PAKISTAN cannot ignore the great powers politics in Asia due to its geostrategic location, devastating dispute with India, and endless protracted asymmetrical warfare in Afghanistan. Paradoxically, the geostrategic location of Pakistan intensifies its significance in the strategic calculations of the great powers; concurrently it multiplies its vulnerability to external interferences. Today, diplomatically Pakistan is at the crossroads. It has gradually been loosing its significance in the Americans’ global strategic outlook. The cementing Indo-US strategic partnership has been causing misperceptions entailing differences between Pakistan and United States. Consequently, Americans have been distancing themselves from Pakistan and thereby Islamabad and Washington diplomatic relations are also deteriorating.
Realizing the shift in American policy, Pakistan is revisiting its foreign and strategic policy. Presently, it is improving its bilateral relations with both Russian Federation and China. Instead of military alignments, Islamabad has been struggling to cultivate economic, cultural and diplomatic relations with China, Russia, Central Asian nations. Indeed, Pakistanis would benefits from Asian economic connectivity rather than being a front-line akin to the Cold War-style confrontation, which had led to troubled ties with neighbours. Today, Pakistan has been seriously working on CPEC and improving its economic connectivity with the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), especially Central Asian states. On March 1, 2017, Pakistan successfully held the 13th ECO Summit at Islamabad with the theme of “Connectivity for Regional Prosperity.” Perhaps, without the regional connectivity neither ECO members nor Pakistan can resolve their socio-economic problems. China’s President, Xi Jinping OBOR enterprise or Belt-Road Initiative (BRI) and President Barak Obama ‘Asia-pivot’ strategy broaden the scope of Pakistan-China strategic partnership. President Xi announced CPEC project in April 2015. Subsequently, CPEC was designated as the flagship project of $1-trillion global BRI. The CPEC germinated optimism about the economic development of Pakistan. Geographically, being a pivotal Asian state, Pakistan can maximize its economic, diplomatic and military interests in the transforming global strategic environment. CPEC has not only amplified Pakistan’s pivotal role in the connectivity of Western, Central South Asian and Eurasian nations, but has also provided immense economic opportunity. It has been bringing constructive change in Pakistan’s infrastructure, energy production and foreign direct investment.
The impressive work on the CPEC project has alarmed Washington and its allies. Many western analysts interpreted it as a strategic arrangement between Beijing and Islamabad having hidden military designs to liberate the latter from “Malacca Dilemma”. It is an open secret that China enormously relies on the Malacca Straits (sea-route). Its nearly 80% of energy needs (oil imports) en-route from the Middle East to China ports pass through Malacca Straits. President Hu Jintao coined term “Malacca Dilemma” in November 2003 to express over-reliance of China on Strait. He noted: “certain powers have all along encroached on and tried to control navigation through [Malacca] Strait.” Nevertheless, conflicts in region, India’s Asia-Pacific strategy to steward Indian Ocean, vulnerability of sea lanes to great powers strategic competition, new maritime alliances formation etc. pose a challenge to China’s geopolitical and energy strategies and other issues that can crop up from time to time together constitute “Malacca Dilemma”.
The current Chinese ruling elite cannot underestimate Malacca Dilemma, especially after President Trump declared China as a strategic competitor and approved India’s “leadership role in Indian Ocean security and throughout the broader region” to balance China in the Asian strategic setting. The United States 2017 National Security Strategy document claimed that China challenges American power, influence, interests, and attempting to erode American security and prosperity. Instead of responding pugnaciously, Beijing advised Washington to avoid Cold War mentality. Nevertheless, after announcement of National Security Strategy on December 18, 2017, Trump administration has adopted punitive attitude towards Pakistan. This impression that CPEC has inbuilt military dimension is due to the impressive defense cooperation between China and Pakistan since decades. Nonetheless, both the Chinese and Pakistani government officials have been doing their best to quash the impression about the military dimension of CPEC. Chinese ambassador to Islamabad Yao Jing categorically stated: “I want to make it very clear, BRI initiative and with CPEC under it, it’s purely a commercial development project. We don’t have any kind of military or strategic design for that. We don’t want to make the CPEC as such a kind of platform.” Despite the Chinese and Pakistani clarifications about CPEC, Americans and Indians have been expressing their serious concerns about the project.
To conclude, India and United States collusion against China germinates misperceptions about CPEC. Moreover, New Delhi has been involved in sabotaging the project. In this context, it has been using Hybrid warfare techniques. Therefore, Islamabad should revamp its foreign and strategic policy intelligently and carefully in the transforming global political environment and also vigilantly combats internally the Hybrid warfare for smooth execution of CPEC projects.
Contributed by Dr. Zafar N Jaspal
The writer is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad & Member Advisory Board at ‘Mélange Int’l Magazine’ and Center of Pakistan and International Relations (COPAIR).