The Western Alliance Is Falling Apart

Global Research, August 02, 2019

Ever since Imran Khan became the 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan in August 2018, the winds have changed. While his predecessors, though generally leaning eastwards, have often wavered between the US and the China orbit, Khan is in the process of clearly defining his alliances with the east, in particular China. This is for the good of his country, for the good of the Middle East, and eventually for the good of the world.

A few days ago, RT reported that China, in addition to the expansion of the new port in Gwadar, Balochistan, has entered agreements with Pakistan to build a military/air base in Pakistan, a new Chinese city for some half a million people, as well as several road and railway improvement projects, including a highway connecting the cities of Karachi and Lahore, reconstruction of the Karakoram Highway, linking Hasan Abdal to the Chinese border, as well as upgrading the Karachi-Peshwar main railway to be completed by the end of 2019, for trains to travel up to 160km / hour.

This rehabilitation of dilapidated Pakistani transportation infrastructure is not only expected to contribute between 2% and 3% of Pakistan’s future GDP, but it offers also another outlet for Iranian gas / hydrocarbons, other than through the Strait of Hurmuz – for example, by rail to the new port of Gwadar which, by the way, is also a new Chinese naval base. From Gwadar Iranian hydrocarbon cargos can be shipped everywhere, including to China, Africa and India. With the new China-built transportation infrastructure Iranian gas can also be shipped overland to China.

In fact, these infrastructure developments, plus several electric power production projects, still mostly fed by fossil fuel, to resolve Pakistani’s chronic energy shortage, are part of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also, called the New Silk Road. They are a central part of the new so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which was first designed in 2015 during a visit by China’s President Xi Jinping, when some 51 Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) worth then some US$ 46 billion were signed. Pakistan is definitely out of the US orbit.

Today, in the CPEC implementation phase, the projects planned or under construction are estimated at over US$ 60 billion. An estimated 80% are direct investments with considerable Pakistani participation and 20% Chinese concessionary debt. Clearly, Pakistan has become a staunch ally of China – and this to the detriment of the US role in the Middle East.

Washington’s wannabe hegemony over the Middle East is fading rapidly. See also Michel Chossudovsky’s detailed analysis “US Foreign Policy in Shambles: NATO and the Middle East. How Do You Wage War Without Allies?”.

A few days ago, Germany has refused Washington’s request to take part in a US-led maritime mission in the Strait of Hormuz, under the pretext to secure hydrocarbon shipments through this Iran-controlled narrow water way. In reality it is more like a new weaponizing of waterways, by controlling who ships what to whom – and applying “sanctions” by blocking or outright pirating of tankers destined for western ‘enemy’ territories.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas announced last Wednesday in Warsaw, Poland, that there “cannot be a military solution” to the current crisis in the Persian Gulf and that Berlin will turn down Washington’s request to join the US, British and French operation “aimed at protecting sea traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, and combating so-called “Iranian aggression.”

This idea of the Washington war hawks was conceived after Iran’s totally legal seizure of the British-flagged Stena Impero oil tanker, after it rammed an Iranian fishing boat a couple of weeks ago. However, nothing is said about the totally illegal and US-ordered British piracy of the Iranian super tanker Grace I off the coast of Gibraltar in Spanish waters (another infraction of international law), weeks earlier. While Grace I’s crew in the meantime has been released, the tanker is still under British capture, but western media remain silent about it, but lambast Iran for seizing a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.

Germany remains committed to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – JCPOA (the Iran nuclear deal), from which the United States unilaterally withdrew a year ago, and Germany will therefore not intervene on behalf of the US.

Add to this Turkey – a key NATO member both for her strategic location and NATO’s actual military might established in Turkey – moving ever closer to the east, and becoming a solid ally of Russia, after having ignored Washington’s warnings against Turkey’s purchasing of Russian S-400 cutting-edge air defense systems. For “sleeping with the enemy” – i.e. moving ever closer to Russia, the US has already punished Turkey’s economy by manipulating her currency to fall by about 40% since the beginning of 2018. Turkey is also a candidate to become a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and so is Iran.

Turkey has become a de facto lame duck as a NATO member and may soon officially exit NATO which would be a tremendous blow to the North Atlantic Alliance – and may tempt other European NATO nations to do likewise. Probably not overnight, but the idea of an ever more defunct NATO is planted.

All indications are that the future, economically and security wise – is in the East. Even Europe may eventually ‘dare’ making the jump towards better relations with primarily Russia and Central Asia and eventually with China.

And that especially if and when Brexit happens – which is by no means a sure thing. Just in case, the UK has already prepared bilateral trade relations with China, ready to be signed – if and when – the UK exits the EU.

Will the UK, another staunch US ally, jump ship? – Unlikely. But dancing on two weddings simultaneously is a customary Anglo-Saxon game plan. The Brits must have learned it from their masters in Washington, who in turn took the lessons from the Brits as colonial power for centuries, across the Atlantic.

Western, US-led war on Iran is therefore unlikely. There is too much at stake, and especially, there are no longer any reliable allies in the region. Remember, allies – shall we call them puppets or peons, are normally doing the dirty work for Washington.
So, threatening, warning and annoying provocations by the US with some of its lasting western allies may continue for a while. It makes for good propaganda. After all, packing up and going home is not exactly Uncle Sam’s forte. The western alliance is no longer what it used to be. In fact, it is in shambles. And Iran knows it.

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Peter Koenig is an economist and geopolitical analyst. He is also a water resources and environmental specialist. He worked for over 30 years with the World Bank and the World Health Organization around the world in the fields of environment and water. He lectures at universities in the US, Europe and South America. He writes regularly for Global Research; ICH; RT; Sputnik; PressTV; The 21st Century; TeleSUR; The Saker Blog, the New Eastern Outlook (NEO); and other internet sites. He is the author of Implosion – An Economic Thriller about War, Environmental Destruction and Corporate Greed – fiction based on facts and on 30 years of World Bank experience around the globe. He is also a co-author of The World Order and Revolution! – Essays from the Resistance. He is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization.

Featured image is from The Freedom Articles


Towards a World War III Scenario: The Dangers of Nuclear War” 

by Michel Chossudovsky

Available to order from Global Research! 

ISBN Number: 978-0-9737147-5-3
Year: 2012
Pages: 102
Print Edition: $10.25 (+ shipping and handling)
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Michel Chossudovsky is Professor of Economics at the University of Ottawa and Director of the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG), which hosts the critically acclaimed website www.globalresearch.ca . He is a contributor to the Encyclopedia Britannica. His writings have been translated into more than 20 languages.

Reviews

“This book is a ‘must’ resource – a richly documented and systematic diagnosis of the supremely pathological geo-strategic planning of US wars since ‘9-11’ against non-nuclear countries to seize their oil fields and resources under cover of ‘freedom and democracy’.”
John McMurtry, Professor of Philosophy, Guelph University

“In a world where engineered, pre-emptive, or more fashionably “humanitarian” wars of aggression have become the norm, this challenging book may be our final wake-up call.”
-Denis Halliday, Former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations

Michel Chossudovsky exposes the insanity of our privatized war machine. Iran is being targeted with nuclear weapons as part of a war agenda built on distortions and lies for the purpose of private profit. The real aims are oil, financial hegemony and global control. The price could be nuclear holocaust. When weapons become the hottest export of the world’s only superpower, and diplomats work as salesmen for the defense industry, the whole world is recklessly endangered. If we must have a military, it belongs entirely in the public sector. No one should profit from mass death and destruction.
Ellen Brown, author of ‘Web of Debt’ and president of the Public Banking Institute   

WWIII Scenario

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A two part Pepe Escobar report on the China, Pakistan and the new Great Game

December 30, 2018

A two part Pepe Escobar report on the China, Pakistan and the new Great Game

by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with The Asia Times – here and here – by special agreement with the author)

The new Great Game on the Roof of the World

On top of the graceful Baltit Fort, overlooking the Hunza Valley’s Shangri-La-style splendor, it’s impossible not to feel dizzy at the view: an overwhelming collision of millennia of geology and centuries of history.

