Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Maria Bastos |

Two of Pakistan’s foreign policy core themes: CPEC and Afghanistan are passing through a critical moment and will soon become the most pressing challenges for the country’s strategic and diplomatic fraternity. Hitherto, CPEC has been understood in terms of the internal impacts the project will have on the country, and how current developments are shaping the lives of Pakistanis.

However, CPEC’s real projection into the core international power politics is about to start. While CPEC is already posing to have the potential to become a shifting and shaping political, and strategic factor in the Indian Ocean Region, recent utterances coming from the US, have just conferred CPEC with such credentials. CPEC will no longer be ignored in any geopolitical calculation in Asia, and I argue, in Eastern Africa.

With India out of Pak- US  talks, CPEC will be the winner. Therefore, American attempts to bring CPEC to the fore must be tamed in Islamabad at the end of the month.The solution: talk Afghanistan, don’t talk India

When the US Defense Secretary recently referred to the Northern Tier of CPEC as ‘disputed territory’, he didn’t realize that there is not much Americans can dig on that front. Therefore, his utterance falls into the category of empty rhetoric, perhaps just intended to arouse policymakers in Islamabad, ahead of his visit. This may well be a trap, to which I hope Pakistani hosts will be fully prepared. I will come to that.

Read more: Pakistan asks US not to see CPEC from the Indian lens

The truth, however is that the Americans are preoccupied with three other CPEC interlinked issues: the projection China will have in the Indian Ocean, which will potentially turn the Asia giant a serious candidate to superpower, the fact that Pakistan is gradually moving from their orbit of influence, and perhaps more crucially, the fact that the United States, because of their foreign policy failure towards Pakistan is nowhere in position to see an end to the Afghan quandary.

India related issues should not become central to the talks. Pakistanis and Americans must talk about Afghanistan and not India. Presently, this may be one possible way to divert US attention from CPEC

United States failures on South Asia foreign policy, particularly in regard Pakistan, are not new and are well documented. If no substantial progress could be done by seasoned diplomats such as Richard Holbrooke, or even Hillary Clinton, any future dispensation under the Trump administration can only be seen with a great deal of uncertainty.

This is something undesirable in a region prone to volatile politics. From a Pakistani perspective, even if one will bracket the reasons why it wishes to remain influential in Afghanistan, the recent US-India engagement and their collaborative role in that country only show how lack of serious academic and research engagement on South Asia politics is apparent in the White House.

Read more: Why is US against CPEC?

Get CPEC off the US radar

As such, what the US Secretary of State, significantly paired with US Secretary of Defence can expect from their tour to the hopefully inspiring autumnal Islamabad, with its sweet and balmy misty sunshine? My sincere hope – a lesson that would bring a new kind of dialogue posture into Pakistan relations with the US.

Pakistan references to its state of readiness for a joint operation with the US to tackle the Haqqani Network in a bid to show its commitment to end a key point of discord between the two sides may be causing a stir in Washington

The latter need to acknowledge that their three aforementioned concerns can no longer be addressed by resorting to typical super-power bullying. While the first two are very unlikely to be reversed, given not only the crescent economic and military interdependency between Pakistan and China but also with Russia, the third one – Afghanistan – may provide to be a decisive point of the upcoming talks.

I am under the impression that Pakistani foreign policymakers are at best learning from Chinese counterparts, or at worst following Beijing’s suggestions, which still may well be seen as a learning process. Pakistan references to its state of readiness for a joint operation with the US to tackle the Haqqani Network in a bid to show its commitment to end a key point of discord between the two sides may be causing a stir in Washington.

Pakistan’s alleged willingness to put an end to the ‘do more’ old talk by engaging the US on ‘do more together’, may have sent US diplomats and a coterie of advisors to spin ahead of their departure to Islamabad, so they would be prepared to know what is at stake, and how come Pakistan may be now in a position to bring to the fore one of Afghanistan’s policy core factors – the Haqqani Network.

Read more: Is PML-N government mishandling the CPEC project?

The fact that Pakistan is gradually moving from their orbit of influence, and perhaps more crucially, the fact that the United States, because of their foreign policy failure towards Pakistan

If Pakistan’s strategy is to turn the meeting with top US diplomats into a highly visible event on Afghanistan, and thereby to create a double impact in American domestic opinion, and of course in India, and with it keep CPEC related talks away, then it appears to be a commendable option.

The least Pakistan and the US will exchange utterances regarding CPEC the better. Pakistani diplomats and whoever will be engaging the Americans will need to decenter India if indeed Pakistan wishes to bring CPEC out of the immediate radar of the US, thus avoiding the trap.

Therefore, India related issues should not become central to the talks. Pakistanis and Americans must talk about Afghanistan and not India. Presently, this may be one possible way to divert US attention from CPEC. However, if American hubris will persist, and if Pakistanis will not decenter India from the main dialogue, this may well be yet another lost occasion.

With India out of Pak- US  talks, CPEC will be the winner. Therefore, American attempts to bring CPEC to the fore must be tamed in Islamabad at the end of the month.The solution: talk Afghanistan, don’t talk India. Pakistan has a great opportunity. It should not be missed.

Maria Bastos is a Doctoral Researcher at the University of Westminster, UK and teaches at the School of Government and Society, UMT, Lahore. Her research interests include Pakistan foreign policy, South Asia politics, and history, and postcolonial IR approaches. She tweets as @Minesbastos. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space editorial policy.

Maria Bastos is a Doctoral Researcher at the University of Westminster, UK and teaches at the School of Government and Society, UMT, Lahore. Her research interests include Pakistan foreign policy, South Asia politics, and history, and postcolonial IR approaches. She tweets as @Minesbastos

Comments & Discussion