By: Zamir Akram

During May this year, two summit meetings were held, one in Beijing and the other in Riyadh, with far-reaching global ramifications. While the Beijing summit sought to promote peace and prosperity among nations through mutually beneficial cooperation, the Riyadh meeting promoted a divisive agenda that would exacerbate conflict and confrontation, especially in the Muslim world.

The One-Belt, One-Road (OBOR) summit hosted by China with the participation of several countries including Russia, Turkey and Pakistan, agreed to enhance connectivity between Asia, Africa and Europe with massive investments in infrastructure development, energy production and trade promotion. All participating leaders underscored the economic and social spin-offs of the OBOR project, potentially laying the foundation for peace
and prosperity through mutually beneficial “win-win” cooperation.

A key component and a flagship enterprise of this OBOR project is, of course, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), that would benefit all the states of Central, South and West Asia. With over $50 billion investments in the infrastructure, energy, industrial and agriculture sectors, CPEC is said to be a “game changer” for Pakistan. It would bring about economic and social progress apart from confirming the geo-strategic pivotal role
that Pakistan is positioned to play in its neigbourhood.

Notwithstanding the positive outcomes of the OBOR-CPEC project, there are its geo-political dimensions that run counter to the strategic interests of some countries and hence their covert, if not overt, opposition to it. These challenges to the OBOR-CPEC need to be recognised and overcome. A declining US has not yet accepted the emergence of a multi-polar world with a rising China and a resurgent Russia. With its “pivot to Asia”,

Washington is strengthening its old and new allies in Asia, especially Japan, Australia and India, to contain China. A key aspect of this strategy is to control the sea lanes across the Indian and Pacific Oceans, especially in the South China Sea, which are vital for Beijing since 80 per cent of its trade and oil imports pass through this region. As a counterveiling measure to this potential threat, China has embarked on implementing an alternative land route, the OBOR initiative, with Pakistan’s Gwadar port providing a vital outlet to the Arabian Sea.

This upends the American and Indian game plan as it would deny both countries their hegemonic designs in the region. Not surprisingly, India boycotted the Beijing summit, a petulant move that amounts to cutting their nose to spite their face. Instead of isolating Pakistan, India isolated itself, as even its flunkies, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, attended. The US did participate but deliberately at a low level. Beneath the surface, however, both countries are hard at work to derail the OBOR project, especially its CPEC lynchpin. The Afghanistan-based and Indian-supported TTP and Da’ish terrorists as well as Indian-backed Baloch separatists are being used to target Chinese nationals and Pakistani workers involved with CPEC projects, especially in Balochistan. A disinformation campaign has also been launched within Pakistan to which, unfortunately, some Pakistanis have fallen prey. This campaign even makes the ridiculous charge that the Chinese are taking over Pakistan just as the East India Company usurped the Mughal Empire.

Pakistan needs to be wary of such efforts aimed at denying us the opportunities to overthrow the shackles of Western aid and the debt trap apart from realising our geo-strategic potential.

For those in Pakistan who still entertain lingering hopes of friendship with India and realignment with the US, the experience of dealing with both over the last decade should provide a reality check. The Indo-US strategic partnership against China that started with the Bush administration in 2006 and continued under Obama, also undermines Pakistan’s security interests as it has enabled India’s massive conventional and nuclear military build-up while rejecting any dialogue to resolve outstanding disputes, especially the volatile situation in Indian occupied Kashmir. Expectations of any improvement under Trump are also misplaced as is clear from the recent testimonies by his Director of National Intelligence, Daniel Coats, and the director of the Defence Intelligence Agency, General Vincent R. Stewart, to the Senate Armed Services Committee, both of whom echoed Indian allegations against Pakistan but failed to acknowledge Islamabad’s concerns about Indian-sponsored terrorism.

President Trump, himself, even though he met our prime minister in Saudi Arabia last week, highlighted the alleged terrorist attacks against India in his Riyadh speech but refrained from recognising the much greater sacrifices made by Pakistan in fighting terrorism.

But even more ominous for Pakistan and the entire Muslim world in the long term, was Trump’s attempt to manipulate the differences between Saudi Arabia and Iran, to essentially divide Muslims between Sunnis and Shias behind the façade of fighting ISIS terrorism that the US has itself created. His objective was clearly to ensure American and Israeli interests in the Middle East by weakening Muslim countries by pitting them against one another while making the Saudis pay for it. This is part of Washington’s “greater Middle-East” strategy to weaken and destroy Muslim/Arab
countries that do not subscribe to the American-Israeli agenda such as Iraq, Libya and now Syria. Iran seems to be the next obvious target.

For Pakistan, this is a dangerous development. Even though we are a Saudi ally and one of the largest Muslim countries and the only one with nuclear weapons, Pakistan was not even given a chance to make its voice heard at the Riyadh summit. While Pakistan is indebted to Saudi Arabia and rightly seeks friendly relations with all Muslim countries, it also shares a border with Iran and above all opposes any attempt to divide Muslims along sectarian lines. Pakistan, therefore, cannot become a part of the divisive Riyadh agenda as espoused by President Trump.

The lessons to be drawn from this tale of the two summits for Pakistan is to benefit from the strategic partnership with China while avoiding the dangers of the fool’s errand being proposed by the US.