Encouraged by Prime Minister Narendra Modi raising human rights violations in Balochistan by Pakistani, UK-based Baloch protestors demonstrated against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) outside the Chinese embassy in London on August 29. India, too, is opposed to the $46-billion project connecting the port town of Gwadar in Balochistan to Kashgar, China.
On the face of it, Modi's utterances from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15 may have been a political gamble to counter Pakistan's effort to internationalise the Kashmir issue. However, a careful analysis points at a more well-thought-out decision on the part of New Delhi, given that it is also worried about the strategic advantage both China and Pakistan could enjoy once the corridor - with an oil pipeline running alongside it - is complete.
China, in fact, is not only in a hurry to complete the project by mid-2017 to cut logistics cost for its businesses interests in West Asia - estimated at $250 billion, 60 per cent of it in oil - it also plans to build a naval base there to expand its influence across Central and South Asia. Land acquisition for the port and the adjoining special economic zone is complete, and was handed over to China Overseas Port Holding Company for development. Besides, the Silk Road train route from Yiwu to Tehran is complete, bringing China closer to Iran.
The analysis only gains more credibility considering the urgency shown by New Delhi in signing the India-Iran agreement with an investment of $500-million to develop the Chabahar port. Located strategically - 72 km from Gwadar - the port will help India circumvent Pakistan and get direct access to gas-rich Central Asia. India's business interests in the region include pharmaceuticals, automobiles, tools, textile, food processing and farm equipment. It would also like to engage more with the five regional states - Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan - to substantially increase its trade from $1.4 billion. Besides, this route will also be critical for Indian companies to reduce freight costs by 30 per cent on way to Russia and East Europe.
Backing the aspirations of the Balochis could just be the potent weapon India was looking for as part of its multi-pronged offensive to counter Sino-Pakistani aggression - both in terms of regional dominance and trade interests. The Baloch separatist leaders, who had gone into exile to the US, Europe, UK, Thailand and South Africa, have now found a new voice buoyed by Modi's overt support, and will look to openly oppose the CPEC before the international fora, while highlighting the atrocities on their people by Pakistan.
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