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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2346

China factor in Pak-Nepal ties

By Rattan Saldi in London

Pakistan Prime Minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s two - day visit to Nepal in March, which came within three weeks of the veteran Communist leader Khadga Prasad Oli taking over as Prime Minister was the first by any high profile foreign dignitary to Kathmandu. The visit was officially described as part of Pakistan's pro-active outreach efforts.

Nepal’s proximity to China is growing in recent times; and it this China factor that has formed the backdrop for Abbasi - Oli summit. The last visit to Nepal by a Pak Prime Minister took place in November 2014, when Nawaz Sharif attended the 18th SAARC summit.

China has not only increased infrastructure development aid to Kathmandu but is also, overtly or covertly increasing its influence in Nepal’s internal affairs.

A statement by the Pakistan Foreign Office said that “Prime Minister Abbasi briefed the Nepalese side about the China Pakistan Economic Corridor and its benefits for the region.” China and Pakistan are building huge infrastructure such as roads, railway lines, ports, energy and agriculture projects in Pakistan and Pakistan occupied Kashmir under CPEC. The over 3,000 kilometre long corridor will connect Xinjiang province in China with Gwadar port on the Balochistan coast of Pakistan. When completed, CPEC will enable China to reach Europe through West Asia in about ten days instead of more than thirty days at present.

Bishnu Rimal, chief adviser to Prime Minister Oli, said after the talks “The matter of BRI (Belt and Roads Initiative) came up after Oli and Abbasi discussed peace and development in the region. He informed our PM about progress in the project.”

The $ 62 billion CPEC is the flagship project of China’s larger One Belt One Road initiative. It is also the most contentious part of China’s plan to build connectivity though roads, railways and ports with Asia, Africa and Europe.

Economic and Social Commission for Asia Pacific (ESCAP) has expressed apprehension of CPEC escalating “further political instability in the region. A report released by the UN agency last year said “The dispute over Kashmir is also of concern, since the crossing of the CPEC in the region might create geo-political tension with India and ignite further political instability”.

The ethnic communities in the turbulent Balochistan province of Pakistan are also opposed to CPEC. The Balochs are demanding self-determination rights. They also blame Pakistani authorities of human rights violations and infringement upon their culture. Apart from organising protest rallies and other forms of agitation within Balochistan, they are also mobilising world opinion. ”Free Balochistan' ads appeared on about 100 London Buses in November last year as a campaign to create awareness about Pakistan’s human rights violations in Balochistan and the right of the Baloch people to self-determination.

The UN body report took note of the Taliban militancy also, and indicated that the CPEC could “limit the potential benefits of transit corridors to population centres near Kabul or Kandahar” in Afghanistan.

China is trying hard to deepen its influence in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Srilanka, Maldives and Nepal besides all-weather friend, Pakistan. This is Chinese way of checkmating India in its backyard but Beijing is unlikely to taste success.

Pakistan is facing funds crunch to implement the CPEC project and China is also facing difficulties in mobilising funds from international and domestic financial agencies and banks. China-Pak Investments Corporation, CPIC, a leading investment group has launched a month long ad campaign on 100 buses in London during March to promote Gwadar port as an attractive investment destination. Double-decker buses on 17 routes in Central London from Oxford Street to Park Lane and Buckingham Palace to Westminster are carrying these promotional banners. Gwadar has a rival in Iran’s Chabahar port.

Abbasi and Oil also discussed ways to convene 19th SAARC Summit in Islamabad. This summit was to be in November 2016 but was cancelled under Indian pressure in the wake of terrorist attack on an Indian Army base camp at Uri town in Jammu and Kashmir. As many as 17 soldiers were killed by four heavily armed Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) militants on 18 September; it was reported as "the deadliest attack on security forces in Kashmir in two decades".

As India pulled out of the summit, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan also informed Nepal, which is the current Chairman of the SAARC, of their inability to participate in the Summit due to “prevailing circumstances”. With four member-nations declaring their unwillingness, Nepal had to put the summit on hold. “There is no question of holding the summit if four countries declare their unwillingness to participate,” Kathmandu announced then.

The outcome of Abbasi-Oli talks on Saarc summit is still shrouded in official secrecy. Pak leader also met the Maoist Centre Chief, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, “Prachanda”, and urged Nepalese leaders to play their role to pave the way for SAARC Summit in Islamabad.

Abbasi’s visit to Nepal took place close on the heels of India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s sojourn to Kathmandu. It is a pointer that Pakistan is trying to scuttle the coming closer of New Delhi and Kathmandu, particularly since Prime Minister Oli is considered close to Beijing. It could also possibly be aimed at inducing Nepalese leadership to participate more vigorously in the BRI initiative of China as Kathmandu is yet to identify projects for implementation under this initiative and thereby drawing Kathmandu closer to Beijing.

It is also possible that Prime Minister Abbasi wanted Oli to use his good offices to somehow facilitate resumption of the stalled India-Pak dialogue. It could prove to be a utopian idea given the increasing number of ceasefire violations by Pakistani security agencies and forces along the India Pakistan border.

- Asian Tribune –

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