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Target China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)

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Pakistan began by playing incendiary game in the Valley by contriving Burhan Wani as the spark. India responded by enlarging the geopolitical arena of conflict to PoK and Balochistan. If the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passes through PoK, do we treat it as fate-accompli? Any government which tacitly acquiesces as such is guilty of betrayal of the resolution of parliament, which in effect is a ‘national resolution’. Such a government will also be guilty of facilitating the transition of ‘two front’ situation in context of Pakistan and China to a new inimical reality of ‘territorial embrace’.

The CPEC yokes PoK and Balochistan to China. It was imperative therefore for the Indian Prime Minister to address our territorial rights with regard to PoK as well as Balochistan, given the illegal strategic link scripted by China and Pakistan. Moreover when such an illegal project plays havoc with human lives and environment in our territory, our inaction and silence would be criminal. We ought to be clear that the CPEC is essentially a strategic project with military objectives intrinsic to it.

Several trips by Raheel Sharif to China with the exclusive agenda of the CPEC under-scores the fact. The exaggerated economic advantages accruing from the project to the two countries is secondary. Nevertheless, it has fired frenzied hope amongst the impoverished people of Pakistan. Both, the people and the military see it as a panacea for accumulated economic woes and insecurities vis-à-vis India. The public hysteria over CPEC in Pakistan is palpable on every conceivable public platform. Any mishap with the project, it seems would drive Pakistan into incurable depression.

China’s rescue of Pakistan at the UN when Maulana Masood Azhar was about to be designated an international terrorist, indicates that it is willing to accommodate Pak jihadi organisations to assist Pakistan in keeping the Kashmir pot boiling, thus insulating CPEC from India physically and diplomatically. Such is the strategic criticality of the thrust to the Persian Gulf via PoK terminating at Gwadar on Balochistan, that China is willing to use every possible means to imbalance. Accordingly, it has become clandestine partner of Pak, in promoting jihadi proxy war in all its manifestations against India in J&K. Hence Pakistan’s latest violent machinations in Valley and military sponsored attack by Maulana Masood Azhar’s Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) in Uri could not have been without China’s wink.

So for India the current strategic co-lateral of the CPEC is that China and Pakistan have evolved as partners in jihadi proxy war in J&K. Various jihadi organisations in Pakistan are nothing but extensions of Pak military-intelligence establishment. They all have been gifted different catchment areas for recruitment and training of jihadis including suicide bombers. Jihadi organisations have never been averse in being leveraged by the Americans and the Chinese at the behest of the military-intelligence establishment.

Masood Azhar and Hafeez Saeed abandon all Islamic pretensions when it comes to choosing between Islam and China. Their religious fire and vitriolic is conspicuously amiss when China in Xinjiang bans government officials from observing Ramzan or forbids women from wearing burqas. Their theological agenda is restricted to making suicide machines out of muslim youth in the Indian subcontinent. So is the theological wont of the Kashmiri separatists in India. They too conserve radical Islam for use against India and not China. Pak-China strategic partnership against India overrides Islam. We in India should not therefore get carried away by occasional condemnation of Jihadi groups in Pakistan by a think tank or newspaper in China. The country is known for playing such subtle balancing games.

It is the mother of all ironies that jihad, which as instrument of war was developed to produce human bombs to destroy communism and win the Cold War in the battlefields of Afghanistan, should rejoin forces with China to bear on India, for illegal sanctity of the CPEC.

Hence the ineluctable inference is that CPEC is the most sensitive component of China-Pakistan strategic partnership, and for Pakistan the project is critical for physical and economic survival of the country. Pakistan has so far survived by renting its territory, till recently to the Americans, and now it wishes to get fresh lease of life by selling it to the Chinese.

Any military option that India generates to mend Pakistan must consider the cost-benefit ratio. The elimination of Osama Bin Laden by US marines in Abbottabad or droning of Mullah Mansoor in Balochistan could not mend Pakistan. Americans or NATO forces continue to be targeted in Afghanistan. Generating options against Pakistan is therefore a tricky proposition. What options can really be generated against a country that relies upon suicide bombers for survival, a country which has outsourced external security to jihadi organisations.

A respected Pakistani journalist Khalid Ahmed, earlier in Pakistan foreign service observes: ‘Pakistan is falling, because it is a warrior state and is not supposed to last. It is wedded to the ideal of war in which ideological rulers accept the possibility of annihilation (shahadat) as a consequence of righteous war.’

CPEC being Pakistan’s most profound hope, rather the only hope, its future existence has come to hinge on it. It is then only logical that amongst India’s options against Pakistan, the CPEC should be accorded top priority.

As and when CPEC becomes a reality Pakistan would become an extension of China’s territory with pernicious strategic portends for China. This could not have happened without self-imposition of mental territorial freeze in respect of PoK in Indian governments down the line with the exception of present one. We Indians came to accept the present territorial arrangement of J&K as fate accompli. We had mentally ceded Gilgit-Baltistan and that is why Kargil happened. That was the reason that our opposition to CPEC till now and at best has been apologetic. Pakistan on the other hand never stopped coveting J&K under our control.

The most pressing, workable and enduring option for India is to give orders to our Army that the PoK is our territory and the Line of Control (LoC) is incidental. As it is Pakistan has changed the rules of engagement in the LoC with this attack in the rear at Uri. Subordinate commanders may be delegated authority to constantly strive to amalgamate areas across the LoC, the depth of which should be predicated on opportunity and resources. In this special focus needs to be on Gilgit-Baltistan through which the CPEC traverses, and is our territory.

Pakistan Army which has become weak and unprofessional because of its reliance on jihadis would not be up to this Indian challenge. Moreover majority of population in the PoK would welcome such moves by India, I say this with experience.

(RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research & Analysis Wing. The author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan, he is also a Guest Blogger with Canary Trap. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)