US speaks out against Xi Jinping's OBOR, but is India ready to face China?
The Baloch people – the modern-day David – are fighting a lonely battle against two Goliaths.
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Even after Washington expressed complete support for New Delhi against what some describe Chinese President Xi Jinping's neo-imperial plan to put the entire world under Beijing's ambitious One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, doubts remain if India is willing to confront China. The Pakistan part of this dubious drum beat is called China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) — worth $62 billion and built with the aim of connecting Kashgar in China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region to Gwadar port in Pakistan-occupied Balochistan.
“In a globalised world, there are many belts and many roads and no one nation should put itself into a position of dictating 'one belt, one road',” US secretary of defence General Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis told members of the influential Senate Armed Services Committee during a congressional hearing October 4.
“That said, the One Belt One Road also goes through disputed territory, and I think, that in itself shows the vulnerability of trying to establish that sort of a dictate,” Mattis said, apparently referring to India’s position on the CPEC passing through Jammu and Kashmir.
Mattis had earlier visited New Delhi, where he met his counterpart, Indian minister of defence Nirmala Sitharaman, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Other Americans are also calling upon their government to take immediate notice of China's imperial designs at Gwadar. “China has built the Gwadar Port big enough to dock eight Chinese battleships,” says Jane Eastwood Weisner, director of the American Friends of Balochistan.
Gwadar in Balochistan is the heart of Pak-China ties. Photo: Reuters
“Interestingly, China is building islands in the South China Sea to expand its control. The Silk Sea Road is being built for expanding economic growth and Chinese naval power.”
Though Beijing denies it, the Pentagon is concerned over reports that the key port of Gwadar may eventually become a major Chinese naval base, shunting out the US. India seems to have had information about the construction of the naval base.
US academics too are calling the $62 billion project China’s Pakistan Exploitation Corridor.
“The local Baloch people deeply resent the plan because it will fundamentally change the demography of the area. Before the expansion of Gwadar, the population of the area was 70,000. If the project comes to full fruition the population would be closer to 2 million — most of whom would be non-Baloch,” wrote C Christine Fair, Associate Professor at Georgetown University’s Edmund A Walsh School of Foreign Service, in a Foreign Policy article. Fair has also spoken at Balochistan-related events in Washington DC to highlight the dangers of CPEC.
Despite such open support from the US government, activists and academics against the CPEC, questions linger if India has the resolve to counter China, which is much richer than India in the warm waters of the Persian or Arabian Gulf — which the Baloch call the Baloch Gulf.
It is no secret that New Delhi is unhappy with Beijing’s designs as it sees Gwadar port as part of the Indian Ocean, but the main problem is that bureaucrats in the Indian capital appear too reluctant to invest in measures to counter China's influence. It is true that India, with a GDP of $2.26 trillion alone does not have the capability to challenge China, whose GDP is five times that at $11.2 trillion, but if the US — with a GDP of $18.57 trillion — is serious in siding with India, surely one can turn the tables.
The Baloch support to India
India benefits from the public support of the Baloch people, who are willing to work with New Delhi rather than with Beijing or Islamabad whom they see as exploitative powers. However, because of India's passive stance, Baloch minds are increasingly questioning New Delhi's seriousness towards their cause. Presently, the Baloch appear to be the modern-day version of the Bible's David, who is fighting a lonely battle against not one but two Goliaths — Islamabad and Beijing.
Many Baloch Diaspora activists are buying into Islamabad’s narrative that India is not sincere towards their cause but merely wishes to use them as proxies.
Rumours suggest if there was any support from New Delhi, it was given to corrupt, dark horses in the Baloch Diaspora and involved huge kickbacks.Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised Baloch's hopes when he spoke out for Balochistan in his address at the Red Fort in 2016, but, subsequently, the issue got overshadowed with the demonetisation debate raging like wildfire in India.
In this backdrop, on Saturday, Baloch Diaspora in London protested against a mammoth Chinese housing project in Gwadar, continuing the agitation on Sunday. The controversial $500-million endeavour, called China Pak Hills, might as well be a classic example of Jinping's colonisation aimed at settling half million Chinese citizens in Gwadar by 2023, according to a report in News International.
The report said China Pak Investment Corporation (CPIC) has partnered with state-owned Top International Engineering Corporation (TIEC) for developing the project.
While Islamabad refuted the news report about China Pak Hills, the CPIC presented concrete evidence that they have the official nod for the International Port City project — being rechristened as China Pak Hills.
Besides the CPEC fanfare, The Dawn reported in June 2017 that China has plans to deeply penetrate Pakistan society and culture.Pakistan Army has tight control over Gwadar district, which abuts the Straits of Hormuz, with military surveillance penetrating the exit and entry points of the strategic coastal region.
According to a report in The Dawn, Pakistan navy said that a new force called "Task Force-88 (TF-88)" has been set up for maritime security of Gwadar port and protection of associated sea lanes against both conventional and non-traditional threats.
By the end of 2016, Pakistan had posted 17,000 personnel of the Civil Armed Forces to guard the CPEC.