CPEC and The 21st Century Convergence of Civilizations
The current century presents a plethora of strategic opportunities for Pakistan, provided that Islamabad knows how to pluck the low-hanging fruit and take the initiative. The steady development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is making the country ever more attractive for a wide variety of international partners, some of which have traditionally been aligned with Pakistan, and others which are entirely new and unprecedented. No matter which of the two categories these states fall under, it’s evident that they’re all interested in taking advantage of this game-changing series of infrastructure projects.
Never before has China had a reliable overland trade corridor to the Indian Ocean, and this in turn opens up a wide range of options for the People’s Republic and its economic partners. Moreover, the eventual completion of CPEC will allow Russia and the landlocked states of Central Asia to more easily conduct commerce with the broader Indian Ocean Region, thereby leading to the creation of previously uncharted trade routes which will invigorate each set of partners and profit the irreplaceable transit state of Pakistan. In terms of the bigger picture, each crisscrossing network of economic connections in one way or another is expected to pass through Pakistan by means of CPEC, thereby empowering Islamabad to leverage its crucial geostrategic position in pursuit of its national interests.
The convergence of so many diverse civilizational actors – including Europeans, Russians, Turks, Arabs, Iranians, Chinese, and Africans – in one state is made possible by Beijing’s One Belt One Road vision of global connectivity as manifested through CPEC, and it accordingly allows for Pakistan to mediate over a dialogue of civilizations in the 21st century. This is a pivotal role of the utmost importance and highest responsibility, and it has the very real potential of transforming Pakistan from a regional leader to a hemispheric Great Power within the next decade. This analysis will thus explore the way in which this grand strategy can be actualized, sequentially describing the overall concept, the various civilizational-connectivity channels, and the challenges that Pakistan can expect to face.
The economic attractiveness of CPEC serves as an irresistible magnet for all sorts of various actors to utilize its infrastructural connectivity in facilitating their trade objectives, whether it’s enhancing bilateral trade with China such as the EU, Mideast, and African states may naturally be interested in, or in acquiring a convenient outlet to the Indian Ocean such as what Russia and the Central Asian republics desire. The convergence of so many civilizational forces in Pakistan will propel the South Asian state to worldwide importance by gifting its leaders with the impressive potential to serve as the common middle ground between each of them, both literally in terms of CPEC connectivity and figuratively as it relates to the broader dialogue of civilizations concept.
The latter objective is wholly dependent on the former, meaning that Pakistan is unlikely to bring together a wide array of hemispheric interests and actors if the CPEC project isn’t completed or is severely undermined after the fact. Conversely, the completion of CPEC will enable Pakistan to do just that, which thus propels the country’s significance to global heights. The second and largest part of this research will describe the different connectivity channels that CPEC opens up between Pakistan and the rest of Afro-Eurasia, but at this point a lot more needs to be said about the grand strategy behind this exciting endeavor.
Once CPEC becomes fully operational, Pakistan will unofficially become China’s most important gateway to the rest of the world. Although the People’s Republic currently engages in a staggering amount of trade with each of its countless partners, the vast majority of this is conducted via maritime routes which traverse the bottlenecked chokepoint of the Strait of Malacca and the contentious waters of the South China Sea, both of which are uncomfortably vulnerable to an American blockade or similar sort of interference in the event of a conflict between the two Great Powers. It’s mostly for this reason and due to the foresight of Chinese strategists that Beijing decided to pioneer an overland trade route to the Indian Ocean through CPEC, relying on its decades-long and all-weather friendship with Pakistan in order to make this a reality.
Upon completion, CPEC will make Pakistan the most reliable, cost-effective, and fastest route for carrying out trade with China. It’s a much shorter voyage for ships to travel to Gwadar than it is to Guangzhou, and once goods are unloaded at the Arabian Sea port, they can quickly be spirited northwards to the Chinese border and enter the People’s Republic in record time. By cutting days off of the journey and avoiding the possibility of unwanted American naval interference, CPEC is a priceless gift to each of China’s partners and is expected to become one of the most widely utilized overland trade routes in the world. As CPEC becomes more popular, Pakistan naturally becomes more important, and this provides the country with the chance to take on expanded leadership responsibilities in Afro-Eurasia.
