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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 73

Giving India trade route or crossing red lines?

By Farzana Shah

In a country affected by low intensity conflicts, economic mismanagement and political corruption at all levels, constituting a foreign policy which can protect its security interests is really a cumbersome job but even then there are some red lines which nations draw and are not meant to be crossed at any cost.

These red lines are drawn at all fronts; be it political, economical or strategic front. It seems that replenish US policies towards establishing Indian hegemony in South Asia are in full swing thanks to another US supported government in Islamabad. Present government just like previous one, is more willing to cross red lines just to protect artificial democracy in Pakistan.

On May 6th 2009 Pakistani and Afghan ministers signed a MoU in US to give India a transit facility for trade with Afghanistan through Pakistan.

According to understanding between Afghanistan and Pakistan by end of 2009 Pakistan, will surrender its 43 years’ old stance on not allowing India to use its soil for trade with Afghanistan till the resolution of all outstanding issues including Kashmir.

Although foreign office in Islamabad rejected media reports that India will get all benefits from this agreement. But US secretary of state Hillary Clinton was jubilant over signing of this “landmark” memorandum of understanding.

The statement "India will get trade route" coming from a top US official is something to be believed more than what the Pakistani foreign office says.

Under the second clause of the agreement not only Afghanistan could get access to the sea route; it could also find new avenues to India and China for similar purposes.

The clause titled "Objectives of Pak Afghan Transit Agreement" elaborates that the agreement emphasizes easiest routes for international traffic (also including access to a third country).

It also emphasizes the need for establishing a transit corridor connecting Pakistan’s border areas with Afghanistan, and to give the two countries access to each other’s neighbouring countries. Among these countries include India, China (through Pakistan).

This clearly shows that Pakistani government is trying to sell another lie to its public.

Why US is eager to have India in Afghanistan through Pakistan? This is something which needs to be understood by high echelons of security managers in Pakistan.

The MoU if materialised would be a bigger favour to India by USA than nuclear deal between Washington and New Dehli.

India had been trying its level best in the past to get this transit route through Pakistan which will easily give her a license to expand its footprints from Myanmar in the East to Afghanistan in the West. Pakistan will be deprived of all its security and economic interests in the region.

Allowing transit route to India has some grave implications for Pakistan ranging from security issues to economic ones

1. Benefiting India at own cost

Pakistan and India both have long and outstanding issues. India never misses any chance when it comes to harming Pakistani interests.

Giving India transit route amid concerns about Indian involvement in Balochistan and FATA is going to be disastrous for Pakistan.

The accord will allow India to use Pakistan as a road to benefit Indian economy resultantly contributing towards its military buildup and intelligence network against Pakistan.

Once gates are opened it would be difficult for Pakistan to distinguish between traders and Indian intelligence and military personnel. Keeping situation in NWFP in view, this route can turn into a dangerous trap against Pakistan.

Trucks loaded with RAW operatives, Indian military personnel or weapons pretending as trade convoys can proved to be new aid route to Indian-backed insurgents in Pakistan.

So Islamabad must take all these matters into consideration before signing any agreement specially allowing transit route which is a step forward to ease up Indians more on its Western borders.

2. Undermining Gwadar, Pak-China interests

Pakistan and China have invested heavily in Gwadar mainly for using it as a trade hub between countries in Central Asia, China, Russia and rest of the world.

Allowing India transit through Pakistan may end up in allowing all Central Asian countries and Russia to sign deals with Afghanistan and India for using Indian ports instead of Gwadar for trade with Far East, Australia and Japan as Indian ports are closer to these counties than Gwadar.

China and Pakistan both have strategic and economic interests in Gwadar which would be greatly harmed in case India is allowed transit route as road link will enable India to support its assets (BLA) in Baluchistan more aggressively.

BLA whose leadership currently is said to be based in Afghanistan, in the past has deliberately tried to harm Pak-China relations. BLA has been involved in kidnapping and killing Chinese engineers working in Pakistan.

The terrorist outfit Blaochistan Liberation Army killed three Chinese engineers in Hub area of Balochistan in 2006.

In May 2004, three Chinese port workers were killed in a similar attack at Gwadar by BLA. The growing influence and support by India would definitely encourage BLA to keep Chinese away from any project in Baluchistan.

We need to understand the geo-political game being played by internal as well as external players to exploit the grievances of our Baluch brothers.

