trade, india news, pakistan news, indian express It is tragic that high-strung India and Pakistan have taken the opening of trading routes as a threat to their security, growling at each other while pretending to reach for their nukes. (File/AP Photo)

The recent statement by India’s National Investigation Agency chief Sharad Kumar exempting the Pakistani state from responsibility in the January attack on the Pathankot airbase by terrorists from across the border has thrown the Pakistani media on the wrong scent of reminding India that all its accusations against Pakistan in the past were also wrong. It is unforgivable that in South Asia even television newsreaders abandon their put-on objectivity by tilting into sarcasm against the neighbouring state.

Indian retired military officers are writing against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) seeing all kinds of evil conspiracies to harm India. According to them, this must be part of a plan to encircle India, already partly done by the Chinese troop deployment in Kashmir. Gwadar is being seen as the next Chinese naval base from where to challenge, and ultimately blockade, India. On the other hand, Pakistani retired officers view India’s Chabahar venture as aimed against Pakistan, a stepping stone to an encircling move in Afghanistan with Iran’s help.

Two retired Pakistani generals, both former defence secretaries, spoke at the Strategic Vision Institute workshop condemning the three-state trade hub at Chabahar in Iran as a threat to Pakistan’s security. They declared that the CPEC was no threat to India: “The alliance between India, Afghanistan and Iran is a security threat to Pakistan and Pakistan is going into isolation”, said one while the other described it as, “falling into an abyss of isolation”. Their recommendation was Pakistan should approach China for a written military pact that would commit China to come to Pakistan’s defence in case there was an India-Pakistan war over the Chabahar corridor. They should have known that China doesn’t sign such treaties.

Pakistan is small and comparatively weak, so it seeks extra-regional alliances before facing up to the Indian threat. Fear drives action more often than anger: Pakistan attacks but doesn’t win. And so far China has shown no interest in attacking India to save Pakistan from hurting itself. It didn’t budge when the Pakistan army was getting a drubbing in East Pakistan in 1971. And military experts in Islamabad must have been put off by a recent statement from the Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang: “The projects (Chabahar and CPEC) have the potential to complement each other in boosting the otherwise sluggish economies of the region.” Lower down, Chinese officials have hinted at this earlier and even recommended thinking about making CPEC available for Chinese trade with India and Central Asia.

It is tragic that high-strung India and Pakistan have taken the opening of trading routes as a threat to their security, growling at each other while pretending to reach for their nukes. Pakistan, committed to SAARC pledges of “connectivity”, refused to allow SAARC-members India and Afghanistan to transit their goods through its territory. Normally the median state gains through transit duties, but in this case “security” is threatened if Indian goods pass through and the median state gains nothing. If there was some political advantage from allowing Afghan transit trade from Karachi it has already been nullified: 40 per cent of it is gone to Chabahar already and the rest is undermined by poor law and order in Pakistan.

Pakistan has become riled with Iran because of the latter’s connection with India. (It ignores its own heavy leaning in favour of Saudi Arabia in the Arab-Iran contest in the Gulf.) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Tehran has raised hackles in India-centric Islamabad, and Chabahar has been held up as a “security risk”. And India’s own China-centricism should have been jolted by the fact that China is Iran’s biggest trading partner. India and Pakistan should both sit back and take another look at their security projections. China is easily Iran’s post-sanctions best friend after the January visit by Xi Jinping to Tehran and signing with President Hassan Rouhani a 25-year economic, political and military cooperation pact. There are 17 bilateral deals — agreements on oil drilling, nuclear energy and a vast infrastructure project linking China to the Mediterranean, known as One Belt, One Road. By the next decade, Rouhani predicted the bilateral trade climbing tenfold to $600 billion!

Pakistan has erred by imagining Afghanistan as the next battleground for an Indo-Pak confrontation, a kind of East Pakistan-in-reverse in which India is defeated by Pakistan. It should, in fact, see Afghanistan as a neighbour whose security is essential to Pakistan’s own. If there is trouble there, half the Pakhtun population shifts to Pakistan and doesn’t return home ever. It should allow Indo-Afghan connectivity for trade to get Afghanistan to jell as a state within its borders and not inflict population spillovers on its neighbours. Just as China needs regional outreach, India too needs it as the big China-like population behemoth no one would like to tangle with. Just as Pakistan should worry about Afghanistan, India should worry about an imploding Pakistan. Pakistan will remain the median state, Chabahar or no Chabahar; and it is in Pakistan’s interest — and India’s — to work with Afghanistan to allow the Turkmen gas pipeline to go to Pakistan and India. There is a need, now that the sanctions are gone, to revive the Iranian gas pipeline to Pakistan and extend it to India. This is the time to intermesh, not mess around.

(This article first appeared in the print edition under the headline ‘Partners in paranoia’)

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  1. B
    BW
    Jun 11, 2016 at 9:01 am
    Respected sir, requesting you to delink India in your wise advices. India has walked more than 3/4th the peace path and EVERYTIME retuned with a burnt hand. So don't blame India for anything. If anybody needs advices or needs change it is s. The first and basic change should be, they should honor their words and commitments. It has become a country full of liars and cheats. Trust is everything.
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      K SHESHU
      Jun 11, 2016 at 11:25 am
      If all the SARC nations come together and work out a mutual trade and commerce policy, all the countries of South Asia would benefit.
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        bintan
        Jun 11, 2016 at 8:41 am
        Its you who always start comparing yourself with India. In terms of economics , you dont figure anywhere. The GDP of Mumbai city is more than the entire stan. In some sectors we are ahead of China like IT,auto,pharma. By the way, why you stanis always want to be spokesperson of China?
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          bintan
          Jun 11, 2016 at 8:36 am
          We dont need trade routes via stan. No truck with stan. Our trade route via Iran is best. We should strengthen Iran and Afghanistan.
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            asad khan
            Jun 11, 2016 at 11:54 pm
            ups and downs will remain until the core issue is solved amicably and sincerely and we both know what is the core issue .
            Reply
            1. S
              Sriniwasan
              Jun 11, 2016 at 1:02 pm
              A nonsensical article written to mage the inflated hurt ego of whiskey drinking stani Generals.stan is an undeclared failed state and its Military Intelligence combined with a weak political leadership and insutions has taken the state to the cliff's edge.From the suicide point,there is no way of retracing its step.lt;br/gt;stan has nothing to offer to the global communitylt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;India with a bright future ahead should take the entire people of subcontinent under a strong Central leadership by correcting the historical mistakes and leave the baggage of the past and march ahead
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                PKR
                Jun 11, 2016 at 11:11 am
                As long as stan's Generals continue to play vals of China there can be no improvement in the situation. China has been using stan to block the Russians, Americans Indians and the Afghanis. It has derived a lot of benefit from it , including controlled terror attacks in Xianjing ,which helps them to eradicate unwanted potions.The main victim is the stani poce and poor Afghanis.
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                  BharatK
                  Jun 11, 2016 at 5:35 pm
                  The only way for stanis to improve life-quality, find peace and security is to return back to roots, return back to Sanatan Dharma. Else, it will remain a boiling point forever.
                  Reply
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