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M K Bhadrakumar |

The statement made by the US Defence Secretary James Mattis at the US Senate Armed Services Committee last week in Washington regarding the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor may come as music to (some) Indian ears. While assuming a negative disposition toward China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Mattis tossed a googly:

“The ‘One Belt, One Road’ also goes through [a] disputed territory, and I think that in itself shows the vulnerability of trying to establish that sort of a dictate.” For an inter-alia remark, it lacked punch. But on closer examination, did he vow that US will resist the CPEC? No, not even remotely.

India always has an option to engage Pakistan bilaterally. That should remain India’s preferred option too. Bandwagoning with the US’ regional strategies can only create unhappy endings

Mattis merely said that the Trump administration had reservations about the OBOR in principle, because, in a globalized world, there were many belts and many roads possible. He did not debunk US President Donald Trump’s decision to depute a senior White House official to attend the OBOR summit in China in May. Did Mattis support India’s stance on Kashmir? No.

Read more: Why is India doing propaganda against CPEC?

Did he make anything more than a statement of fact – that Kashmir is “disputed territory”? No. Well, he could have said that Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan (which are on the CPEC map) belong to India.

But he didn’t. What did he mean by the CPEC’s “vulnerability”? Vulnerability vis-à-vis whom? Neither the PAK nor Gilgit and Baltistan faces a terrorist threat. Ironically, it was only American contractors (a consortium of 8 US construction firms, sponsored by San Francisco-based Guy F. Atkinson Company).

India-Pakistan relations are already complicated enough without the addition of an Afghan vector to it. By bringing CPEC into the calculus, Mattis may create a geopolitical muddle from which it’d be very difficult for India to extricate

Who built the multi-purpose Mangla Dam in the “disputed territory” of Pakistan Administered Kashmir (PAK) during 1961-1967, touted as the seventh biggest dam in the world, designed and supervised by a British firm and with the World Bank and the ADB co-funding the project with Washington’s political backing. (The Indian Air Force conducted a bombing raid on the US-built dam in the 1971 war!)

Simply put, Mattis tried to pile pressure on Pakistan by raising the specter of a US-Indian condominium in South Asia. The US’ capacity to leverage Pakistani policies is a pale shadow of what it used to be. Pakistan is openly defiant, as the remark by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in a recent interview testifies – “Days of depending on US are over for Pakistan.”

Read more: CPEC will not stir up Indo-Pak Trouble, says China

Mattis also had an eye on Delhi, where, he hoped, his remark on CPEC would tickle Indian vanities. Mattis hopes to promote weapons sales to India and it helps to ingratiate the US as India’s best friend on the planet. But the Indian establishment will do well to be on guard. There are three good reasons for saying so. First, it is detrimental to Indian interests to identify with the US’ Afghan strategy.

The war is about to become more brutal and bloody. It is a matter of time before Afghans begin to resist continued Western occupation. Now, India has profound interests in Afghanistan

While we wish Trump and his generals well in their attempt to force a rethink in Pakistan’s Afghan policies, the high probability is that Pakistan will not compromise on its core interests. And, indeed, Pakistan is far from isolated in the region. (The head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps General Mohammad Ali Jafari suggested somewhat ominously last week that the US should consider relocating its military bases beyond the 2000-km range of Iranian missiles.)

On the other hand, Trump administration’s “terms of engagement” for the US military envisages the untrammeled use of air power in Afghanistan. Already, this year’s war casualties are climbing high. The war is about to become more brutal and bloody. It is a matter of time before Afghans begin to resist continued Western occupation. Now, India has profound interests in Afghanistan. While the US has the option to make an exit, India lives in its region.

Read more: OBOR: Has India lost its ticket to development?

Mattis also had an eye on Delhi, where, he hoped, his remark on CPEC would tickle Indian vanities. Mattis hopes to promote weapons sales to India and it helps to ingratiate the US as India’s best friend on the planet

Secondly, the US is dragging India into its problematic relationship with Pakistan. Whereas, India-Pakistan relations are already complicated enough without the addition of an Afghan vector to it. By bringing CPEC into the calculus, Mattis may create a geopolitical muddle from which it’d be very difficult for India to extricate. Mattis could have upfront hailed India’s territorial sovereignty, but he instead chose to remain ambivalent – hunting with the hounds and running with the hare.

Thirdly, India always has an option to engage Pakistan bilaterally. That should remain India’s preferred option too. Bandwagoning with the US’ regional strategies can only create unhappy endings. Countries like Turkey and Saudi Arabia (and Pakistan) are today sadder and wiser. Their geopolitical experience provides an abject lesson for India.

Read more: “We can think about renaming CPEC” China offers India

The US objective is to willy-nilly remain embedded in the region for which it creates “bloc mentality” and fuels latent irritants and tensions among countries of the region. Mattis’ testimony brings to mind the phrase from the ancient Roman poet Virgil’s Aeneid – Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes (“I fear the Danaans [Greeks], even those bearing gifts”).

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”.

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