A report in the Financial Times of London in the last week puts a spotlight on just how committed the Chinese are to the success of the One Belt One Road project (OBOR) of which the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is but a part. In a departure from decades of foreign policy practice, China has been holding talks with Baloch militants for the last five years. The western arm of CPEC runs through Balochistan, the port of Gwadar is in Balochistan and hundreds of miles of road and eventually rail infrastructure are exposed and vulnerable to militant activity. Protecting their vast investment it makes business sense for the Chinese to lessen any risk — hence the direct contact with Baloch militant groups which the government has now acknowledged speaking positively of the intervention.
The FT and the Pakistan government report that progress has been made, and the fact that the Chinese intervention stretches back five years, into the early days of CPEC, indicates that the Pakistan government has known of their activity from the outset. Although the government is aware of the contact, it may not be aware of the substance of any talks between China and the Baloch; which has to raise questions around issues of sovereignty and the writ of the state — the Chinese state or the Pakistan state.
The Chinese efforts are also reflective of the retreat of the Pax Americana, effectively ceding space to China and acknowledging its regional supremacy notwithstanding the American support of the Indian cause. It is also reflective of a shift in Pakistan’s foreign policy as it realigns towards China and Russia. In the emerging scenario, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) assumes a lesser importance than previously, and although there are frequent brotherly affirmations between KSA and Pakistan, the reality is that big money is to be spent and made in CPEC. Although Pakistan politics plays the Punjab card relative to CPEC, it is the western arm that is of greater interest to China in the short to medium term. Roads can come in many forms, not only tarmac and concrete.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2018.
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