The Chinese investment in Baluchistan along with better governance by Pakistan can turn misled youth of Baluchistan in favor of a strong united Pakistan. US made many promises for development in Pakistan, but never acted on them. Establishing ROZ (Reconstruction Opportunity Zones) can be taken as benchmark in this context. These were promised some 5 years back but still bill of establishing these zones is pending with US congress. On the other hand China began work on Gwadar in 2002 and in 2006 first phase was completed and the port became operational in early 2009.

3. Pakistani industry to suffer

Although Pakistan has smaller share in trade with Afghanistan, but still its traders have their presence in Afghan market. Currently 90 per cent goods ranging from food to construction material are being supplied by Pakistani traders. By allowing Indian supplies to Afghan market through Pakistan, will reduce cost of Indian goods in Afghanistan boosting these supplies further. Currently India cannot access Afghanistan through roads so cost of Pakistani goods is somehow competitive to Indian goods but after the transit route opened Pakistan will completely lose Afghan market.

Cost of production in Pakistan is considerably high compared to Indian products primarily due to utter inept behavior of current and previous governments towards producing cheap electricity in the country. Allowing Indian industry to keep its foot on Pakistani market will simply kill our local industry. In quality Pakistani products are still better but Indians in the past have been selling Pakistani products including rice with Indian stamps on bags to international market. There is no guarantee that Indian will not repeat the same in Afghanistan where there is a pro-India government in place.

4. Water Disputes

Although water dispute seems to be an isolated matter in context of transit trade between India and Afghanistan through Pakistan but it indirectly can turn into a bigger problem as India is persuading Afghanistan to build dams on Kabul River which contribute to Indus River in Pakistan and India itself has plan to build multiple dams in Kashmir on Indus River. So, Pakistan must not allow India to shift its engineers and machinery to Afghanistan through its soil to build dams on Kabul River. It will intensify water crisis in Pakistan.

Water dispute erupted between Pakistan and India recently can be taken as bench mark to foresee all future agreements in region with regards to interests of the both the countries.

Taking maximum advantage of unilateral ceasefire at LoC, India completed and started major dams in held Kashmir on Chenab River. Despite the mediation by World Bank, design of the Baghliar dam was not changed and India did stop flow of river when Pakistani farmers were about to sow crops.

With blockage of Kabul River water, Pakistan will become barren sooner than feared.

5. Forcing Pakistan Army to police Indian goods

This is the biggest reason militarily why Pakistan must not allow Indian trucks rolling through its soil. Any attack on Indian conveys inside Pakistan will provide an excuse to Indians for demanding Pakistan military to police these conveys all the way to Khyber Pass.

More disturbingly is if any such attack happens, which is very likely in presence of Jihadi outfits in Pakistan, international and Indian media will start a new wave of propaganda against Pakistan being a failed state. By this vertex this MoU seems to be a step towards US plans to turn Pakistani military into a mere police force.

6. Kashmir Issue

Allowing India trade route has always been linked with solution to Kashmir issues by the Pakistani policy makers since last many decades.

The sudden U-turn by current government not only surprised Pakistanis but it will send a very disturbing message to Kashmiris as well.

The decision is as damaging to Pakistani interests as was Musharraf’s decision to announce ceasefire at LoC which allowed Indians to fence LoC and declaring it International border between Pakistan and India which sent a wrong signal that Pakistan was surrendering its stance on Kashmir.

6. Economic interest can’t override security interest

Most vocal argument made in favour of this MoU by some business circles in Pakistan, is that Pakistan will be charging transit fee from India and Afghanistan amounting to some $20 million per year.

Currently Pakistan is facing much bigger security challenges than economic ones.

If friends of Pakistan has announced $5.28 billion and US to give Pakistan $7.5 billion in next five years apart from $2.8 billion as military aid then why Pakistan is seeking these $20 million per year so eagerly at this point? In current situation no economic interest can be bigger than Pakistan’s own existence which is at risk.

Final thoughts

The leadership crisis which had emerged during Musharraf regime still continues in Pakistan. Mass corruption and dictatorial attitude of previous government allowed laws like NRO which allowed direct US meddling in Pakistani affairs. Giving unilateral concessions to Indians is something initiated during military dictatorship in the last 8 years and what we are witnessing now is just an extension of decision taken by previous US supported government.

Past track record of India’s reactions to unilateral concessions by Pakistan speaks volumes for possible outcome of another big strategic concession to India.

When will Pakistan realise that there is a red line and crossing that line will put the entire nation’s existence at stake. Leadership crisis in Pakistan after US meddling in our politics is increasing by every minute.

Is there a leader who can save national interest with some national zeal? Are we ever going to see an independent foreign policy?

- Asian Tribune -

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