Pakistan can be a regional peacebuilder

The Interior Minister recently pointed towards ‘Indian hand’ in this week’s shooting of a Chinese national in Karachi. These accusations are not new and mostly they come without hardcore evidence that can boost Pakistan’s contentions within the international community. Suppositions based on the confession of an Indian spy in Pakistani detention are tenuous at best.

That being said, it’s more than likely that our minister at the Interior didn’t just have rebuking New Delhi on his mind when he made mention of Kulbhushan Jadhav’s admission that RAW is actively involved in sabotaging CPEC projects. More probable is that Mr Iqbal’s priority was to reassure Beijing that the country has its internal security situation under control and that any lapses in this regard are to be blamed on external forces. Especially when it comes to the restive province of Balochistan, where insurgents have long been battling a federation that they believe unfairly favours the Punjab. After all, the former is not only home to the Gwadar port. It now looks as if it’s all set to accommodate a Chinese joint naval and air base at Jiwani; some 80 kilometres to the west of the commercial maritime facility and close to Iran’s Chabahar port. Presently, Beijing has only one operational overseas military base, in the Horn of Africa. But it’s already said to be working on a similar set-up in Afghanistan.

This should put the Americans on alert. Not just in terms of what Washington likes to refer to as China’s “string of pearls” strategy; a line of military bases effectively stretching from the Persian Gulf through the Indian Ocean to Southeast Asia. It seems that the Chinese are taking no chances and are mirroring Washington’s regional security footprint as a first step towards its long anticipated outward expansion of power.

And this is where Pakistan has to play it smart. For this Chinese militarisation of the Af-Pak area will not only, to a certain extent, counter the American military presence. It could also cause yet another flare-up in Sino-Indian tensions; with New Delhi feeling increasingly encircled.  While this might serve Pakistan’s interests in terms of both security interests and ego, we must not give into recklessness. In other words, we would do well to refrain from peddling the myth that Balochistan is stable save for Indian meddling. If we don’t we may well come undone. For once the Chinese are fully present in the province they will almost certainly face a backlash from local groups already resentful over what they see as Punjabi colonisation. This risks Beijing finding itself bogged down in someone else’s rebellion. And given the huge amounts of cash that it has splashed on us it might just demand compensation; adding to the already double-priced payback that it has asked from us.

Therefore, before we reach this juncture Pakistan would do well to try on for size the mantle of elder statesmen; a peacemaker in a hostile neighbourhood. And given that none of the regional powers are going anywhere anytime soon — we really don’t have anything to lose.  *

Published in Daily Times, February 10th 2018.