Understanding that international trade facilitation between China and each of its partners will become the backbone of Pakistan’s future strategic significance to the rest of the world, the government should take the initiative to host CPEC trade fairs in Gwadar as a means of showcasing its newfound logistical importance. These gatherings could be jointly organized by Pakistan and China’s relevant ministries, and they’d serve the purpose of incentivizing more companies to use this route as additional infrastructure comes online to make it more attractive. Hand in hand with promoting CPEC, Pakistan could also work on an ambitious public relations campaign to rebrand its image by associating itself more closely with this project. If done properly, then this could dramatically reverse the soft power losses that Pakistan suffered across the past two decades when the Western Mainstream Media relentlessly waged information warfare against the country.
It’s crucial that Pakistan takes urgent and visible steps to debunk the foreign-imposed stereotypes that the country is an “exporter of terrorism” and “horrifyingly unsafe”, since this false narrative is a powerful deterrent to the development of enhanced trade ties. With this in mind, it’s advisable that CPEC trade fairs be bolstered by complementary political and socio-cultural forums, events, and conferences that highlight the recent advances in Pakistan’s domestic stability and raise awareness about its civilizational connectivity potential in promoting a multilateral dialogue of peace with each of its partners. Thought leaders (think tank experts, analysts, etc.), journalists, government officials, and civil society representatives from all across Europe, Russia, Central Asia, the Mideast, East Africa, and China should be invited to attend these gatherings in order to network with one another and learn how Pakistan is becoming synonymous with CPEC, peace, and prosperity.
The ideal goal should be for Gwadar to host regular trade fairs and socio-cultural events which culminate in a big-ticket yearly meeting akin in esteemed importance to the Shangri-La Dialogue, except focusing on participation from each of the aforementioned regional actors most likely to partake in CPEC. Given the overt economic focus of CPEC, this prospective headline-grabbing meeting could market itself on bringing together distinguished representatives from relevant institutional actors such as the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), the EU, the Eurasian Union, GCC, SAARC, the East African Community, and other ‘non-aligned’ forces such as China, Iran, and Ethiopia, for example. Building off of the common denominator of multilateral trade facilitation through CPEC, the attendees at the “Gwadar Gathering” could then expand upon the subject of conversation to more broadly include security, civilizational, and strategic topics as well, which could thus allow for non-CPEC-participating countries such as India and the US to also take part in this meeting.
What Pakistan is aiming for is to become one of the centers of the emerging Multipolar World Order, taking advantage of the limitless benefits afforded by CPEC to transform itself from a regional leader to an actor of hemispheric and even global importance. It can only do this by promoting itself as the neutral and well-trusted point of convergence between a variety of different economic actors, which correspondingly enables it to broaden its relevance to the world by highlighting how it could serve as a bridge in connecting each of their larger multilateral interests. There has yet to be (and may very well never be) another state capable of bringing together as diverse of a set of partners as Pakistan can through CPEC, since no other country is as relevant to the collective long-term economic prospects of Europe, Russia, Central Asia, the Mideast, East Africa, and China. Consequently, Islamabad should seize the moment by proactively informing each of its current and prospective partners about the win-win future that awaits them through CPEC, as well as explaining how this directly correlates with their respective grand strategic interests.