We are at the heart of Gilgit-Baltistan, in Pakistan’s Northern Areas, or – as legend rules, the Roof of the World. This is an area about 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles) crammed with spectacular mountain ranges and amidst them, secluded pristine valleys and the largest glaciers outside of the Polar region.

The location feels like vertigo. To the north, beyond the Batura Glacier, is the tiny northeast arm of Afghanistan, the legendary Wakhan corridor. A crest of the Hindu Kush separates Wakhan from the regional capital Gilgit. Xinjiang starts on Wakhan’s uppermost tip. Via the upgraded Karakoram highway, it’s only 240 km from Gilgit to the Khunjerab Pass, 4,934 meters high on the official China-Pakistan border.

What used to be called the Russian Pamir, now in Tajikistan, can be seen with naked eyes from one of the peaks of the Karakoram. To the east, past Skardu and an arduous trek that may last almost a month, lies K2, the second highest peak in the world, among a mighty group north of the Batura Glacier (also known as Baltoro), which is 63km long.

Receding Hopper Glacier

The receding Hopper Glacier in northern Pakistan. Photo: Asia Times

To the south lies Azad (“Free”) Kashmir and slightly to the southeast what locals define as Indian-occupied Kashmir. The former King of Kashmir agreed to be part of India after Partition in 1947 but troops were airlifted to the northern state and after a year of fighting, India went to the UN. A temporary ceasefire line was established in 1948 and runs down from the Karakoram towards the Nanga Parbat – the killer mountain, dividing Kashmir into two virtually sealed halves.

Massive mountain ranges

Driving across the Karakoram Highway (see part 2 of this report) we were face to face with three massive mountain ranges running in different directions. The Karakoram roughly starts where the Hindu Kush ends and then sweeps eastward – a watershed between Central Asian drainage and streams flowing into the Indian Ocean.

original Silk Road, parallel to K’koram hwy

The ancient Silk Road is seen above the Karakoram Highway. Photo: Asia Times

Driving across the Karakoram Highway (see part 2 of this report) we were face to face with three massive mountain ranges running in different directions. The Karakoram roughly starts where the Hindu Kush ends and then sweeps eastward – a watershed between Central Asian drainage and streams flowing into the Indian Ocean.

The Himalayas start in Gilgit and then run southeast through a cluster of high peaks, including the Nanga Parbat, directly on the Islamabad-Gilgit air route (flights by turboprop only take off if weather around the Nanga Parbat allows).

Strategically, this is one of the top spots on the planet, a protagonist of the original Great Game between imperial Britain and Russia. So it’s more than appropriate that here is exactly where a protagonist of the New Great Game, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship project of the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), actually starts, linking western China’s Xinjiang to the Northern Areas across the Khunjerab Pass.

Karakoram politics

CPEC is the supreme jewel in the Belt and Road crown, the largest foreign development or investment program in modern China’s history, loaded with way more funds than years of US military aid to Islamabad.

And we are indeed in Ancient Silk Road territory. Looking at the millenary trail parallel to the Karakoram, lovingly restored by the Aga Khan Development Foundation, it’s easy to picture the great Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang traversing these heights in the 7th Century, and naming them Polo-le. The Tang dynasty called it Great Polu. When Marco Polo trekked in the 14th Century, he called it Bolor.

Early last month, I was privileged to drive on the upgraded Karakoram Highway along CPEC all the way from Gilgit to the Khunjerab, and back, with multiple incursions to valleys such as lush, pine-forested Naltar, Shimshal (manufacturers of sublime yak wool shawls), Kutwal and receding glaciers, such as Hopper and Bualtar.

The Karakoram Highway was originally conceived in the 1970s as an ambitious political-strategic project able to influence the geopolitical balance in the subcontinent, by expanding Islamabad’s reach into previously inaccessible frontiers.

Now it’s at the heart of a trade and energy corridor from the China-Pak border all the way south to Gwadar, the port in Balochistan in the Arabian Sea a stone’s throw from the Persian Gulf. Gwadar looks likely to be a crucial springboard to China becoming a naval power – active from the Indian Ocean to the Persian Gulf and on to the Mediterranean, while CPEC, slowly but surely, aims to change the social and economic structure of Pakistan.

Previous Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the controversial “Lion of the Punjab”, was an avid CPEC supporter after he won the 2013 elections. At the time current Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, winner of elections held in July, had already polled second nationwide and rose to power in the strategic Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province – straddling the area between Islamabad and the tribal belt.

Sharif, in June 2013, when he was about to enter negotiations with the Chinese, was lauding what would become CPEC as an infrastructure scheme that “will change the fate of Pakistan”. So far that has translated mostly into new hydroelectric dams, coal-fired power stations, and civil-nuclear power. The China National Nuclear Corporation is building two 1,100 MW reactors near Karachi for nearly $10 billion, 65% financed by Chinese loans. This is the first time that the Chinese nuclear industry has built something of this scale outside of their country.

More than a dozen CPEC projects involve power generation – Pakistan is no longer woefully energy-deprived. These projects may not be as sexy as high-speed rail and pipelines, which could arrive much later; after all CPEC in its planned entirety runs to 2030.

Of course, monumental business decisions will have to be addressed; the staggering cost – and state of the art engineering – involved in building a railway parallel to the Karakoram; and the fact that oil pumped via a pipeline from Gwadar to Xinjiang might cost five times more than via the usual sea lanes all the way to Shanghai.

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

What Imran wants

Imran Khan is way more cautious than Sharif, who had a “China cell” inside his office and commanded the Pakistani Army to set up a 10,000-strong security force to protect China’s CPEC investments.

But Khan knows well about the firepower behind CPEC: the Silk Road Fund, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), CITIC, Bank of China, EXIM, China Development Bank. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) projects that BRI could mobilize as much as $6 trillion in the next few years. What Khan wants is to negotiate better terms for Pakistan.

China’s ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing, never tires to stress that Pakistan’s serious debt problem relates to the initial phase of CPEC, due to the massive import of heavy machinery, industrial raw materials and services.

As I learned in Islamabad in various discussions with Pakistani analysts, Khan actually wants to expand CPEC and prevent it from leading Islamabad towards an unsustainable debt trap. That would mean tweaking CPEC’s focus away from too much infrastructure development to technology transfer and market access for Pakistani products. Financing for agriculture projects, for instance, could come via CPEC’s Long Term Plan, which unlike the so-called Early Harvest Plan does not come with a price tag attached and can be negotiated freely between Islamabad and Beijing.

According to a 2016 IMF report, $28 billion in projects included in Early Harvest will be completed by 2020: $10 billion to develop road, rail and port infrastructure, and $18 billion in energy projects via Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), with Chinese firms using commercial loans borrowing from Chinese banks.

