By Rabia Khaliq
Pak-US relations have been marred by ups and downs throughout the history. However, this bilateral relationship is now witnessing another downward tendency since US President Donald Trump has taken up the charge of affairs. The latest developments including that of US refusing to pay $350m in military aid to Pakistan in July this year on the grounds that the South Asian country is not doing enough to tackle terrorism, the US announcement of Afghanistan and South Asia strategy by its President Donald Trump and his lashing out at Pakistan and accusing it of ‘harbouring’ terrorists, and threats of depriving Pakistan of Non-NATO ally status; are quite lucidly depicting US intentions towards Pakistan.
Now the US Defence Secretary James Mattis statement about China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in the Senate Armed Services Committee has further heated the nature of state of affairs between the two countries. Trump administration has conveyed that it too believes the CPEC passes through a disputed territory, backing Indian claim, which is aimed at thwarting the development project.
The scenario is quite cognisant of the fact that the US is unfairly treating Pakistan despite the latter’s enormous contribution and sacrifices in the war against terror and India on the other hand is being showered with favours and its role is being enhanced in the new US policy in Afghanistan. The tough US stance towards Pakistan in current scenario is the result of much broader spectrum of the dynamics shaping up in the region. It is the CPEC, which is a cause of concern for the US. The Americans do not want Pakistan to have a role in making Chinese rise a success at the global level. CPEC, being a crucial component of Chinese larger initiative of One Belt One Road (OBOR), is a matter of apprehension for the US. CPEC is being stated as the flagship project of OBOR as it provides the actual connection between ‘the Belt and the Road’ venture of China. Without the two-way linkage provided by CPEC, the two elements of OBOR would remain disconnected from one another and lose much of their significance.
Since the launch of US Marshall Plan after World War II during the Cold War era, the Pak-Chinese venture is the largest infrastructure development initiative in the world, while OBOR, both in terms of ambition as well the size, surpasses the Marshall Plan. With around 1.3 trillion USD financing, OBOR covers 900 infrastructure projects. After completion, the Chinese initiative would incorporate more than 60 countries comprising two-thirds of the world population.
US views OBOR as a counter-measure towards its Pivot to Asia Strategy which is meant to check China’s success internationally. The US considers China a threat to its supremacy given the former’s tremendous development not only in economic sphere, but also in the military arena.
In an era of the politics of energy security, US is alarmed and sees CPEC as a challenge towards its stakes in resource-rich regions of Persian Gulf, the Middle East and Central Asia. The increased capabilities of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) Navy due to CPEC, also pose a massive potential challenge for the US Navy in blue water competence. Thus, the sole super power is apprehended about the strategic advantage that China is going to gain through CPEC and OBOR at large.
India, despite its traditional non-alignment approach of foreign policy, remains one of the most important allies of the US to counter Chinese influence in the region. In the US strategy of Asia pivot, India as its strategic partner, has a key role. The country has been opposing the Chinese-led initiatives and also the ones involving growth of China. Contrary to some positive dimensions of Sino-Indian bilateral ties, it continues to oppose the CPEC. India has been opposing CPEC and it has not welcomed OBOR either. The country’s absence from the OBOR summit held in China in May this year depicts its intention to somehow thwart the Chinese plans. Indian opposition towards CPEC can be analysed mainly in the backdrop of the threat to its interests in the Indian Ocean due to China having greater access through Gwadar port. With respect to these Indian apprehensions, Indo-Pak relations could also deteriorate. A UN report titled ‘The Belt and Road Initiative and the Role of ESCAP’ also recently pointed out that the CPEC may kindle Indo-Pak tensions.
Hence, CPEC is the hotspot where US and Indian interests converge particularly when it holds the potential to act as a counterweight towards the growing Indo-US strategic partnership and their mutual strategic interests in the Indian Ocean region. The project is crucial for China to achieve its economic and strategic interests while linking the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea and the South Pacific Ocean.
The emerging scenario involving two global powers, US and China, vying for greater access to energy markets and ultimately having enhanced sphere of influence; and two regional rivals India and Pakistan becoming partner of two opposite camps for their own economic and strategic stakes, portray a new great game in making. In this game, Indo-US nexus on one hand and Sino-Pak strategic partnership on other hand have significant roles to play given their conflicting economic and strategic interests.
Daily Times, October 13, 2017