The Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa reiterating through a tweet that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is indispensable for his country’s economy is no surprise. What seemed a bit audacious was the new Imran Khan-led dispensation’s decision to set up a committee to re-evaluate the Belt-and-Road initiative, which is said to favour Chinese companies.
To put the Pakistani economy into some shape, Khan was probably entertaining fond hopes of renegotiating the debt burden with the ‘all-weather friend’. He’s obviously been given a message in no uncertain terms. The army, looking for a much bigger part that would help it crawl back into relevance, cannot be bothered about the domestic finances.
The burgeoning Chinese equation with India’s neighbours, especially when such equations become leverage points, has been a cause of unease. For one, it could be an indication that the Chinese encirclement is not just complete, we could be on to the next stage.
But what needs immediate attention is, perhaps, not so much the Pakistani reaffirmation of its commitment towards CPEC. But the fact of Nepal suddenly pulling out of the first Indian initiative for a BIMSTEC military exercise. That too on the grounds of domestic criticism and despite all other BIMSTEC nations participating. Nepal’s reluctance to take part in the military exercise on Indian soil and its readiness to participate in an exercise with the Chinese army does not behove well.
India-Nepal ties clearly need focused, empathetic and urgent diplomatic attention. Beijing may have a larger financial clout, but India’s not-so-stringent soft power too has its own appeal. Maybe that’s what needs to be on display in New Delhi’s interactions with Kathmandu. As PM Modi had pointed out in Davos, India’s aid does not come with strings of debt and high interest rates attached, whether it is to Africa or to the neighbours—this certainly should be played up. Along with a bit of speedy delivery of pending projects.