CPEC though is an extremely long-term endeavor. Other CPEC investments in energy and transportation infrastructure financed by China will be finished only by 2030.

A new CPEC emphasis on industrialization via technology transfer would allow Pakistan to produce some of what China imports. That would imply reneg otiating the Pakistan-China Free-Trade Agreement (FTA), getting to the level of preferential treatment that China offers to ASEAN. Essentially, this is what Imran Khan is aiming at.

Hail the Ismailis

Gilgit-Baltistan is the safest place in the whole of Pakistan. Here, there’s no “terror threat” by the Pakistani Taliban or dodgy al-Qaeda or ISIS spin-offs. Major spoken languages are Shina and Burushaski, not Urdu. The population is overwhelmingly composed of Ismaili Shi’ites – like Karim Shah, an encyclopedia of Central and South Asian history and culture reigning over a cave of wonders in Gilgit where anything from authentic heads of Gandhara Bodhisattvas to 18th Century silk Qom carpets from a Persian royal family can be found.

Karim Shah and his cave of wonders in Gilgit. Photo: Asia Times

Karim Shah and his cave of wonders in Gilgit. Photo: Asia Times

We spent hours talking about Khorasan, the original Kipling-esque Great Game, Col. Durand (who drew the Durand Line separating Pashtuns on both sides of an artificial border), the Kashmir question, the astonishingly complex geo-eco-historical system of the Northern Areas, and of course, China.

Shah imparted the impression – confirmed by other traders – that the local population may see some tangible CPEC-related benefits, but does not know exactly what Beijing wants. Chinese visitors – engineers, bureaucrats – are remote; tourism has not picked up yet, as in the case of the Japanese, who have been Northern Areas enthusiasts for decades. Thus, an improvement in Xi Jinping’s “people-to-people exchange”, a key component of BRI, seems to be in order.

Legend rules that Hunzakuts, the inhabitants of the glorious Hunza Valley, are descendants of three soldiers of Alexander the Great who married beautiful Persian women of high aristocracy. While Alexander campaigned along the Oxus, the three couples traveled across the Wakhan corridor, discovered the marvelous valley, and settled down.

The tolerant Islam they came to practice centuries later is impervious to Gulf proselytizing. When I crossed an austere village by the Karakoram, visibly out of place, my Ismaili driver Akbar noted that these were “Sunni Wahhabis”.

Finding Gandhara art in Gilgit made perfect sense. Gandhara historically formed a sort of fertile and irrigated triangle between the Iranian plateau, the Hindu Kush and the first peaks of the Himalayas. Between the 6th Century BC and the Islamic invasions, it was the crossroads of three cultures: India, China and Iran. And it was here that an extremely original Greco-Buddhist art and culture flourished, way after Greek power had waned.

Gandhara Bodhisattva head, Gilgit cave of wonders

A Gandhara Bodhisattva head in Karim’s shop in Gilgit. Photo: Asia Times

The Kashmir question

As a new 21st Century crossroads, CPEC faces stern challenges – from geology (constant landslides and floods in Gilgit-Baltistan) to wobbly security in Balochistan, threatened by a combination of separatist and religiously or politically manipulated movements. I was not able to visit Gwadar and the south of CPEC even though contacts in Islamabad supplied military sources with an application for a NOC (No Object Certificate, as it is known on Pakistan) weeks in advance. The military response: too “sensitive”, as in dangerous, for a lone Western journalist, especially in the aftermath of the Aasia Bibi case.

China will need to find a way – perhaps via negotiations inside the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – to mollify India on CPEC’s route straddling Kashmir.

In 1936 the British made a deal with the Maharaja of Kashmir, getting Gilgit on lease for 60 years. But then came Partition. At the time the Kuomintang – in power in China, before Mao’s victory – was engaged in secret negotiations to restore Hunza’s fabled independence as a new state allied with China. But the Mir of Hunza finally decided to join the newborn Pakistani nation.

Few may remember that, during the 1950s, way before the India-China border war in 1962, there was trouble on the China-Pakistan border, when Beijing seized 3,400 square miles of Kashmir, including parts of old Hunza, whose Mirs always recognized Chinese suzerainty. When the British had first seized Hunza in 1891, the Mir actually fled to China.

Zhou EnLai visits Baltit Fort in early 60s

This puts into perspective some fabulous documents preserved at Baltit Fort, like China-Baltistan trade agreements and a picture of Zhou EnLai visiting the fort in the early 1960s.

It’s also fascinating to remember that at the time Zhou Enlai already thought about Karachi – no Gwadar at that time – connecting to an “ancient trade route, lost to modern times, not only for trade but for strategic purposes as well”. Xi Jinping has definitely read his Zhou EnLai thoroughly.

China Baltistan trade agreements

Historic trade agreements between China and Baltistan. Photo: Asia Times

Nowadays, the President of Azad (Free) Jammu and Kashmir, Sardar Masood Khan, always stresses that “unlike Indian propaganda”, the Pakistani side is “thriving politically and economically”, and CPEC could also be beneficial for Indian Kashmir. As it stands, this remains a red line for New Delhi.

Once in a lifetime chance

At the National Defense University in Islamabad, I was shown a paper by Li Xiaolu, from the Institute of Strategic Studies at the National Defense University of the PLA detailing how Beijing hopes that “by opening China’s west to Central and South Asia, building better transportation infrastructure, and by encouraging trade with South and Central Asian countries, the development of manufacturing, processing and industrial capacities in Western China can be promoted”.

Now compare it with road and rail infrastructure improved across Pakistan being able to turn the whole nation into an actual trade corridor, while the Pakistani Navy improves its defense in deep-sea waters with Gwadar positioned as a third naval base and offering support for Chinese ships across sea lanes close to the Middle East and Northern Africa.

No wonder Chinese analysts share a virtual consensus about traditional Chinese wisdom favoring unity for prosperity – a key plank of CPEC and BRI – and prevailing over containment and confrontation.

For CPEC to work, Beijing needs three things: a political solution for Afghanistan, which is already being worked out inside the SCO, with China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Iran (as an observer) directly involved; stable relations between India and Pakistan; and certified security across Pakistan.

Beijing is actively encouraging closer connectivity between Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the Quetta-Kandahar railway and the Kabul-Peshawar highway. CPEC is actually expanding from the Karakoram to the Khyber Pass, trespassing the artificial Durand line along the way.

In contrast, multiple factions in Washington continue to twist all possible faultlines to thwart these projects, with a propaganda campaign designed to portray BRI as a swamp of corruption, incompetence, a “debt trap” and “malign” Chinese behavior.

Yet among all BRI corridors, material progress across CPEC is more than self-evident. I saw every village in the Northern Areas with electricity and most of them linked by fiber optics, a stark contrast to when I traveled a severely dilapidated Karakoram, twice, two decades ago.

Pakistan now has a once in a lifetime chance to harness its geographical location – with borders intertwining centuries of history and culture with Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Middle East – to set itself up as a key bridge between the Middle East and both the Mediterranean and Western China.

Rumors abounded in Islamabad that Imran Khan is aiming for an international standard university in the capital, positioned as a center of study and research tracking the new mosaic of an emerging multipolar world. Young people power will be more than available, like Jamila Shah, currently at the National Defense University, doing a masters in Peace and Conflict Studies, and working with an NGO, the International Rescue Committee. Jamila, from Hunza, in Gilgit-Baltistan, is the face of Pakistan’s future.