Paying special attention to the leading multipolar Eurasian Great Powers of Russia and China, their partnerships with Pakistan fulfill an indispensable soft power role for each of them by serving as a powerful bridgehead to wider engagement with the global Islamic community. Unrecognized by most casual observers, Pakistan is indeed the most powerful Muslim country in the world because of the combination of its nuclear weapons arsenal, enormous conventional military capabilities, provably effective counter-terrorist forces, large population, and the fastest-growing Muslim economy, all of which are going to be greatly augmented by Pakistan’s new global geostrategic position vis-à-vis CPEC. Furthermore, Pakistan is neutral in the American-provoked sectarian wars in the Mideast, having the second-largest Shiite population behind neighboring Iran yet also enjoying very fruitful relations with Saudi Arabia, which thus places it in the enviable and rare position of being trusted by both “sides”. Because of this, Moscow and Beijing’s productive relations with Islamabad reverberate all across the wider “Ummah” and leave a favorable impression in the minds of most Muslims.
It goes without saying that this intangible ‘civilizational credence’ is crucially significant nowadays in order to stem off the US’ divide-and-rule scheme for engineering a ‘clash of civilizations’ to divide the Eastern Hemisphere, ergo the related need for Pakistan to use CPEC as a springboard for encouraging a dialogue about the imminent convergence of civilizations across its territory during a prospective “Gwadar Gathering”. The respected credibility and long-established trust that Pakistan has earned among the global Muslim community can go a long way in helping Russia and China deepen their socio-economic engagements across the Mideast and East Africa. In fact, their relationships with Pakistan could eventually become the model for other Muslim countries’ ties with these two states and accordingly serve as the gateway for strategically broadening these Great Powers’ presence in these regions, with Islamabad cementing the progress that Moscow and Beijing have already made in this regard and ultimately complementing their grand strategies.
As it was stipulated earlier in the research, the convergence of civilizations and all of the aforementioned concepts are entirely dependent on the multilateral connectivity potential of CPEC, particularly in terms of how it relates to successfully attracting European, Russian, Central Asian, Mideast, East African, and Chinese trade across Pakistani territory. This is the essential prerequisite which must be met in order for Islamabad to proceed with its 21st-century plans to become a globally relevant Great Power all across the Eastern Hemisphere. Because of how intimately the country’s future is tied to CPEC, and keeping in mind the earlier suggestion that Pakistan rebrand itself to more closely affiliate its international image with this project, the following list elaborates on some of the bilateral CPEC relationships that Islamabad should promote as soon as possible, all of which if actualized would collectively contribute to the convergence of civilizations and consequent multipolar stability:
The initial purpose behind CPEC was to provide China with a reliable overland access route to the Indian Ocean by means of its close Pakistani ally, thereby easing the physical, financial, and strategic costs of trade with its European, Mideast, and East African partners per the reasons that were discussed at the beginning of this analysis. CPEC has been developing at a very fast pace, especially the work that’s been done in Gwadar, and the project is already operational despite not being fully completed. As it stands, this is the first of China’s many Silk Road projects to be open for business, even if it’s only partially online at the moment. The reason why this is so important to draw attention to is because Beijing hopes to eventually construct two additional mainland trade routes across Eurasia in order to link the People’s Republic more directly with its European, Russian, and Mideast partners. These are the Eurasian Land Bridge across Russia and an envisioned high-speed railroad across Central Asia to Iran and inevitably to Turkey and further afield to the EU (via the Balkans).
Neither of these has made as much progress as the One Belt One Road’s flagship project of CPEC, and there’s no telling when they’ll ever be fully constructed. The Eurasian Land Bridge is the most spoken about and seriously considered of the two trans-continental routes under consideration, but even this landmark effort of the Russian-Chinese Strategic Partnership is still far from becoming a reality anytime soon. Moreover, both the Eurasian Land Bridge and the prospective Rimland Railroad between China and the EU (by means of Iran, Turkey, and the Balkans) are fraught with significant Hybrid War risks and political sensitivities in the era of the New Cold War, and a multitude of scenarios could arise whereby these routes are either ultimately unconstructed, rendered inoperable, and/or anxiously avoided for one reason or another. With this in mind, there’s no doubt that CPEC will remain the premier New Silk Road project for the foreseeable future, and in the absence of large-scale trading across the Northern Sea Route (which itself is dependent on unpredictable environmental and political conditions), it might even be the only feasible non-Malacca maritime trade route to China for its Eastern Hemispheric partners.
