In a significant development, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India is willing to allocate $1 billion for Afghanistan's development when he met its President Ashraf Ghani in Delhi on Wednesday. Both Modi and Ghani also decided to implement the trilateral agreement between India, Afghanistan, and Iran to use Iran's Chahbahar port.
The deal on the Chahbahar port, which lies in a free trade zone, was signed in May this year. The development of the Chabahar port will offer India alternative access to landlocked Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan. This development, which has the blessings of the US administration, comes amidst reports that China may slow down implementation of the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) because of security concerns.
The corridor linking China's northwest Xinjiang province to Pakistan's Gwadar Port passes through some turbulent regions, including Balochistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Through this corridor, China seeks better access to markets in Central Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. But these columns have previously argued that China’s decision to heavily invest in Pakistan comes at a significant cost to its own internal security.
There have been reports of a growing tide of fighters from its troubled Xinjiang province to jihadist groups in the Middle East and Central Asia. Aside from Islamabad’s duplicitous policy of fulfilling strategic objectives using “non-state actors” in India and Afghanistan, there are fears among the Chinese that Pakistan may prove incapable of protecting its investments.
In a veiled reference to Pakistan, both Modi and Ghani also called upon “the concerned” to “put an end to all sponsorship, support, safe havens and sanctuaries to terrorists including for those who target Afghanistan and India”. Ghani had also recently threatened to block Islamabad’s trade access to the Central Asian States if New Delhi is not made a partner in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA).
In other words, if Pakistan does not open up the Wagah land transit for Afghan imports from India, Kabul could take counter measures. Talks between Afghanistan and Pakistan officials on the trade agreement have often come to a standstill over the issue of trade to India. Kabul has long sought the delivery of Afghan trucks with fruit and dry fruit up to Wagah. In return, Kabul has promised Islamabad that Pakistan would be given transit to Central Asian countries bordering Afghanistan, where a large market exists for Pakistani textiles and agricultural products. But time and again, Pakistan has categorically rejected the demand that India is made a party to its transit trade pact with Kabul, citing Islamabad’s sensitivities on security-related issues. If the Chinese indeed back out of the CPEC, Pakistan will lose all leverage in the region.