Daily Times: Land route to Central Asia a game changer for Pakistan!

Super-powers like US, China and Russia are involved in the Asia region to continue to exert their influence in any energy related deal for their interests in the outcome of the new great game. The region has world’s biggest reserves of untapped fossil fuels, estimates range from 50 to 110 billion barrels of oil, and from 170 to 463 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Central Asia (CA) is the core region of the Asian continent and stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China in the east and from Afghanistan in the south to Russia in the north. The vast area of CA, scarce population and abundant resources demands a very careful approach in dealing with the ever energy hungry world.

Central Asian Republics, individually and collectively, moved to forge multi-vector links with states in the region and outside while maintaining their traditional ties to Russia. America is also interested in various oil and gas export routes. US favor TAPI for economic dependency of regional powers on each other, minimizing the chances of conflicts and maximizing the cooperation as well. Russia is cautious by the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and its interest in CA States. That is why Russia prefer Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline (IPI) over TAPI and has offered to finance the projects. Pakistan due to its links with both, central and south Asia, assumes great significance in the whole scenario. Its importance can enhance manifold, would it successfully play a bridge state role through mutually beneficial trade and by providing easy access to these landlocked states.

After the disintegration of Soviet Union the Chinese trade has increased 200 times to reach $80 billion in 2020. China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) would link Gwadar with china. Chinese idea of Asian highway and U.S. idea of new Silk Road are gaining gradual acceptance. The regional trade benefits by developing 58 various potential corridors to link CA to sea ports in Iran and Pakistan were studied. Majority of these roads would link to Pakistani ports. 170% was the calculated increase in the regional trade where as 115% was the increase in combined transit trade. Apart from this the export and import among the participating countries would enhance considerably as well. The total growth was estimated to be $6 billion with 5% GDP growth annually. The participating countries would enjoy enhanced employment of 2 million jobs at combined nominal investment of less than $6 billion for the entire region. Considering the unemployment in the region CA and participating countries would benefit the most. TAPI with $2 billion and power projects of worth $500 million are being reconsidered to expand the options among the regional countries in general and Pakistan in particular to fulfill its energy demands.

Pakistan must ensure all safeguards in place regarding security concerns and diplomatic compulsions in order to gain strength from the route in the long run

In theses circumstances, Pakistan would be a hub of economic activity or round about for trade in the region by providing links in the form of ports, pipe lines and land routes to facilitate at the domestic, regional and even at the global level. India with population of around 1.3 billion is the world’s second most populous country and ranks fifth in the world in terms of primary energy consumption, accounting for about 4 per cent of the world’s commercial energy demand. India has been making all out efforts to persuade Pakistan for utilizing the most beneficial and preferable land route to CA via Pakistan. Engagement of CA is essential to Indian economic security to fulfill the future energy requirements, the North and South route provide alternate to Indian trade with CAS but at higher cost as compare to the route through Pakistan. The availability of route through Pakistan is largely dependent upon the solution of Kashmir issue and relation between India and Pakistan. Economic security has become a matter of national security; hence the trade activity of the route through Pakistan would bring an option to resolve Kashmir issue amicably and also tremendous benefits for Pakistan economically, enhancing national security as well.

Pakistan’s foreign policy, since its very inception, has been conditioned by two interrelated factors, i.e., India aggression in Occupied Kashmir and an urge to seek a strategic balance with India. The relations between India and Pakistan have been volatile with respect to most issues. Indian covert support to the militants in Pak-Afghan border has created a great unrest both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Establishment of military bases in CAS since 2002 near the border of Afghanistan indicates the level of strategic cooperation and interest of India and has connotation for Pakistan’s security concerns especially under the prevailing environment of trouble from the western border of Pakistan with likely Indian involvement. India would have to rethink their strategy in the region to gain the access to CAS energy resources for its future needs that are going to be increased 95% by 2030. India is currently the largest regional country to Afghanistan spending over $2 billion since 2001. It has opened seven Consulates in Afghanistan and has signed a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan. The major threat to Pakistan’s sovereignty is from the eastern side by India. Indian military presence in Tajikistan, Afghanistan and her defense cooperation with CA States has great security implications for Pakistan. Pakistan could face a threat from the western and north western borders also.

Thus Pakistan has to walk a very tight rope and do the balancing act to safeguard its interests in the region. It also require elimination of Indian atrocities and aggression in occupied Kashmir, involvement in Baluchistan and Pak-Afghan border needs to be manipulated wisely in our own interests while talking trade through Pakistan. On the other hand more Indian involvement in Pakistan economically is likely to improve the security apprehensions not only on our eastern border but on the western front too. Indian support in developing road infra structure in Afghanistan to support the Afghan and CA trade via Iranian port Chabahar is an effort to look for an alternate to Pakistani denial of the land route to CA for India. Provision of land route would stabilize the politico-economic situation as well. Pakistan needs to involve India for concrete confidence building measure (CBM). Gas Pipe line and trade for India through Pakistan would increase the chances of solution of Kashmir issue and reduce the chances of future conflict due to common interests.

Security and safety of trade route be ensured by formulating SOP’s agreeable to all stake holders. Pakistan must ensure all safeguards in place regarding security concerns and diplomatic compulsions in order to gain strength from the route in the long run. Ensure no unwanted goods or personal are off loaded on route. Reliable system to be implemented for entry and exit, Sealing containers, surveillance and surprise checks to ensure no unlawful activities. Tracking system may be introduced to track the vehicles from entry to exit. Keeping in mind the advantages, disadvantages and implication repercussions, Pakistan should engage India diplomatically, while gaining confidence of own people, and evolve measures for confidence building between the two states. However to achieve this, Pakistan will have to start dialogue to ensure solution of Kashmir issue and fool proof security arrangements for transition of containers and the personal. Pakistan must use regional and international forums in order to solve amicable solution of Kashmir issue under UN resolutions. We shall find ways to end the present deadlock with India amicably in order to normalize the relation and proceed further for better future of our next generations.

“The Daily Times”
Kashif Mirza