CPEC corridor: On Afghanistan, Pakistan will find it much harder to play a double game with China
India should give a guarded welcome to this initiative. It has been in India’s strategic interest to help Afghanistan reduce its dependency on Pakistan and give it more resources to tackle the Taliban. Both of these will be enhanced by Chinese investment.editorials Updated: Dec 28, 2017 18:37 IST
China has taken a diplomatic bull by the horns by hosting a foreign ministers’ trilateral with Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is seeking solutions to two problems. One, to get Kabul and Islamabad on the same page on almost any issue. That this is difficult should not be a surprise given that Pakistan is supporting an insurgency, the Taliban, to overthrow the Afghan government. In most cases, this would be a weak basis for cooperation. The other is to build cross-border infrastructure in Afghanistan. The Afghan landscape is littered with wonderful-sounding connectivity projects which have never gone beyond the drawing board. One only has to recall the Lapis Lazuli corridor, Five Nations Railway and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline.
India should cautiously welcome this initiative. It has been an overriding Indian strategic interest to help Afghanistan reduce its dependency on Pakistan and give it more resources to tackle the Taliban. Both of these would be enhanced by Chinese investment. Despite Beijing’s closeness to Islamabad, the track record of China in Afghanistan has been one of promoting regional stability rather than hewing blindly to Pakistan’s line. It is forgotten that India once used China to persuade Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. Beijing has repeatedly sought to promote regional understanding on Afghanistan. It proposed India-Afghanistan-Pakistan talks in 2006. Since then it has hosted a variety of talks that have included Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Taliban and the United States. Afghanistan is a regular part of the agenda of Russia-India-China meetings. Notably, none of these efforts have borne any success.
Similarly, Afghanistan has been an essential part of the Belt-Road Initiative almost since its inception and Kabul publicly welcomed the idea of joining the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) last year. But building infrastructure in Afghanistan is easier said than done. India’s only requirement, endorsed by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani when he came to Delhi last, is that such an arrangement also incorporate trade and transit from India to Afghanistan. This is something that Pakistan has long opposed. Kabul will also be advised to ensure that any debt arising from these Chinese projects be kept on Beijing’s books.
Islamabad was vague about what it thought of China helping rebuild Afghanistan. After all, security for such projects would have to be guaranteed by Pakistan, the primary external supporter of the Taliban. When the US had proposed a similar plan, Islamabad undermined it It will find it much harder to play that double game with its “all-weather friend”, China.