Jamila Shah

Jamila Shah. Photo: Asia Times

Still hostage to a corrupt oligarchy, cartelized industries, falling exports (60% of which are textiles), and with almost half of their youths aged from five to 16 out of school, Pakistan faces a Sisyphean task.

Economist Ishrat Husain has correctly noted that Pakistan’s model of “elitist growth” must be replaced by “shared growth”. Enter a modified CPEC opening the path ahead, hopefully like those cargo trucks defying the slippery, snowy Khunjerab full blast.

CPEC trade Pak style

Trade on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Photo: Asia Times

Up next: On the road in the Karakoram 

On the road in the Karakoram

On the Pakistani side, a wooden house serves as a small customs office fronted by “the highest ATM in the world” – though you try a foreign credit card at your peril. The Chinese side boasts an intimidating, metal-plated James Bond-esque structure with no humans in sight.

This is ground zero of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the point where the revamped, upgraded Karakoram Highway – “the eighth wonder of the world” – snakes away from China’s Xinjiang all the way to Pakistan’s Northern Areas and further south to Islamabad and Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea.

From here it’s 420 kilometers to Kashgar and a hefty 1,890 km to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. But going south is where the fun really begins.

highest ATM in the world

World’s highest ATM. Photo: Asia Times

Traveling the Karakoram from Gilgit, the capital of the Northern Areas, to the Khunjerab and back is an exhilarating road trip along CPEC and its spin-offs. And it’s a crazy carousel.

Psychedelic Pakistani trucks, Chinese container road warriors – some trying to subdue the Khunjerab without chains on their tires – packed minivans plying the Hunza-Xinjiang route, Silk Road motels, the smell of curry interfacing with the best apricot juice in the world, roadside butchers, shacks advertising themselves as “Silk Road Investment & Credit Society Ltd,” many a Pak China Gateway Hotel, checkpoints consisting of a roadside table and a bunch of papers kept from flying away by pebbles, stashes of yuan crisscrossing rupees and dollars and messy, multi-level “people to people exchanges.”

Chinese container truck up the Khunjerab with no chains on tires

A Chinese container truck ploughs over the snow without chains on its tires. Photo: Asia Times

It’s one of the greatest road trips on earth. And in geopolitical terms, it may be the greatest.

Mind the yaks

Karakoram North starts at the environmentally protected Khunjerab National Park, where yaks roam freely on the road and ibex and marmots are easily spotted nearby. But there are no Marco Polo sheep, much less snow leopards. (Though local Ismailis insist a few dozen reside in the park.)

The Yak and Sheep Highway

Yak and sheep roam the highway. Photo: Asia Times

The first serious pit-stop in the Karakoram is Sost, which used to be the Pakistani border in the old days – as when I traveled the road, twice, 20 years ago by jeep from Kashgar. Now, the bustling trade entrepot is the HQ of the Silk Road Dry Port Sost. Chinese lorries unload their cargo and Pakistani trucks take up the relay to transport the merchandise all across the nation. It appears modern and well-organized. Everything proceeds smoothly.

entrance to the dry port at Sost

Entrance to the dry port at Sost. Photo: Asia Times

Snaking south, we pass right under the spectacularly receding Passu Glacier. In a nearby village, a funeral is in progress, with the crowd taking over the road alongside yaks and buffalos and interrupting traffic at will.

The receding Passu glacier by the Karakoram

The receding Passu Glacier by the Karakoram. Photo: Asia Times

The upgraded Karakoram is an apotheosis of Pak-China Friendship Tunnels – all exhibiting the obligatory commemorative billboard extolling a geopolitical friendship soaring “higher than the highest mountain.”

One of many Pak-China tunnels

One of the many Pak-China tunnels. Photo: Asia Times

This is CPEC in effect. It is astonishing when compared to the recent past. Between the Hunza and Gilgit rivers flowing parallel to impeccable asphalt worthy of an autobahn, a fiber optic cable runs all across the Northern Areas.

Chinese engineering has performed miracles. Around 160km south of the Khunjerab we drive around Attabad Lake, which totally submerged the road after a landslide in January 2010. For over five years there was simply no China-Pakistan overland trade, although some went via Kashgar-Gilgit flights. The solution by the China Road and Bridge Corporation had to be a tunnel – completed in 2015.

Attabad lake, now negotiated via a tunnel

Attabad Lake, now negotiated via tunnel. Photo: Asia Times

Trade along the Karakoram is bound to pick up – after years at less than 10% of total China-Pak trade, which tends to flow especially from Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces, not Xinjiang. Some stretches of the highway remain prone to constant landslides, rockslides or floods, which require a number of 24/7 rescue and maintenance teams. These are Pakistani, while the SUVs of the police in the Northern Areas have been supplied by China.

The heart of the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure projects are road and railway lines. These do not cost a fortune per se; the expense is in the construction costs for bridges and tunnels. Russia spent over $4 billion on its Kerch Strait bridge to the Crimea. New Silk Road costs will be exponentially higher. Tunnels can be way more expensive than bridges.

Where the Himalayas rise

From the Karakoram it’s sometimes possible to catch a glimpse of the formidable Nanga Parbat – Kashmiri for “Naked Mountain,” later nicknamed the “Killer Mountain.” It has never been climbed in winter, and is actually a series of ridges which anchors the western Himalaya range, culminating in an ice crest at 8,126 meters above sea level. That is the ninth highest peak in the world and the second in Pakistan after K2.

Glimpse of the mighty Nanga Parbat

Heading into the mighty Nanga Parbat (on the right). Photo: Asia Times

As we approach Gilgit, the road signs – in English, Mandarin and Russian – say 468 km to Abbottabad (site of the Osama bin Laden endgame) and 583 km to Islamabad. Way down south, in less mountainous terrain, I’m told the odd rockslide gives way to occasional floods.

South of Gilgit, the Chinese once again are in frantic building mode, attacking the road starting from the Karakoram to the strategic Mecca Skardu. The road, according to local Ismailis, should be ready before 2020.

meeting of the Karakoram, the Hindu Kush and Himalayas

Where the Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Himalayas meet. Photo: Asia Times

And then, on a bend of the revamped highway, the intersection of the Karakoram, the Hindu Kush and the Himalayan mountain ranges – bordering the confluence of the Gilgit River with the Indus, now flowing south all the way to the Arabian Sea – spreads before us. Nearly 85% of the Indus discharge happens between May and September, out of snow and glacial melt, propelling the monsoons. Abdul, the painter of the Karakoram, is applying the finishing touches to a white-clad viewing point.

Abdul, painter of the Karakoram

Abdul: Painter of the Karakoram Highway. Photo: Asia Times

The China-Pak embrace

The building of the original Karakoram – an engineering tour de force – took no less than 27 years and claimed the lives of over 1,000 Chinese and Pakistani workers.

The Karakoram Highway is much more than a road; it’s a rolling, graphic emblem of the China-Pakistan geopolitical embrace, surmounting all manner of economic, cultural, geological and security barriers over decades to the benefit of a strategic objective. And the strategic objective now is CPEC as the flagship BRI project.

At the recent opening ceremony of the China International Import Expo in Shanghai, where he was guest of honor, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan described CPEC, including the Karakoram highway, as a “vital link” for China and Pakistan with the Middle East and Central Asia. “CPEC is a mechanism to connect China, the Middle East and Central Asia that also opens ways for fresh investment and paves the way for new markets,” he said.

