A former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan, who is highly respected in Afghan political hierarchy and civil society, has ruled out the possibilty of Kabul joining the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) under the present plan as, he said, it impinges on Indian sovereignty, the semi-autonomy of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the sensibilities of the Baloch people of Balochistan
In response to queries by this scribe, Amar Sinha told this writer through email on Saturday he does not think Afghanistan will join CPEC with the current alignment that “passes through POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) that is part of Indian territory and one branch will also pass through the Pashtun heartland in FATA etc which lends legitimacy to the Durand Line in a way by China.”
China, Pakistan and Afghanistan released a joint statement after a tripartite Beijing conference Tuesday that said that the three countries reaffirmed their commitment towards “advancing connectivity under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI),” The Hindu reported.
Foreign ministers of the three countries signed on the statement: China’s Wang Yi, Afghanistan’s Salahuddin Rabbani and Pakistan’s Khawaja Asif. Participation of Rabbani in the join communique led to questions whether the US and India have given Kabul the go-ahead to join the CPEC, or Afghanistan is playing both sides.
There was also a question whether some corrupt officials in the Afghan government have lined their pockets to cut a deal with China over the head of President Ashraf Ghani. Afghanistan is one of the most corrupt nations in the world, with only seven other countries in the world more corrupt than Afghanistan.
Concerns also run high Pakistan’s infamous ISI, which had propped up the Taliban regime 21 years ago under its so-called strategic depth policy, is deeply entrenched in Afghan politics to this day.
China expert Andrew Small, fellow at German Marshall Fund in Washington DC and author of “The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Politics” had told this writer Friday India respected the fact that Kabul continues to seek deeper economic engagement from Beijing, but New Delhi has made it clear that any such engagement cannot come at the expense of Indian territory.
“CPEC as of now is a purely bilateral Pak China project. If China wishes a regional project it can think of other alignments such as via Tajikistan to Afghanistan into Pakistan or via Wakhan Corridor into Afghanistan and exiting in south Afghanistan into Balochistan,” Sinha, , said. “That will be a more beneficial project for Afghans as that would mean actual investments in their territory. Such a project will also eliminate the India China differences to some extent.”
Sinha, who is highly regarded in Kabul as he helped Afghanistan develop its cricket team during his posting in Kabul, said a senior Afghan leader told him “right now the situation of Afghans is akin to the spectators, sitting outside the playground, and clapping and cheering at a football game.”
The former ambassador emphasized, “Afghanistan gains nothing from CPEC as that runs north to south and gives no additional market access to Afghan products which have India as a natural and historical market.”
Sinha warned that Pakistan is luring Afghanistan with non existent benefits to demand unfettered access to Central Asian market which has been denied till now as Pakistan is not willing to allow Afghans access to India.
The key man doing all the strategic thinking for CPEC is army GHQ blue eyed boy is Senator Mushahid Hussain, mentor of Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN, Dr Maleeha Lodhi. Hussain has very close friendship with Afghan deputy foreign minister Nasir Andisha.
“Mushahid (Hussain) is always taking Kabul for a ride,” warns C. Christine Fair, PhD, Provost’s Distinguished Associate Professor, Georgetown University Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, as he emphasized the word always. Though US troops are still in Afghanistan and President Trump has committed to keep the US troops there as long as required, Mushahid Hussain believes the US is a power on the decline.
Washington as openly thrown its weight behind India on the CPEC issue: in October, Secretary of Defense James Mattis supported India’s stance and told the Senate Armed Services Committee October “no one nation should put itself into a position of dictating ‘one belt, one road’,” The Hindustan Times
Pakistan has the dubious distinction of being one of the few states in the world where the army owns the country and as such the army seems to have a foreign minister all of its own– the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Gen Zubair Mahmood Hayat, who has been meeting foreign dignitaries.
It is apparent the army GHQ has more faith in the leadership of Gen Hayat than Khawaja Asif, who at times is astonishingly highly vocal against the boys in uniform. So it is not clear what value a document signed by Asif really has, since the army calls the shots with regards to policies on Afghanistan and India, among other key foreign policy areas such as ties with US and China.
Sinha said, “Afghans may also need to ponder on becoming a party to exploitation of Baloch resources, and the public sentiments in Balochistan.” Sarmachars or freedom fighters in six different Baloch militant outfits have vowed they will not allow the CPEC in Balochistan as the project will turn the Baloch into a minority in their own homeland.