Conceptually speaking, CPEC can be likened to the jugular vein of Afro-Eurasian integration, and it’s expected to be a vital driving force of the emerging Multipolar World Order. At the same time, however, the project’s unrivaled geostrategic significance makes it an irresistible target of subterfuge, which will be touched upon in the third and final section of this research. This is important to keep in mind as all of the subsequent CPEC connectivity channels and resultant convergence of civilizations would disappear if the endeavor itself was put into serious jeopardy by joint US-Indian covert efforts. Therefore, whether it’s consciously recognized or not at this time, the long-term viability of the EU, Mideast, and East Africa’s trade with China is in danger if Washington and New Delhi ramp up their destabilization efforts against Pakistan. This is a highly sensitive political point which may not ever be publicly stated but must nevertheless be discretely conveyed to each of these stakeholders sooner than later so that they can properly comprehend the risks that their American and Indian ‘partners’ are irresponsibly creating for them. The same goes for Russia and Central Asia, which obviously wouldn’t use CPEC to further their trade with adjacent China, but rather to gain direct access to the wider Indian Ocean Region marketplace.
The EU is one of China’s largest trading partners and vice-versa, so it can be confidently anticipated that CPEC will eventually be used to conduct a large amount of bilateral trade between them. It was already discussed how this route reduces the physical, financial, and strategic costs of commerce between these two, and as Pakistan successfully rebrands its national image and more of CPEC’s infrastructural projects come online, it’s expected that European and Chinese companies will come to increasingly rely on this geographically pivotal vector of their relationship. Although an increasing amount of trans-continental overland trade will inevitably be conducted across the Eurasian Land Bridge and Rimland Railroad, neither project is expected to enter into full operation anytime soon, and even when they do, Hybrid War risks and political sensitivities might render them inoperable or make certain states avoid them.
Being the prudent long-term strategists that they are, the Chinese aren’t taking any chances by assuming that either of these two projects will ever replace the EU’s maritime trade with the People’s Republic, which explains why Beijing bought the Greek port of Piraeus (one of the largest in Europe) and is constructing the Balkan Silk Road high-speed rail route from the Mediterranean to Central and Eastern Europe. The intention behind this initiative is to allow China to conveniently trade with these regions via a newly charted southern access route as opposed to having to lengthily circumnavigate the European peninsula and offload goods to them from the Baltic Sea. Beijing wouldn’t be pursuing the Balkan Silk Road if it had full confidence that the Eurasian Land Bridge would mostly replace the EU’s maritime trade with China, so the very fact that the given project is in existence and progressively moving forward should be taken as a sign that China expects more of its EU trade to transit through CPEC instead.
To explain a little bit more in case the reader doesn’t follow, all maritime trade between the EU and China is greatly assisted by CPEC because of the comparatively lesser physical, financial, and strategic costs that it entails as compared to the circuitously longer route through the bottlenecked chokepoint of the Strait of Malacca and the contentious South China Sea. Just like the Eurasian Land Bridge won’t ever fully replace the EU’s maritime trade with China, so too will CPEC never fully replace this mode of trade’s historic reliance on the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea. Rather, the Pakistani-traversing project offers an alternative route to China which is less susceptible to external interference, while ironically remaining just as dependent on the Suez Canals and Bab El Mandeb. However, the key difference between these western chokepoints and their eastern counterparts is that they’re controlled by Egypt and the GCC, respectively, both of which are on very friendly terms with Pakistan and China, which makes it considerably less likely that they’ll agree to go along with the US’ geopolitical blackmail against either.
