No room for self-proclaimed, artificially boosted states in South Asia security matrix: Dastgir

ISLAMABAD: Minister for Defence Engr Khurram Dastgir said on Wednesday that in the South Asia security matrix, there was no room for the self-proclaimed and artificially boosted states.

He was addressing at the concluding session of the two-day National Conference ‘Changing Security Situation in South Asia and Development of CPEC’ organised by Islamabad Policy Research Institute and the Hanns Seidel Foundation here at a local hotel.

The minister said that the recently announced US policy on South Asia underscored a greater role for India in Afghanistan and the region, while not acknowledging the exponential contribution, counterterrorism success, and sacrifices of Pakistan for peace and regional stability.

“There are strategic contradictions in the US approach, and most key regional and global players have not supported this declared US policy since it envisages India to be a Net Security Provider in the region.

“Regional security in the 21st Century can only be ensured through relationships and collaborations based on mutual trust and equality,” he added.

He said that South Asia was undergoing an unprecedented transformation due to globalized economic trends and rising interdependencies, wherein the prosperity and stability of one nation would be indivisible from others. “It is home to countries that share much with each other culturally and geographically, but ironically progressing independently rather than in conjunction”, he said.

“The possible reason for limited cooperation lies in deep-rooted historic political differences due to colonial legacies and territorial disputes, which have not allowed the environment of trust to prevail and is being exploited by the extra regional states for their geopolitical interests.”

Khurram Dastgier said that political issues and conflicts had not allowed the strategic and economic interests of the region to take precedence. He said amidst these complex security threats, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as part of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was a significant flagship project, which had gained global attention and had the potential to bring a paradigm shift in the destiny of this entire region. “But here the caveat is that peace amongst the regional countries is a pre-requisite for success of this initiative.”

The success of CPEC, he said hinged on the ability to deal with intricate national security issues, forging national consensus and preventing negative geo-political influences in the region. “Cooperation between Pakistan and China is focused on economic development through connectivity and is not against any other country and seeks to establish and sustain long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationships with the global and regional players,” he added.

Meanwhile, there was unanimous agreement by the conference delegates that China had never changed its stance towards Pakistan and remained steadfast in supporting it at the international level. China’s push to block anti-Pakistan statements in the recent BRICS Declaration is one example of that. It was pointed that the CPEC is offering a development counter-narrative to Balochistan’s grievances, and the Government of Pakistan should involve the local people and engage the country’s young men and women in CPEC projects.

In the session on ‘Regional Security and CPEC’ chaired by Dr. Zafar Iqbal Cheema, ?President and Executive Director, Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), Dr. A. Z. Hilali, Chairman from the University of Peshawar provided a detailed overview of China’s economic development and said that CPEC was a recognition of Pakistan’s strategic location.

Professor Dr. Moonis Ahmar, from the University of Karachi discussed his paper on ‘Development of CPEC: Impact of Regional Cooperation to End Extremism in the Region’. He said that engaging youth in projects covered under CPEC particularly roads, railways, solar and thermal power production would not only enhance their talent and skills, but also utilize their energies in a positive manner.

Dr Khurram Iqbal from the National Defence University in his presentation opined that at the global level, America’s response to CPEC was difficult to read, while the Corridor has made Russia’s access to Warm Waters possible. Within South Asia, Afghanistan is a reluctant supporter of CPEC given its own internal economic imperatives; whereas Bangladesh is playing both sides with Maldives and Nepal supporting the project enthusiastically. He highlighted that India misperceived CPEC because it feared Pakistan might convert her newly acquired wealth into military muscle and obstruct India’s rise.

Discussing ‘CPEC’s Impact on Pakistan-Iran Security and Trade Relations’, Dr. Mohammad Alam Khan from the University of Balochistan said Pakistan had specific security policy for India, whereas Iran felt threatened by Israel and the US. He stressed that Pakistan should invite Iran to join CPEC to minimize the influence of India in the region, especially in Balochistan province, in addition to providing a direct link between China and Iran.

Dr Mohammad Mujeeb Afzal from Quaid-i-Azam University said at the international level, India was pushing its non-violence and neutrality propaganda, while at the regional level, it was the polar opposite.

In his vote of thanks, Ambassador ® Abdul Basit, President of IPRI thanked the participants, media and the delegates for making the conference a success. He appreciated China’s diplomatic support by acknowledging Pakistan as a country on the front lines in the struggle against terrorism and its great sacrifices and contributions in trying to make the region a haven of stability and sustainable development.