Khan also reassured his hosts – as well as domestic public opinion – that his new government is engaged in deep, meaningful reforms to ensure transparency and accountability; virtual ghosts as far as Pakistani business is usually concerned.

“Pakistan has an array of resources, minerals and renewables amidst the most diverse landscape,” Khan said, adding that his country is a leading exporter of sports goods, medical instruments and IT products, and has promising, 100 million-strong human resources under the age of 35. So, the potential is immense.

Islamabad is all in on completing CPEC up to 2030, with projections of up to 3% added to annual GDP growth, as industrial output is bound to rise with more electricity courtesy of CPEC investments and more production coming from Chinese-style Special Economic Zones.

CPEC’s Long-Term Plan (2017-2030), released one year ago, defines four priorities in Pakistan: Gwadar Port; energy projects; transport infrastructure (as in upgrading of the Karakoram); and industrial cooperation. Imran Khan’s government (see Part 1 of this report) is aiming for Pakistan to position itself, via CPEC, as the key hub uniting the overland Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road.

The big plan

This implies, geopolitically and economically, an even stronger, trans-regional, China-Pakistan alliance in contraposition to India and Washington. The US reaction to BRI in 2018 was to unleash a whispering campaign to try to discredit it. Beijing, for its part, expects India and Pakistan to at least discuss their political differences inside the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

From now on, China’s far west and south – Xinjiang and Yunnan – have to become the top drivers of the Chinese economy. Upgrading their road, rail and energy infrastructure and closely linking them to South Asia and Southeast Asia is essential for China to keep growing – all that boosted by crucial energy connectivity via a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan, an oil pipeline from the Caspian in Kazakhstan, further massive gas shipments from Siberia, and, further down the road, a possible gas pipeline from Gwadar port to Xinjiang parallel to the Karakoram.

Will it work? The Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Himalayas have seen it all come and all go over multiple millennia. So why not? The upgrading of the greatest geological and geopolitical road trip on earth is a start.

Karakoram checkpoint

Karakoram Highway checkpoint. Photo: Asia Times.

CPEC and The New Great Game on the Roof of the World — Astute News

On top of the graceful Baltit Fort, overlooking the Hunza Valley’s Shangri-La-style splendor, it’s impossible not to feel dizzy at the view: an overwhelming collision of millennia of geology and centuries of history. We are at the heart of Gilgit-Baltistan, in Pakistan’s Northern Areas, or – as legend rules, the Roof of the World. This […]

via CPEC and The New Great Game on the Roof of the World — Astute News

This is What Can be Accomplished During Imran Khan’s Visit to China

By Adam Garrie
Source

Later this week, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan will take his first official visit to China. As Pakistan’s neighbour and most important all-weather ally, the visit is of incomparable importance as Pakistan stands on the verge of fulfilling the next stages of inspiring new projects throughout the country, many of which have been jointly initiated with China. Furthermore, international pressures as well as domestic challenges that have arisen over the last year mean that China is well placed to offer Pakistan the kind of sustainable economic assistance required to rectify problems that previous Pakistani governments failed to address. With this in mind, here are the goals that can be achieved during Imran’s inaugural visit to China:

Securing a loan 

Last week Saudi Arabia gave Pakistan a one year loan of $3 billion with an addition $3 billion offered in the form of deferred payments for oil. The agreement was made on the same day that Imran Khan attended the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh. This itself is demonstrative of the no nonsense approach that Imran takes when dealing with important multilateral issues. Imran Khan’s positive meetings with the Saudi leadership along with his statement that Pakistan is willing to play a role as a mediator in regional conflicts including the war in Yemen, indicates that far from Saudi offering a “sympathy loan” to Islamabad, rapidly emerging geopolitical trends and Pakistan’s own economic development makes Pakistan a crucial partner for Riyadh.

The $10 billion that Saudi Arabia has invested for the purposes of building an oil refinery in the Pakistani port city of Gwadar makes it clear that not only is Gwadar fast becoming one of the most important hubs for global trade but that in integrating Saudi investment into the city that represents the southern terminus of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Saudi Arabia is attempting to utilise the decades of good will between itself and Pakistan in order to become more immersed in the win-win relationship stemming from direct participation in the Belt and Road Initiative.

The IMF has already made it clear that as expected, all of Pakistan’s current internal and bilateral projects will be scrutinised from the overtly American perspective of the IMF’s top officials. As such, Chinese officials are well aware that Washington could use its influence on the IMF to meddle in the progress of multiple CPEC related and other regional Sino-Pakistani projects. This gives China a clear incentive to help its neighbour whose current account deficit has widened due to the economic mismanagement of previous Pakistani governments.

Beyond this, a Chinese investment in Pakistan in the form of a loan should also be described as an investment in China. As China and Pakistan have shared interests in seeing that the full extent of neighbourly cooperation bears the sweetest possible fruits, China requires an economically stable Pakistan in order to realise this win-win goal. Imran Khan’s optimistic spirit and his domestic war on corruption itself mirrors that which Xi Jinping has engaged in for the benefit of the Chinese people. While no nation wants to throw money away, China knows that Pakistan has the potential to be a great economic power and that as such, a loan to Pakistan would represent an effort to help Imran Khan bring his nation back to economic solvency while the unwise practices of his predecessors that were ultimately bad for Pakistan and its partners are now a thing of the past and as such encouraged investor confidence from many quarters. Thus, a Chinese loan to Pakistan should be viewed as an important investment in a mutually sustainable future based on transparency and a neighbourly opposition to all forms of degrading corruption.

Taken in totality, there remains an opportunity for Imran to secure a loan from China which when combined with the existing Saudi loan could help Pakistan to avoid the IMF all together.

Fight fake news about Belt and Road/CPEC together 

Those with an interest in retarding the progress of Belt and Road and CPEC specifically have launched an all out disinformation war about the current healthy state of China-Pakistan relations. This disinfo war itself is part of a wider drive among certain malicious actors to drive a wedge between China and its partners in the Ummah (global Islamic community). It also serves as an outgrowth of America’s zero-sum attitude to Belt and Road that is expressed in non-factual media reports across several journalistic markets.

When Pakistan’s Foreign Minister addressed the United Nations last month, he presented Pakistan as a champion of the multi-national Belt and Road initiative that is sometimes described as merely a Chinese rather than multilateral initiative. In standing beside Xi Jinping, Imran Khan has the opportunity to not just expose the lies but attack the sources of the lies regarding malicious anti-CPEC stories while showing the world that Pakistan and China remain positively jointly committed to win-win relationships that will transform not just Pakistan but multiple Asian and African nations through enhanced connectivity and economic modernisation in the wider Afro-Eurasian space.

A rounded perspective on Xinjiang

Unlike some of Imran Khan’s predecessors, Imran Khan has shown himself to be deeply in touch with the charitable, austere and compassionate roots of Islam. As such, Imran Khan has vowed to revitalise the dream of national father Muhammad Ali Jinnah to transform Pakistan into an Islamic welfare state.

While mostly non-Muslims and non-Chinese continue to write absurd stories about life in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, particularly where the welfare of Muslims residents are concerned, Imran Khan is well placed to dispel this rumour by publicly relating how Chinese and Islamic values are neither incompatible nor mutually exclusive in practical terms.

