A map shows the route of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Wanishahrukh
A map shows the route of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Wanishahrukh

Pakistan’s geographical location in South Asia bordering key countries in Central and Western Asia means that it has always been a key transit point. A key factor in Pakistan’s strategic importance is its long coastline – about 1,046 kilometers – on the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman.

Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, with a population of 210 million people.

However, its powerful neighbor India, which gained independence in 1947, has not yet recognized Pakistan as a sovereign country. Pakistan contends that India occupied Kashmir in 1947 by deploying its army in Jammu and Kashmir against the will of most people living there.

In 1948 the United Nations attempted to resolve the territorial dispute over Kashmir between the two new states by passing a resolution stating that a plebiscite should be held in Indian-held Kashmir, in order to give people living there a say over which state the region should be part of. Seventy-one years later, the people of Jammu and Kashmir are still waiting for a chance to exercise their right of self-determination. India is not ready to hold a vote and has instead been stealthily attempting to expand the area it occupies in Kashmir.

In 1983 tensions on the border increased dramatically, when Indian troops suddenly captured the Siachen Glacier heights. In response, Pakistan deployed troops at the Siachen Glacier in order to prevent further Indian advances. Both countries have maintained these same positions at the Siachen Glacier ever since.

Then in 1998 India conducted a nuclear test, putting pressure on Pakistan to respond in kind. To deter Indian aggression in South Asia, Pakistan also conducted a nuclear test and there was a great deal of worry about a nuclear war breaking out over Kashmir.

In 2002 India again increased the tension by deploying its army along its borders for one year.

Pakistan contends that India has also been providing financial support and military training to revolutionary groups such as the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), which has military training camps situated in Afghanistan close to the Pakistani border in Balochistan.

The corridors of power

Now Pakistan has accused India of attempting to disrupt the building of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, (CPEC), by using Afghanistan as a launchpad for attacks against both civilian and military targets in Pakistan.

The CPEC is the flagship program of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Pakistan. So far, China has invested more than US$46 billion in projects along the corridor, aiming to rapidly modernize Pakistani infrastructure and strengthen its economy by building modern transportation networks, energy projects and developing special economic zones in eastern and western Pakistan.

Sources in Pakistan say that India’s intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), is trying to disrupt CPEC projects. Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav, an Indian naval commander, was arrested by Pakistani law enforcement agencies in Balochistan Province adjacent to Iran. Jadhav is alleged to have been involved in subversive activities intended to undermine CPEC projects in Pakistan.

India has taken the case of Commander Jadhav to the International Court of Justice in The Hague after he was sentenced by a military court in Pakistan.

Tensions reached a new high on February 27 this year when India launched airstrikes in Pakistan after the Pakistan Air Force shot down two Indian Air Force fighter jets and captured an Indian pilot, Wing Commander Abhi Nandan.

Acting in accordance with the Vienna convention and as a goodwill gesture the Pakistani government handed over Nandan to the Indian High Commission at a Wagah border post.

After the airstrikes in February, India changed its strategy in Pakistan, opting to use fifth-generation warfare tactics that target only military personnel in order to reduce civilian support for the Pakistani government.

India is currently refusing to resume dialogue with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. Instead, it is trying to create division among the people of Pakistan by instigating attacks against the military in Kashmir and Balochistan.

Pakistan is considering necessary steps in the Middle East through diplomatic channels to calm the current impasse between the US and Iran

India is now accused of trying to disrupt the western route of CPEC, which goes through Iran’s Balochistan province and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, by encouraging terrorist attacks in Baluchistan and KP province.

The Pearl Continental Hotel in Gwadar was targeted recently to disrupt the progress of the CPEC and to put pressure on Pakistan through the Financial Action Task Force, the International Monetary Fund and other international institutions.

Tensions have increased even further since last month, with the arrival of the US aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln in the Persian Gulf to protect US oil tankers going through the Strait of Hormuz, and the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman.

Tensions between the US and Iran have been increasing daily as more tankers have been attacked and seized by unknown parties.

On June 12 two oil tankers were targeted near the Gulf of Oman. The US blamed Iran, which denied responsibility for these incidents, and for subversive activity in the Gulf of Oman.

US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said: “US Central Command’s General Mckenzie is monitoring all activity in the Persian Gulf.”

Russia and China have both advised the US that a policy of restraint should be adopted in the Persian Gulf, as the current scenario in the Middle East is already alarming the whole region .

Any escalation would seriously affect the whole of the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia and Africa.

According to recent news reports, Iran shot down a US drone near the Strait of Hormuz.

Recently, the prime minister of Japan even visited Iran in order to try to calm the seriously deteriorating situation in the Middle East, which is becoming dangerous for the whole region. Any oil supply cut would affect the whole region.

Pakistan is considering necessary steps in the Middle East through diplomatic channels to calm the current impasse between the US and Iran.

It is in the best interest of Pakistan to remain neutral if the US is planning to intensify its conflict with Iran

Any escalation of the conflict would damage the whole region, and especially CPEC.

Pakistan worries that this new economic zone is the main target of the US and India and that the current Indian position in Kashmir is related to the situation in the Middle East to put pressure on Pakistan and to disrupt the progress of CPEC.

So it is now time for Pakistan to revisit all plans and strategies to unite the people of the country and the region behind building the CPEC project and protecting it through vigilant intelligence monitoring.

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Abdul Khalique Panhyar is a writer specializing in international relations and the development sector. He holds an MPP from KDI School of Public Policy and Management in South Korea, and an MA in international relations and an LLB from Shah Abdul Latif University in Khairpur, Pakistan.

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