The next connectivity channel which will be discussed should be divided into Iranian and non-Iranian halves due to several important geographic and strategic differences. Turkey and the Levantine countries could conduct their trade with China just like the Europeans do through the Mediterranean, Suez Canals, and Bab El Mandeb en route to CPEC. If the geopolitical situation allows them to, however, they could also transport their goods overland through Iraq and onwards to the Persian Gulf, from where they could then trade with China just like most of the Gulf Kingdoms do by crossing the Strait of Hormuz and accessing CPEC. The UAE, Oman, and Yemen importantly avoid any of these three chokepoints by having direct maritime connectivity to CPEC, thus giving them the highest degree of flexibility in trading with China and potentially positioning them to function as alternative overland ‘detours’ in the event that the bottlenecks become unpassable.
Iran is in a somewhat interesting place by theoretically having three potential avenues for conducting trade with China. All of the country’s ports except for Chabahar are in the Persian Gulf and thus dependent on the Strait of Hormuz chokepoint. As for the far eastern port in the province of Sistan and Baluchestan, it’s relatively underdeveloped despite India’s commitment to modernize it as part of its ambitious efforts to streamline the so-called North-South Corridor. Chabahar also remains largely disconnected from the rest of Iran’s road and rail networks, making it very difficult for the country to rely on it in times of dire need. Similarly, because of Chabahar’s distance relative to the rest of the country and its economic heartland, it’s unlikely that Iran will properly utilize the commercial possibilities of the neighboring CPEC port of Gwadar anytime soon, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that Tehran’s participation in the project should be ruled out. Iran recently expressed interest in CPEC, and it’s possible that if India follows through on its promises and helps to develop this corner of the country, that it could inadvertently allow Iran to strengthen its connectivity with CPEC.
This is very important because Iran can’t rely on the Rimland Railroad which has yet to even materialize into a concrete proposal, and even if it ever does, Central Asia will always remain a Hybrid War hotspot. Furthermore, although there’s already a roundabout rail route connecting Iran with China via the peripheries of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, it’s not economically dependable at this time and is also much longer than simply shipping goods from the country’s western economic heartland across the Persian Gulf to Gwadar and then northwards to China. It’ll take a lot of time before the Rimland Railway becomes a practical option for Chinese-Iranian bilateral trade, so in the meantime, Iran might just have to depend on either entirely maritime routes to China or the shortcut through CPEC. At this point, it’s pertinent to talk about the CPEC-Iran channel and how it could reasonably develop in the future.
It was already written how Iran is unlikely to achieve large-scale direct mainland connection to CPEC due to its infrastructure shortcomings in Sistan and Baluchestan province, so this begs the question of what other types of connectivity are available aside from sailing across the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz to Gwadar. Readers should be made aware that the bulk of Iranian-Chinese trade is through energy resources, and that it’s in this sphere where Tehran could potentially be most useful for CPEC. A $2 billion partially-Chinese-financed Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is already under construction which will one day transport gas across Gwadar and to Nawabshah, from where it’ll then enter Pakistan’s internal gas distribution network and help power the rest of the country. Interestingly, Russia is also involved in constructing the $2 billion North-South gas pipeline from Karachi to Lahore which will enable Pakistan to import LNG in the future. Taken together and prognosticating the best-case scenario, there’s a chance that Russia and Iran could be convinced to put aside their undeclared energy rivalry and cooperate in helping to bring Gulf gas to China via Pakistan.
For example, following the eventual completion of the Iran-Pakistan and North-South gas pipelines, these successful confidence-building projects could be used as the launching pad for a grander multilateral connectivity initiative aimed at more closely integrating Russia, China, Pakistan, and Iran. Russia, with its globally renowned professional expertise in the gas sector, could modernize and develop an expanded CPEC-parallel pipeline for shipping Iranian gas to China. There’s a lot of technical planning that would be involved with this and it probably wouldn’t see the light of day until midway through the next decade at the absolute earliest, but it’s a promising idea which should at the very least be casually entertained by the expert and professional communities in case it becomes viably attractive in the future. As the 21st century steadily becomes characterized by Eurasian integration, it’s only a matter of time before this proposal is seriously looked at as a logical way to expand upon CPEC and deepen Iranian-Chinese relations, with the collateral benefit being that Russia and Pakistan could also draw even closer as well.
