The US is feeling the South Asian heat. Not content with berating Pakistan for being a threat to regional peace and security — the Trump White House now appears to be huffing and puffing over our moves to mend regional fences, namely with Afghanistan. Thus it is trying to throw the proverbial spanner into the CPEC works.
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has raised the Indian concern over the Corridor running through what it sees as the disputed territory of Gilgit-Baltisan. Naturally, both China and Pakistan have been quick to discredit American assertions. With Beijing pointing out that its One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative enjoys UN backing; while stressing that this economic cooperation is divorced from "territorial sovereignty disputes". For our part, we have reminded Washington of how it built the Mangla Dam in Azad Kashmir.
That, for the time being, India is keeping mum will only serve to further fuel Pakistani fears of the US doing its bidding. After all, it was Trump who had promised New Delhi an active role in Afghanistan. Yet Mattis unwittingly revealed that Washington is out for itself. Its main concern being that the OBOR will afford China undue influence in the Eurasia arena. A shame, then, the apprentice-president on his very first day of office pulled the US out of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Yet Donald Trump knows best how to put "America first".
Yet the unquiet American must tread carefully when it comes to China. More than 70 nations have signed up to the OBOR project. And then here, in South Asia, the US is viewed as the the cuckoo quite literally trying to steal those nest eggs belonging to the big boys of the region. A club that is is only getting bigger. Beijing, Moscow and Tehran are serious about engaging with our neighbourhood. We can also add Ankara to this list, given its recent hosting of talks between an Afghan Taliban splinter group and the Kabul leadership. And they will not take kindly to US interference on behalf of the world’s largest democracy.
In addition, Washington may well have misplayed the Kashmir card. For most mainstream political parties as well as pro-freedom outfits have indicated that they find the Chinese position on CPEC acceptable. Indeed, Hurriyat Conference leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has gone as far as expressing interest to see further Kashmiri involvement in the project. If the US were serious about resolving this issue — it would back Pakistan’s recent calls to revisit UNSC resolutions as well as the appointment of a Special Rapporteur. It would also call out India over human rights abuses in the region.
In short, this sudden concern for the people of Kashmir doesn’t wash.
Yet, Pakistan, too, needs to tread carefully. Moves to afford GB provincial status could backfire. Already pro-freedom activists in Indian-held Kashmir — such as the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) — have warned that this would strengthen the Indian hand in the area. Indeed JKLF chief Yasin Malik is said to have written a letter to Nawaz Sharif outlining the group’s fears. He may or may not have a point. For if Pakistan were to unilaterally start dividing up chunks of (an internationally recognised) disputed territory — the Indian retaliation would be immense. And the very real risk of nuclear would drag China into the mayhem.
And then where would we be?
Daily Times, October 9, 2017