As Xinjiang province borders Pakistan, there is all the more reason for Imran Khan to express feelings of unity as a means of dispelling attempts to divide the Ummah from its natural Chinese friend and partner.

New economic initiatives

The spirit of Naya Pakistan (new Pakistan) has been felt not only by Pakistanis but by much of the wider world. Chinese officials have already expressed how it is Beijing’s desire to tap into this spirit of forward thinking to work on new mutual projects that will transform the lives of multiple people in both nations, thus offering the Pakistani and Chinese people a future based on sustainable development through deeper and wider cooperative efforts.

While many Pakistanis are squarely focused on the loan that they hope to secure from a partner like China, Imran Khan has been wise in reminding Pakistanis not to be consumed by the negative legacies of the past. While the mistakes of the past must be dealt with, Imran Khan has also encouraged Pakistani’s to dream positive and healthy dreams for themselves and their country. This attitude is similar to the Chinese Dream that is encouraged through the people-centred initiatives detailed in Xi Jinping Thought. Because of this, it is clear that the only thing more constructive than two neighbours dreaming big is dreaming big together.

More cultural exchange 

Prioritising visits by Chinese tourists to Pakistan and Pakistani tourists to China is a vital way to secure the best possible future relations. Additionally, musicians, artists, sportspeople and great minds from both countries ought to present their talents to those on the other side of the border in order to demonstrate that the benefits of a modern win-win partnership have the ability to foster enlightened human development as well as economic and infrastructural development.

A commitment to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation 

Pakistan’s membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation gives the country a seat in an important organisation that can help bring further peace to Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, help to foster peace within Afghanistan and work to fight terrorism across multiple states. Iman Khan’s own views that extremism must be fought through a combination of proactive security measures and the draining of the swamp of economic destitution in which extremism foments is itself not dissimilar from the methods China has used to rid Xinjiang of extremism.

Furthermore, the regional government that PTI first formed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2013 helped to pioneer education and social welfare as means of lifting people out of both poverty and the related trap of extremism simultaneously. As China continues to do the same in Xinjiang in accordance with Chinese characteristics, both countries can share and pool their experiences in fighting extremist threats that continue to dominate issues at the level of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Such an exchange of methodology can help the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to become a more potent force for security in the region.

Conclusion 

Iman Khan’s visit to China will be an important moment where a dignified and forward looking Pakistani leader will be able to make the most out of a decades long all-weather friendship with the most important economic superpower in today’s world. So long as the meeting is guided by the optimistic spirit of Naya Pakistan, both countries will be able to achieve much on a win-win basis.

The Dangerous and Duplicitous Infowar Against Imran Khan

Among the many reasons why Imran Khan’s PTI party swept Pakistan’s recent general elections while making major inroads in provincial elections was his party’s commitment to ending a systematic culture of corruption that existed among both of the national legacy parties as well as among regionally strong and fringe parties. As a result, PTI not only won at a national level but in so doing, helped to sweep away the power of the MQM in Karachi, erode the iron grip of PML-N over Punjab, as well as reduce the share of votes received by radical religious parties whose agitation politics has had a negative impact on Pakistan’s civil society for decades.

While Imran Khan’s foreign policy position of neutrality as a whole, scepticism combined with realism in respect of the US, robust clarity combined with an olive branch to India and steadfast fraternal relations with China has never been ambiguous, multiple media outlets are attempting to so discord over PTI’s foreign policy by taking simple statements out of context and in some cases by penning utter fiction as a means of discrediting Imran Khan.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in multiple stories, primarily from western outlets and occasionally from Indian outlets (later picked up by Pakistani outlets) implying that somehow the future of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is anything other than mutually assured from the perspective of both Beijing and Islamabad.

To understand this concept, one can learn much by studying the new Malaysian government led by the veteran politician Mahathir Mohamad. Like Imran Khan, Mahathir Mohamad is and always was an advocate of progressive nationalism with modern Islamic characteristics. While the multi-racial dynamic in Malaysia is different than the provincial/ethnic identities present in Pakistan, Mahathir’s approach to foreign policy was and remains similar to the course which Imran has promised to follow. Mahathir never hesitates to criticise the United States nor its allies (including Israel) while his relationship with China was and remains based on mutual respect tempered with a strong sense of Malaysian national pride.

Mahathir’s return to power this year at the age of 93 was in many ways a result of the same anti-corruption battle that characterised Imran’s campaign. Mahathir openly criticised his notoriously corrupt predecessor Najib Razak who is currently being investigated by the authorities for gross acts of corruption involving the abuse of power. Likewise, Imran’s effective predecessor and political rival Nawaz Sharif while presently out of prison is also being investigated for acts of corruption in respect of his ownership of multi-million dollar properties in London.

While the relations of both Pakistan and Malaysia with the Chinese superpower continued to progress along positive lines during the respective Premierships of Nawaz and Najib, it would be naive to suggest that two corrupt individuals somehow engaged in 100% ethical business deals with their Chinese partner. In other words, if corruption was the word of the day for both Nawaz and Najib, why should their joint projects with Chins be any different? This is not to say that China in any way bears responsibility for the actions of Nawaz and Najib. As a country that expects its international partners to exercise responsibility over their share in any and all joint projects, China does not exist to meddle in the internal affairs of foreign nations, whether such nations are run by men like Imran and Mahathir or whether they are run by men like Nawaz and Najib.

Because of this, China is not worried about the fact that some of the vanity projects of both Nawaz and Najib are now being reviewed by the new governments who were elected to do just that – review matters signed off for by predecessors whose domestic legacies had been rejected by the voters in a democratic election. China is in fact engaging in dialogue with both partners in order to reach a new understanding over projects that will be to the win-win benefit of all parties.

Thus while both Iman and Mahathir have both gone out of their way to clarify that their revision of various projects has everything to do with internal matters and nothing to do with negative views of Beijing, the Sinophobic media of the west and India continues to say otherwise in a clear attempt to manufacture a false narrative.

Far more than Malaysia, Pakistan’s economic future is dependant on healthy relations with its all-weather Chinese neighbour and not a single genuine statement from any PTI official has indicated otherwise. In fact, the high level contacts between the new government and Chinese officials demonstrates that if anything, PTI wants to make the most of Pakistan’s friendship with China and in so doing, making the most of opportunities often squandered by previous governments.

However, it is now clear that Pakistan must do as much as possible to fight the Sinophobic infowar which threatens to spread misinformation among Pakistanis at a fanatic pace. Take for example the scandalous article recently published in the London based Financial Times called “Pakistan rethinks its role in Xi’s Belt and Road plan“, insinuated that Pakistan is about to cancel important bilateral projects related to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) under the new PTI led government of Imran Khan. The report was based on statements from Pakistan’s Adviser for Commerce, Textile, Industry and Production, and Investment Abdul Razak Dawood whose Ministry has now fully rejected the article while claiming that the Financial Times took his words completely and intentionally out of context.

According to Pakistan’s Ministry of Commerce and Textile, “The statements attributed to Adviser to the Prime Minister on Commerce and Textile have been taken out of context and distorted“. The Ministry further said that Pakistan rejects the article entirely “especially the title” while going on to call CPEC a “national priority”.

