By Sushil Kutty
“Brotherly neighbours” China and Pakistan have been joined by Afghanistan to pin down India on CPEC. Foreign Ministers of the three countries met in Islamabad on the heels of the SCO foreign ministers meeting in Goa. The Pakistan-China-Afghanistan nexus should worry the so-called Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
That said, did New Delhi have any clue of what was coming when Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar was giving the cold shoulder to Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. At least the shoe should have dropped when China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang accompanied Bhutto-Zardari to Islamabad from Goa. Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Qin Gang were joined in Islamabad by Afghanistan’s acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, who had a United Nations imposed travel ban on him.
Somebody should ask the question whether the shoe dropped to External Affairs Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi when Qin went with Bilawal. Questions about CPEC usually do not fetch clear-cut answers. In fact, CPEC questions rarely get asked. The Modi government speaks off and on about taking back POK, generally always before crucial elections.
That’s because the mere mention of POK excites the Hindutva-votebank of the BJP and then it is “Modi Hai Toh Mumkin Hai’ all the way to the vote-counting centre. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is aware that crying wolf using the nationalistic-emotive POK card is an election winner.
But rarely do Modi or Defence Minister Rajnath Singh mention POK and CPEC in the same breath or in the same sentence. It’s as if China does not exist, when it’s clear like the driven snow that China has virtually occupied Gilgit-Baltistan and the CPEC cuts through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
It is beyond Pakistan to evict China from Gilgit-Baltistan, and from POK, just the same as India cannot drive out the Chinese PLA from Aksai Chin. Bottom line, Pakistan and China have India by the short hair and now they’ve been joined by the Taliban Afghanistan with India’s interaction with Afghanistan limited to India batter Virat Kohli getting into an avoidable spat with Afghanistan’s IPL cricketer Naveen-ul-haq.
Reports say China asked the Pakistan military to see to it that CPEC and Chinese nationals in Pakistan do not come to harm. Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi and Pakistan’s Army Chief General Asim Munir were part of the Pakistan-China-Afghanistan Foreign Ministers Islamabad meeting to discuss CPEC and “border issues”.
The operative words here are “border issues”. There are a lot of borders involved. Not only Pakistan’s borders with Afghanistan. But also the LOC and India’s International Border with Pakistan. EAM S Jaishankar pinned down Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari with a glassy stare but now, it appears like Bhutto-Zardari is having the last laugh, notwithstanding reports that Pakistan got a wringing down from both Afghanistan and China at the Islamabad meet.
At the end of the day, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang and Afghanistan FM Amir Khan Muttaqi made up for Jaishankar’s Goa ill-treatment of Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. The fact is, Pakistan still has friends even if EAM Jaishankar says to the contrary.
That said, the Qin Gang-Amir Khan Muttaqi-Bilawal Bhutto Zardari trio could be up to something bad. And the target is India. Pakistan and China are dyed in the wool India enemies, but Taliban-Afghanistan also cannot be trusted. China has deep pockets and China does not hesitate to impose its will on vulnerable nations, which both Pakistan and Afghanistan definitely are.
But lest we forget, India also is vulnerable in its own way. Also, the Chinese have their own plans and Pakistan has its own. Now add Afghanistan to the list. That the Pak Army was closely involved in the Afghanistan-China-Pakistan talks should be of concern to the government of India.
Amir Khan Muttaqi, the acting foreign minister of Afghanistan is under a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) travel ban, but special exemption was granted to him to travel to Islamabad to meet Qin Gang and Bhutto-Zardari. Did EAM S. Jaishankar know this? Isn’t the Islamabad meeting of the three foreign ministers, two of whom are openly hostile to India, alarming to the Government of India?
Qin and Muttaqi also met Pakistan Army chief General Asim Munit to discuss defence cooperation and border management. Always border management! Security for CPEC topped the discussion. That said, is China and Pakistan preparing to defend/thwart an Indian attack on POK?
China has invested billions in CPEC and it will go to the extent to keep CPEC. Now, with CPEC in Afghanistan, the sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan is at risk. There are more than a dozen conspiracy theories swirling around CPEC, but the one that is gaining currency is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi cannot be trusted with overflying the LoC, especially with general elections hardly a year away.
In 2019, there were the Balakote airstrikes and Modi won with a brute majority. India may have its own conspiracy theory about the Pakistan-China-Afghanistan nexus, but the CPEC is central to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and has great strategic and geopolitical value to all concerned. (IPA Service)