No CPEC access through Afghanistan unless Pakistan provides Afghanistan-India connect

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, while addressing the Vivekananda International Foundation in New Delhi during his October visit to India said that Kabul will not be a part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) unless it is given access to Pakistan’s Wagah and Attari border. This implies that Afghanistan will restrict Pakistan’s access to Central Asia if Pakistan refuses Afghan access to India through the CPEC project.

Ghani’s reaction has come a week after the quadrilateral meeting on Afghanistan in Oman between the representatives of United States, Afghanistan, China, and Pakistan that discussed the revival of peace talks with the Taliban. “Sanctuaries are provided, logistics are provided, training is provided, ideological base is provided […] Pakistan has come to a juncture and it needs to make a choice. Our reaction will be determined by its [Pakistan’s] choices,” Ghani said of Pak complicity.

The Afghan president also welcomed India’s new role in Afghanistan enumerated in the new US policy for the region. Ghani hailed the Trump administration’s South Asia strategy a ‘game-changer’ that ‘recommends multi-dimensional condition-based approach for the region.’ Ghani visited India just a day after US Secretary of State Tillerson’s surprise visit to Afghanistan. Unfortunately, South Asia trade has long been held hostage to hatred, jealousy, and revenge making it the least integrated region in the world. Half of Europe’s trade is within Europe and half of ASEAN’s (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) trade is within ASEAN whereas in case of South Asia, trade within the region is abysmally low at only 5% of the total trade.

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Pakistan refuses to realise that regional trade could fetch benefit to all – be it India, Pakistan or Afghanistan. All that it needs is just to take action against terrorists of all hues. Afghanistan has access to India, but India does not have access to Afghanistan. Normally, Afghan trucks are allowed to bring goods to Indian border and have to return back empty. High value trade is conducted by air only. From October India has started sending wheat to Afghanistan via Chabahar port of Iran.

If Afghanistan blocks CPEC route to central Asia, Pakistan has to access CAR states only through the alternative route Kashgar that will be longer, circuitous and mountainous. Good intentions have emboldened the leader of war torn Afghanistan to take a bold decision as compared to terror state Pakistan. Kabul’s unequivocal stand undermines both China and Pakistan.

Islamabad can take punitive action in retaliation to adversely impact Indo-Afghan trade running into USD 220 million but Kabul could redirect all trade via Chabahar. Basically a connectivity project to and from China, CPEC will be starved if connectivity is cut-off between South and Central Asia. Afghan President Ghani has taken a good decision to protect Afghan trade interests and his is a very fair request. Pakistan has literally thrown Kabul into a ditch that India is helping to get out of.

Pakistan needs to take a step back and rethink everything. Its exports to Afghanistan have already plummeted. Having troubled relations with all neighbours including India could be costly in the long run. Islamabad can’t be solely dependent upon China for trade and needs more partners. Pakistan must allow both India and Afghanistan to use CPEC to earn huge toll fee. It must also open the doors of minds before opening the borders for trade.

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Leaders of India-Afghanistan-Pakistan region need to overcome their animosity and get on with trade. Harping on CPEC and Chabahar alone may not suffice to meet the multifarious interests of countries of the region.

 

 

 

 

 

Source:- New Delhi Times

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