China likewise refuted the content of the article, describing the FT piece in the following way,

“Such ill-intentioned reports based on distorted and misquoted information only demonstrate that the report contributor has total ignorance and neglect of the CPEC or China-Pakistan traditional partnership”.

t is the latter part of the statement which is the most important in the context of the Financial Times article that is clearly part of the wider Sinophobic campaign in western and Indian media which has recently focused on China’s growing partnerships with the developing nations of Africa. But unlike China’s relations with multiple African states, some of whom had few profound contacts with Beijing in the 20th century, China’s relationship with Pakistan is among the most consistent of any neighbourly partnership in the world. Indeed, long before China became a global economic superpower, Beijing and Islamabad had incredibly close relations. The fact that since 1978 China has gone from a nation of overwhelming poverty to a nation about to dethrone the United States as the world’s largest overall economy, yet is still as close with Pakistan as it ever was, is a testament to the fact that the good neighbourly relationship in question has not shifted as so many Cold War era partnerships have radically done and continue to do in the 21st century.

China’s contemporary partnership with Pakistan has grown and developed as both countries have internally grown and developed. While Pakistan’s economic development is at a different stage than China’s, both countries look to pursue the path to a moderately prosperous society with national characteristics. The One Belt–One Road initiative has been a crucial mechanism through which both nations can build upon their traditional partnership to help achieve substantial economic growth on a cooperative win-win basis.

Because of this close and growing partnership, the fact that the Financial Times would attack such a partnership as opposed to the straw man targets that include Sino-Sri Lankan or Sino-Pan African relations,  is indicative of a new level of intensity in the hybrid infowar against China. If one were to compare the anti-Chinese infowar to a traditional military battle, it could be said that the enemy has pivoted away from targeting the nation’s hinterlands and has dropped bombs on the nation’s capital. Because the Sino-Pakistan relationship has led to the development and growth of CPEC and because CPEC is the central artery of One Belt–One Road, a fake news story indicating that CPEC may be stalled is nothing less than an outright provocation designed to sow discord between two of the world’s longest standing allies.

The ultimate aim of such provocateurs is to isolate China from major east-west trade routes as a “death” of CPEC would mean that with Myanmar in the midst of western provoked conflict and the Strait of Malacca being a de-facto US controlled shipping route – China would effectively be boxed into its own national seas without having an easy route into the Afro-Bengal Ocean.

For Pakistan, the aim of the provocation is to completely isolate the country by cutting off from its economic lifeline to north-east Asia, thus leaving the country surrounded by hostile forces in India and Afghanistan along with a temporarily economically crippled Iran.

The fact that the provocation was placed in a once “respectable” newspaper combined with the fact that the attack on Sino-Pakistan relations is as brazen as it is based on falsehoods is likewise instructive as it indicates that there are no depths to which the western liberal media will not sink in order to attempt and sabotage CPEC. In many ways the Financial Times article in question is even more scandalous than the kinds of things written in Indian media because the staff at the Financial Times would be well aware that due to an unfortunate lingering colonial mentality in south Asia, many Pakistanis would more readily believe a western source than an Indian source even though in the year 2018 they both have near identical agendas.

The conclusion for Pakistanis to reach is that they must be on guard against a perfect storm of anti-Chinese fake news deriving from stories planted by India in Pakistan’s own liberal media as well as stories from western outlets that many Pakistanis still respect. The aim is to isolate Pakistan totally from all of its neighbours and in so doing, leaving the country economically barren and depressed unless Islamabad comes crawling back to a scoffing US on its hands and knees. While Pakistan’s state institutions are well aware of this strategy, the people themselves must be aware of it, as it is the people who are being directly targeted with misinformation which if believed could destroy Pakistan’s best chance of achieving its developmental goals.

By Adam Garrie
Source

PM Khan’s Visit To Saudi Arabia Has Symbolic And CPEC Purposes

The first-ever official overseas trip of Pakistan’s new Prime Minister is to Saudi Arabia, where the South Asian leader plans to reinforce the important message of Islamic solidarity while shrewdly positioning his country to potentially get a better series of financial deals from China.

The Significance Of Saudi Arabia

Prime Minister Khan is in Saudi Arabia during his first-ever official overseas trip, and the media is speculating about the reason why he chose that country over all others to visit first. For starters, these two countries have a long legacy of historical ties with one another, and Pakistan still provides military training to the Arab Kingdom’s military. In fact, its former Chief Of Army Staff Raheel Sharif is the Command-In-Chief of the Saudis’ “Islamic Military Alliance”, a geographically far-reaching platform that’s theoretically supposed to bring together a multitude of countries under Saudi leadership but has in practice failed to fulfil this ambitious goal for a variety of reasons outside of the scope of this analysis. Even so, the point in bringing this up is to draw attention to the influence that Pakistan has within the Kingdom, which also aided by the fact that Saudi Arabia is the largest destination for Overseas Pakistanis (roughly 1,5 million) who are mostly there as guest workers.

There are also other symbolic reasons why Prime Minister Khan travelled to Saudi Arabia, and those have to do with the more obvious ones of religious solidarity when considering that the King is officially regarded as the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. Pakistan’s leader has become very pious at this stage of his life and wants to project the image that he, his new administration, and his country at large follow Islamic principles (ergo why Pakistan is officially an Islamic Republic), so it’s important to reinforce Islamabad’s historic friendship with Riyadh to draw attention to this within the larger international Islamic community (Ummah). Moreover, Pakistan under Prime Minister Khan perceives of itself as one of the Ummah’s current military and future economic leaders. The first-mentioned role is by virtue of its status as the only nuclear-armed Muslim country and global distinction in having the only military that ever defeated Daesh-like terrorism on its own without outside help, while the latter relates to CPEC.

The flagship project of China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) global vision of New Silk Road connectivity is expected to make Pakistan the Zipper of Eurasia and the Convergence of Civilizations, which could in turn transform it into the center of 21st-century geopolitics and the primary engine for realizing the Golden Ring of multipolar Great Powers. So promising are these prospects that Saudi Arabia recently decided to participate in this initiative by making its terminal port of Gwadar an “oil city”, which accordingly makes the Kingdom a stakeholder in the South Asian state’s overall success as well.  This is very important in the current context because Pakistan is facing a looming financial crisis with its balance of payments and is in need of international support to avert a possible crisis. Saudi Arabia’s CPEC-related investments in Gwadar and elsewhere, as well as any loan that the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank could provide, would be especially helpful at this moment in time.

CPEC Won’t Be Reconsidered, But It Could Be Reviewed

With this backdrop in mind, it’s actually quite prudent for Prime Minister Khan to visit Saudi Arabia before any other country because he could ideally obtain financial support or promises thereof which could consequently make his presumable future negotiations with Pakistan’s Chinese strategic partners all the easier. To explain, China will predictably also chip in to help its ally because it has obvious interests in retaining financial stability in its irreplaceable Silk Road partner, but Pakistan would understandably want to ensure that it gets the best deal possible, which is why shoring up support from other sources beforehand is crucial before going to Beijing to negotiate the terms of any forthcoming assistance. Relatedly, Prime Minister Khan’s government might also seek to renegotiate the terms (e.g. repayment period, interest rates) of existing Silk Road deals if a possible review uncovers that his predecessor’s administration agreed to unfavorable ones for corrupt reasons.