China’s commercial relations with East Africa are taking on a heightened importance in the early 21st century, representing the most dependable way for the People’s Republic to deal with its overcapacity and thus sustain domestic economic growth and social stability. Contrary to what many Western pundits have alleged, China’s investments in Africa are no longer just one-sided cash-for-resource agreements, but part of a mutually beneficial development partnership whereby Beijing is sincerely committed to seeing its counterparts flourish and prosper. China needs African markets just like Africa needs Chinese infrastructural investments, and this win-win arrangement makes for a perfect match between the two partners. The author extensively explored the nature of Chinese-African relations in his ongoing Hybrid War series at Oriental Review, and the reader is strongly encouraged to reference it for additional detailed information about the nuances of this under-discussed partnership.
As the most generalized summary which can be topically offered in this context, China is constructing four ultra-strategic infrastructure corridors along the eastern part of the continent which could directly link up with CPEC after their cross-oceanic journey to Gwadar. From north to south, these are the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway; the LAPSSET Corridor between Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Kenya; the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) across Kenya and Uganda; and the Central Corridor (CC) from Tanzania to Rwanda and Burundi. Additionally, there’s also the 1970s legacy project of the TAZARA railway which has recently been modernized and connects the coastal country to its landlocked and copper-rich neighbor of Zambia. It should also be said the SGR, CC, and TAZARA have the very real possibility of laying the foundation for an interoceanic North and South Trans-African Railway bridging the continent’s Indian and Atlantic coasts.
Regardless of how far China’s infrastructure projects go in penetrating the heart of Africa and beyond, it’s indisputable that trade between the two is always growing and will figure ever more prominently in Beijing’s strategic calculus. Due to physical constraints, all bilateral trade must cross the Indian Ocean for some length of distance or another, so it only makes sense that this will be expedited via CPEC and its conveniently located northern oceanic port of Gwadar. In terms of the bigger picture, this means that Pakistan is poised to become the geographic interface through which Chinese-African trade is conducted, which could thus make Islamabad a future player in East African affairs. Being the most powerful Muslim country and the origin of some British-era colonial descendants, Pakistan can leverage its religious and ethnic links along the majority-Muslim East African coast in order to prospect new networking and investment opportunities that simultaneously work out to its own and China’s strategic benefit through the overlapping complementarities of Islamabad’s outreach programs and Beijing’s One Belt One Road vision.
The last CPEC channel to be discussed is that between Pakistan and its northern partners in Russia and Central Asia. Moscow and its regional allies obviously don’t need to go through Pakistan in order to trade with China, but they do need to utilize CPEC if they are to gain market access to East Africa, South Asia, and ASEAN. Russia doesn’t currently have many economic interests in Africa, but its government is keen to develop the country’s commercial ties with India and ASEAN, neither of which are exclusively dependent on CPEC but could be greatly assisted by it. In connection with this, Russia could potentially access Pakistan via the narrow border that it shares with China between Altai and Xinjiang, through which Moscow is already countenancing the possibility of energy and water pipelines. If Russian decision makers continue to pay attention to this strategic corridor, then it’s likely that they’ll eventually realize that it could also be used for connecting Siberia to the Indian Ocean by means of CPEC and thus facilitating the country’s trade with India and ASEAN.
However, due to India’s jealous jingoism, Moscow can’t openly declare its eagerness to utilize CPEC, hence why it must resort to a curious diplomatic game of denying any official interest or investment in the project, but at the same time remaining silent about the likelihood of private Russian companies using this apolitical infrastructure network. There’s of course no way that Moscow could or ever would prohibit its private citizens and business entities from transporting their goods across CPEC, so India’s obsessive efforts to prevent Russia from using it will inevitably be in vain. Nevertheless, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs must still play along with India and officially deny that Moscow is involved in CPEC, which is technically the truth because the government itself has no part in it, though the same obviously can’t be said for its private citizens once the project is fully operational and potentially linked to Siberia by means of the Altai-Xinjiang Corridor.
