Tuesday, December 15, 2015

India’s Silk Road Conundrum

Modi is uttering same “mantra” like his predecessor Manmohan Singh. Although, Modi is uttering it through his mouthpiece, Sushma Swaraj. India wants access to “Silk Road” by going through the heart of Pakistan. India and USA is trying to contain China and entice Pakistan into signing a trade deal with India. However, Pakistan is not willing to talk on any issue without a dialog on Kashmir. India has also posed a policy vacuum about the thorny issue of Kashmir.

Strings of Indian democracy are pulled around by rich and powerful as usual. Big corporations in India want market access in the far-flung regions of the world through Pakistan. Addressing the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in 2007, former Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh said, “I dream of a day, while retaining our respective national identities, one can have breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul.” It should be remembered that Singh was addressing extremely rich people not peace activists.

India’s External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj while briefing  parliament about her recent visit to Pakistan said, “The continued estrangement of two neighbours was a hurdle to the realisation of our shared vision of a peaceful and prosperous region … The new dialogue, we sincerely hope, marks a new beginning also for peace and development in the whole region,”. Swaraj’s main theme was development.

Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi pushed same theme in SAARC Summit in Kathmandu. He said, “Distance and difficulties have not held back India and Afghanistan…We must shrink the distance between our producers and consumers and use the most direct routes of trade.”

India was overly optimistic that Pakistan would sign agreements to boost road trade and electricity sharing. However, Pakistan refused to sign these agreements due to incomplete “internal processes” during SAARC Summit in Kathmandu. In fact India wanted to have access to “Silk Road”. Disappoint of Indians was obvious due to Pakistan’s refusal.

On the same issue, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “let’s work together to create a new Silk Road … That means building more rail lines, highways, energy infrastructure, like the proposed pipeline to run from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan, through Pakistan into India” in Chennai, India on 20 July 2011.

Hillary Clinton further said that she “was pleased to see Afghanistan and Pakistan commit to implement fully their transit trade agreement … we want to see that trade expanded into Central Asia and India.”

India can have access to Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa and Europe through Pakistan using “Silk Road”. India is like an Island. It is surrounded by China and Pakistan. The land link for India to Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa is through Pakistan only. Linking to these regions by air or by sea is expensive and time consuming. The only viable option for India is to go through Pakistan to trade with the rest of the world. “Silk Road” is a network of passages used by merchants to trade within and outside of Asia. This ancient trade route was used by traders for centuries to trade between Asia, Europe and beyond.

It should be obvious that the strategy pushed by Hillary Clinton, Manmohan Singh, Sushma Swaraj and Narendra Modi was same in essence. They want to open up a corridor through Pakistan. The other objective to isolate China and create a wedge between Pakistan and China. India and America tried to build an alternative route through Iran, Afghanistan and all the way to Central Asia. But, Indian efforts are failing due to Chinese determination to build a corridor through Pakistan.

India is trying to derail and sabotage China Pakistan Economic Corridor also known as new “Silk Road”. Pakistani Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif said, “We are acutely aware of our rivals’ campaign against the corridor project and vow that the armed forces are ready to pay any price to turn this long cherished dream into reality”. This corridor will guarantee China’s access to the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Ironically, India also wants to use same corridor for trade and commerce.

To make matters worse, India created a war like situation on Line of Control. Innocent civilians were killed on daily basis by Indian army. This is the price of freedom which Kashmiris and Pakistanis have to pay. General Sharif Visited border with India few months ago. He said, “There is definite linkage between terrorism being sponsored by India in various parts of Pakistan and belligerence along the working boundary and Line of Control”. Pressure started building up for Modi to cease military confrontation with Pakistan.

The humiliating U-turn by Modi to open talks with Pakistan was due to pressure by rich and powerful. Modi’s dilemma is to please rich and powerful without offending Hindu extremist. These rich and powerful people want to use trade corridor through Pakistan to reach Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa. On the other hand, Hindu extremist want Modi to wage a war against Muslims and Pakistan. Sooner or later, Modi has to decide. Who is his boss? He can’t work for Hindu extremists and rich at the same time.

Pakistan may give access to economic corridor depending upon India’s willingness to stop suppression of Kashmiri people and respect their right to self-determination. India also needs to implement equal rights for its poverty stricken Muslim citizens before request for trade is accepted by Pakistan. India will also be forced to stop sponsoring terrorism across Pakistan. However, Pakistan will give access to economic corridor only after consultations with its closest ally China.

The way to peace and prosperity for rich and powerful in India goes through Pakistan. They will keep pushing Indian politicians for a permanent settlement of Kashmir issue. Pakistan needs to show strategic patience.