India rightly boycotted OBOR, must use Balochistan to tackle Pakistan
China pressed India to join the One Belt, One Road project knowing fully well it violates Indian sovereignty in PoK.
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As 29 heads of government and diplomats return home from the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) summit in Beijing which concluded on Monday, May 15, two questions arise.
One, what next for India which boycotted the summit? Two, how will OBOR change the geopolitical dynamic in the arc that sweeps from China through the Eurasian land mass?
India was right to boycott the OBOR summit. Its key component, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), is patently illegal. It passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) on its way to Xinjiang in northwest China.
PoK is not only illegally occupied by Pakistan; its people live under virtual dictatorship. Unrest is rising. CPEC infrastructure in PoK is increasingly vulnerable to terror attacks. The presence of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Pakistan is now well established. It killed 25 people last Friday (May 12) in Balochistan. Top leaders in the Pakistan Senate barely escaped from the suicide bomb attack on their convoy.
As ISIS is driven out of Iraq and Syria, its fighters (Arabs, Chechians and Uzbeks among others) will drift towards Pakistan, the safest haven worldwide for terrorists. Many will step up attacks in Balochistan where the CPEC begins in the port of Gwadar.
For India, Balochistan is the key. New Delhi has dragged its feet over granting permission for setting up a Balochistan government-in-exile in India, similar to the Dharamsala-based Tibetan government-in-exile (now known as the Central Tibetan Administration).
Kulbhushan Jadhav was kidnapped from the Iran-Balochistan border. His case, under adjudication at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague, will focus international attention on the Pakistan army’s brutalities in Balochistan.
On Saturday, May 13, a day before the OBOR summit began in Beijing, 10 Pakistani labourers working on a CPEC link road were shot dead just 20 km from Balochistan’s Gwadar port, which is China’s signature project within the CPEC. The Baloch Liberation Army has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Baloch uprising has added to the incendiary mix in violence-torn Pakistan. The Pakistani army has brutalised Balochistan for years. Resistance is now rising rapidly. Attacks by Baloch freedom fighters on Pakistani soldiers are increasingly common.
Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province. It occupies 44 per cent of the country’s area but has only 6 per cent of its population. The rest of Pakistan - Sindh, Punjab, FATA and Khyber Pakthunkhwa - is a thin, densely populated wedge. Its agriculture is dependent on water from India’s rivers.
Over 10,000 Chinese working on the CPEC in Balochistan are being protected by 12,000 Pakistani security personnel. But the Chinese are unpopular with the local Baloch. As in Africa, where China is investing heavily in infrastructure, there are reports of racism and ill-treatment of locals by the Chinese.
China is selling OBOR as a $500 billion global project (with an initial corpus of $124 billion) that will transform the economies of the countries in Asia, Europe and Africa. It has pledged large infrastructure investments in India’s neighbourhood: $57 billion to Pakistan, $25 billion to Bangladesh and $1.5 billion to Sri Lanka.
China has pressed India to join the OBOR project knowing fully well it violates Indian sovereignty in PoK. Contrarian voices have meanwhile emerged in China itself, warning the Chinese leadership of the growing threat of terrorism from ISIS in Balochistan and PoK.
OBOR would be acceptable to India provided it does not pass through PoK and Pakistan-occupied Gilgit-Baltistan. Sensing danger, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the last minute barred the chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan from attending the Beijing summit.
China itself, contrary to conventional wisdom, is not as all-powerful as it poses. In recent weeks, there has been a major crackdown on Chinese dissidents and even business tycoons. Guo Wengui, a property billionaire, now in exile in the US, has levelled sensational charges of corruption against senior Chinese leaders.
Some of the charges go right to the top in the tight circle of mandarins around Chinese president Xi Jinping, the driving force behind OBOR.
As The Economist reported last week: “Chinese leaders are clearly rattled. The foreign ministry said Interpol had issued a red (corner) notice to members that Mr Guo is a wanted man. He has reportedly been accused by China of bribing a spy chief, Ma Jian (who has been dismissed and is now in custody). A video, purporting to show Mr Ma admitting to wrongdoing and denouncing Mr Guo, has circulated on the internet in recent days, apparently with official blessing. Mr Guo has denied bribing Mr Ma. He says eight members of his own family have been detained and that 120 billion yuan ($17 billion) of his assets have been frozen. Several executives from his property company have been detained by police. Mr Guo’s outburst comes at a sensitive time for the president, Xi Jinping, who is preparing for a party congress late this year - a hugely important opportunity for him to install his allies into the most important jobs. He doesn’t want his efforts to be impeded by anything that could undermine his authority.”
For Pakistan, the $57-billion CPEC is a lifeline for a country torn apart by terrorism. Sharif returned to Islamabad from the OBOR summit in Beijing hoping OBOR and the CPEC will give Pakistan the lift its economy needs. But with ISIS migrating to Pakistan and Balochistan on fire, foreign investors, barring China, are wary of committing large funds to Pakistan.
Pakistan is a country beyond the pale. Talking to it, as Prime Ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh did from 1999 to 2014, has resulted in greater, not lesser, Pakistan-abetted terrorism, including the Parliament and 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
India must hold back no longer. As the increasing terror attacks by Pakistan-sponsored jihadis in the Kashmir Valley have shown following the brutal murder of Lieutenant Ummer Fayaz, holding back carries a heavy cost. That cost must now be imposed on Pakistan, starting with Balochistan.