As for the Central Asian republics, they’re not under any such diplomatic pressure to publicly distance themselves from CPEC, and it’s very likely that they’ll take advantage of this project in order to achieve access to the wider global economy and the valuable marketplaces of East Africa, South Asia, and ASEAN. Additionally, CPEC could also potentially open up another avenue for Central Asian-EU trade, as well as commercial interactions with the Mideast, so it’s improbable that the landlocked countries will avoid using it. Even so, India isn’t giving up and has its own ambitions to connect with Central Asia through an overland route across Iran which would serve as an outgrowth of the North-South Corridor, though remembering just how far behind New Delhi is in tangibly actualizing this, one shouldn’t get their hopes up that it will happen anytime soon. Given the Central Asian countries’ close relationship with China, there’s a greater likelihood that they’d defer to using CPEC as opposed to the North-South Corridor for conducting their extra-regional trade, though the latter could still be exploited one day to uncontrollably push Indian goods onto their markets in a desperate bid to displace China’s influence.
Absent any external inference, all of the abovementioned scenarios and connectivity channels would likely develop as expected, but appreciating just how significant CPEC is to the emerging Multipolar World Order and the 21st century in general, there’s no way that the US and India will passively stand by and allow any of this to happen if they can help it. After all, CPEC is the umbilical cord of China’s sustained economic integration with most of the Eastern Hemisphere, and snipping it would deal a death blow to Beijing’s future leadership plans. It’s for this reason why the US-Indian Strategic Partnership is scoping out CPEC and probing its most likely vulnerabilities to exploit, though they’re aware that they must tread carefully and act indirectly since they’d otherwise risk provoking a wider war which could quickly go nuclear if they decided to conventionally attack.
Barring a suicidal “surgical strike” campaign by India or an unthinkable “limited intervention” aimed at cutting CPEC in half through Gilgit-Baltistan (both of which might frighteningly seem attractive to the pro-American Hindutva extremists currently running New Delhi at the moment), the US and India will resort to operating through proxies in order to achieve their grand strategic objective of sabotaging this project. It’s unrealistic to think that either of them could fully stop CPEC at this point, but what they intend to do is raise the economic and security costs of doing business by spiking fears about the route’s safety and thereby scaring away potential companies which might otherwise be eager to utilize this strategic shortcut to China. Pakistan and China are closely cooperating on ensuring CPEC’s security, but it’s impossible for every inch of this network to be under surveillance and control at every single second, and it’s bound that some attacks will be launched against it with time.
What the American and Indian intelligence agencies are depending on is that they can succeed in stirring up enough domestic political disturbances inside of Pakistan that the military is unable to totally commit to protecting CPEC due to much more urgent and immediately prioritized problems, such as dealing with a Color Revolution outbreak in the country’s main cities for example. Concurrent with this, unconventional warfare operatives could provoke violence in Balochistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) using their in-country proxies and Afghan-based terrorists. This was briefly discussed in the author’s end-of-the-year radio commentary and 2017 analytical forecast for South Asia, and it’s an emerging trend which has been warned about for some time but which will acquire imminence as CPEC becomes an ever more prominent vehicle for promoting multipolarity in Afro-Eurasia.
This isn’t to say that every destabilization scenario will succeed or that they’ll play out simultaneously, but just that the risk is evidently there and it’s clear that this warning encapsulates the most likely range of unconventional instruments which the US-Indian Strategic Partnership could conceivably muster in trying to disrupt CPEC. Having said that, Pakistan is stronger than ever before after having finally beaten back the terrorist insurgencies which plagued the country all throughout the first decade of the millennium, and it’s thus more than capable of preemptively dealing with any of these eventualities, to say nothing of properly responding to them after the fact. Despite that, it’s always useful to keep the most probable threats facing one’s country in mind in order to remain alert at all times and mentally conditioned for tackling any trouble the moment that it arises, which is why it’s necessary to discuss the various dangers facing CPEC so as to never be caught off guard in case they materialize.