To be clear, nothing of the sort has been discovered thus far and Abdul Razzak Dawood, Prime Minister Khan’s advisor on commerce, clarified earlier remarks that were attributed to him by the Financial Times which reported that he wanted to halt the implementation of CPEC projects for one year prior to reviewing and possibly renegotiating them. He said that his statements were taken out of context but didn’t exactly refute the essence of what he supposedly conveyed, which is that a review and renegotiation process could possibly commence but that it wouldn’t involve halting the implementation of CPEC projects or outright scrapping them like the newly (re-)elected government of Malaysia’s Mahathir has already done. What this means in practice is that Pakistan could try to get better terms for the deals that it already signed in order to advance it and China’s collective interests.

China’s Self-Interests In Restructuring The Silk Road

To explain, China isn’t the “greedy neo-colonial land-grabber” that it’s maliciously framed to be through weaponized infowar narratives but instead wants to build a sustainable economic ecosystem along the New Silk Roads in order to function as reliable markets for its overproduced goods, which in turn can allow the People’s Republic to indefinitely continue growing without having to risk the political consequences that might come from an economic slowdown. That’s why China is working to improve the capacity of its partners through infrastructure and commercial investments, free trade deals, and general loans in order to improve their development prospects and correspondingly make them the sort of partner that the country needs. The cumulative effect of these dynamics is supposed to be mutually beneficial for both parties, but in the unexpected event that the Silk Road host and loan recipient has difficulty repaying the assistance that it’s received, then China has every interest in modifying the terms.

China understands that many of its Silk Road projects have very long-term “return on investments” (ROI) that make them the easy target of domestic demagogues (notwithstanding any possible corruption that the host government, whether current or previous, might have been engaged in when agreeing to their terms), so it’s wisest for Beijing to agree to extend their (already sometimes lengthy) loan repayment periods upon request in order to make them easier to service and assist the authorities with deflecting unwarranted criticism. This is especially the case with physical connectivity projects whose benefit consists in qualitatively enhancing the effects of the economy but can’t be immediately seen solely in the context of any single initiative. China already expects that it will take a while for it to recoup the original principal of its loans, so pushing it further back a comfortable period of time like what it’s in the process of doingin Ethiopia isn’t going to radically upset its grand strategy.

In addition, and referring back to the invisible qualitative enhancements that many Silk Road projects have, China invested in many of them not to “make a quick buck” but to lay the basis for an entirely new international economic order that would eventually lead to political changes in the global system by facilitating the transition from unipolarity to multipolarity, so while the profit that could be reaped from interest payments is obviously significant, it’s not a be-all and end-all in itself to stand in the way of China’s grand strategy. If a country has difficulty repaying its loans, it’s better for China to consider providing debt relief in the form of lowering interest rates in order to ensure that its partner retains its macroeconomic stability and pays back at least the principal of what was lent. It could also consider decreasing it beyond that level in exceptional cases in order to retroactively make part of the original loan a grant if circumstances necessitate doing so.

Concluding Thoughts

To return back to Prime Minister Khan choosing Saudi Arabia as his first-ever official overseas trip, the grand Silk Road significance is that it could potentially provide Pakistan with leverage to negotiate more advantageous terms for a forthcoming Chinese loan that would aim to avert its impending balance of payments crisis. Furthermore, the successful clinching of such an agreement through these means could lead to Pakistan possibly renegotiating the terms of existing CPEC deals – but importantly, not halting their implementation or pulling out of them – in order to reach a better win-win arrangement with China in light of the country’s newfound financial circumstances that could make servicing its debts much more difficult than before. China has self-interested reasons pertaining to Pakistan’s irreplaceable geostrategic connectivity role in the New Silk Road that compel it to be flexible in the face of positively responding to Islamabad’s reasonable requests to reconsider some of the terms of its CPEC deals in order to ensure that their repayment isn’t painful.

China didn’t initiate OBOR in order to “conquer territory” and turn its partners into “neo-colonial vassals”, but to simply ensure its own viability as a rising Great Power given the particularity of its export-dependent macroeconomic structure that necessitates securing reliable access to international markets, hence its interest in loaning billions upon billions of dollars in building them up in the first place. Bearing this in mind, the country has every interest in making sure that this end is reached, even if the original means in attempting to do so end up being modified in response to the changed financial conditions in certain Silk Road host countries, which could foreseeably see some of Pakistan’s and other states’ loans restructured as a result. So long as the reasons for doing so are verifiable, as they are in Pakistan’s case (even without any speculative review uncovering evidence of the previous government’s possibly corrupt motives when clinching earlier deals), then there are no rational grounds for China to reject this request.

By Adam Garrie
Source

 

The U.S. Is Scapegoating Pakistan Prior to Possible Anti-CPEC Sanctions

The US military suspended $300 million in aid to Pakistan.

Technically speaking, the US didn’t cut off actual “military aid” in the physical sense that it’s widely perceived to have done but blocked money that “was part of reimbursement for the loss of lives and financial losses that Pakistan suffered while leading the fight against terrorism”, according to a clarification by Pakistan’s new Foreign Minister. In any case, this hostile move is being done in order to advance several interconnected American objectives, the most public being to scapegoat Pakistan for the US’ failures in Afghanistan while the highest-level strategic one is to continue the US’ policy recalibration towards India as its preferred partner in South Asia.

The supposed pretext of Pakistan not doing enough to crack down on terrorist groups is disingenuous because the country doesn’t harbor such forces and has actually been victimized by them over the decades to the tune of over 60,000 martyrs. Nevertheless, the US attempts to weave a semi-“believable” narrative in this regard by pointing to the active cross-border Pashtun community on both sides of the Durand Line, implying that Taliban members simply cross over into Pakistan from Afghanistan in order to seek reprieve from American airstrikes. That’s also not necessarily the case either, and the situation is more complex than such a simplistic storyline would suggest.

No armed militants enter Pakistan through official border crossings, which are among the most secure in the world, though Islamabad can’t realistically screen each and every unarmed person arriving from Afghanistan for Taliban sympathies. As for those that might try to sneak into the country illegally, they’ve found that to be pretty difficult in recent years and it’ll eventually become impossible once the border fence with Afghanistan is completed. Therefore, the whole case that the US is trying to make about Pakistan supposedly “harboring terrorist groups” and “actively aiding” them is false from the get-go and designed to damage the country’s international reputation.

It’s not just for the sake of trying to harm Pakistan’s standing in the world and “virtue signaling” to its new Indian strategic partner that Washington is nastily disengaging from its erstwhile close relationship with Islamabad, but also because it may be preparing the narrative ground for sanctioning its former South Asian ally on supposed “terrorist” grounds that really have everything to do with obstructing CPEC. The US is building the perception that Pakistan is a “terrorist-infested” country in order to “legitimize” what might be a forthcoming comprehensive sanctions campaign against it similar to the one that it’s currently waging against Iran and which it recently began against Turkey.

Expanding the US’ existing economic warfare battlefield in the region to Pakistan would encompass the South Eurasian Rimland portion of the so-called “Greater Middle East” that forms the southern half of the Golden Ring of multipolar Great Powers, which would put severe pressure on this very promising 21st-century geopolitical construction, particularly as it relates to the possibility of imposing “secondary sanctions” against companies that use the Pakistani-transiting CPEC. The whole point is to decrease the economic appeal of this game-changing Silk Road corridor as part of the US’ “containment” strategy against Pakistan and China, though it might unintentionally catalyze the same transregional integrational processes that it’s trying to sabotage.

By Andrew Korybko
Source: Oriental Review

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