CPEC is the cornerstone of China’s One Belt One Road global vision of infrastructure connectivity and its conception of 21st-century multipolarity, and it’s not an exaggeration to state that it’s one of the most important game-changing projects to ever be attempted in history. Even looking solely at its bilateral Chinese-Pakistani implications, CPEC is an historic expansion of Beijing’s influence into South Asia and an unprecedented direct gateway to the broader Indian Ocean Region. It essentially nullifies the strategic utility of the US’ “Pivot to Asia” by reducing China’s dependency on the South China Sea and Strait of Malacca, both of which Washington has feverishly tried to turn into geopolitical traps for blackmailing Beijing. Proverbially speaking, all of that meticulous planning and billions of dollars of military-strategic investments could go out the window with CPEC, which is why Washington is so furious with the project and decided to team up with New Delhi – which is equally aggravated for its own hyper-nationalist reasons – to try and undermine this corridor through the unconventional means of proxy warfare.
All of this is being done because of the immediate impact that CPEC has on strengthening Chinese-Pakistani relations and Beijing’s strategic presence in the Indian Ocean Region, but the US and India also have more far-reaching goals in mind. It’s clear that CPEC’s full completion will propel Pakistan into becoming the most important transit state in the world due to its role in facilitating China’s trade with the EU, Mideast, and East Africa, as well as Russia and the Central Asian republics’ trade with the “Global South”. As such, a diverse variety of civilizational representatives and interests will be traversing across Pakistan, thereby making the country the focal point for the convergence of civilizations in the 21st century. No other place in the world is poised to fulfill such a role on the level that Pakistan is, as it’s truly becoming the zipper not just of pan-Eurasian integration, but of Afro-Eurasian integration as well due to the functionality that CPEC will have in enhancing Chinese-African trade.
If properly utilized, the coming years can become a godsend for Pakistan by assisting in its transformation from a regional leader to a hemispheric and potentially even globally influential Great Power, provided of course that Islamabad is keen enough to promote the convergence of civilizations which is destined to take place on its territory. No other state except for Russia comes close to matching Pakistan’s capabilities in managing a dialogue of civilizations, as Moscow lacks the positive historic relations with the Mideast and East Africa that Islamabad has, though it admittedly makes up for it with its long-held ties to Europe and Central Asia. However, while Russia has certainly become a powerful force in the Mideast over the past couple of years and especially through its recent Tripartite partnership with Turkey and Iran, it’s a one-way street in the sense that Moscow’s influence is entering the region but not the other way around (although that’s not necessarily a bad thing), and it still has yet to revive its Soviet-era ties with Africa (if ever).
On the other hand, although Pakistan doesn’t immediately seem to have much in common nowadays with the EU, Russia, and Central Asia, these three regions will naturally be drawn to it by virtue of Pakistan’s strategic geography through CPEC, thereby bringing their representatives and interests into contact with those from China, the Mideast, and East Africa. The brilliance behind Beijing’s project is that it basically serves as a convenient 21st-century superhighway for facilitating trade between the rest of the world and China, which translates in practical terms to Pakistan becoming the geographic bridge economically connecting these civilizations together. Such a role is inordinately important in the emerging Multipolar World Order and serves the purpose of sustaining a peaceful dialogue of civilizations amidst what will expectedly be an era of American-driven identity conflict (Hybrid Wars) aimed at preventing the integration of Afro-Eurasia. Pakistan is thereby endowed with unparalleled responsibility in making sure that these plans don’t succeed, but for this to happen, its decision makers must fully grasp the global and historic geostrategic significance of their country in taking the lead to promote the converge of civilizations.
By Andrew Korybko