Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recently inaugurated five ‘Pakistan-China Friendship Tunnels’ built at the cost of about $275 million to restore a strategic road link to China via Gilgit-Baltistan. The Tunnels are a network of seven-kilometre-long tunnels which restores Karakorum Highway near Attabad lake in Hunza valley. The restoration is said to be linked with the historic $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project which was signed during Chinese president Xi Jinpings visit to Pakistan early this year. The growing Chinese investment in Pakistan has been a source of deep concern for New Delhi. India has protested the investment in Pakistan Administered Kashmir, stating that the territory belongs to it and has been occupied by Pakistan.
But beyond its natural fallout on the India-Pakistan relations and their equation, the Chinese investment in Pakistan is one of the major factors underpinning the ongoing profound geo-political shift in the region. According to an estimate, the money being invested in the country by Beijing is double what Pakistan has received in foreign direct investment since 2008, and larger than any shape of assistance from the US. Throw in Pakistans warming ties with Russia which has already signed a military cooperation agreement with Islamabad, and the situation takes on a far bigger dimension. It shows a new geo-political re-alignment in progress which down the line holds a possibility of Pakistan becoming a part of an emerging China-Russia axis and India becoming a new US lynchpin in Asia. And if this scenario pans out as looks imminent, where does it leave Kashmir, a festering political issue hanging fire for the past 68 years.
As the situation stands, China is becoming more assertive globally. Chinas rise as the global power and the expanding sphere of regional and global influence has made it a natural rival of India, an emerging economic powerhouse. Their interests and global outlooks have drastically diverged in recent years. China is busy building alternative alliances around the world, even in Indias neighbourhood and New Delhi is drawn towards the established western order headed by US. This is a world that is still in the process of forming itself and there is no telling yet what its final shape will be. On Kashmir, Beijings policy more or less mirrors that of Pakistan. In recent years, China has become a conspicuous presence in the Valley discourse through incursions in Ladakh and issuing of stapled visas to Kashmiri citizens visiting China. In past, China has also tried to build some contact with separatists. In 2010, a Chinese NGO Han Foundation had invited the Chairman of the Hurriyat doves Mirwaiz Umar Farooq to visit Beijing, which, however, didnt materialize.
The question is whether Russia in the years to come will also move away from its traditional pro-New Delhi stance on the state. While this hardly guarantees that this will positively contribute to the efforts to resolve Kashmir, the fallout of this transformation on the world and its issues can hardly be lost sight of. Its impact on the nature of the dispute over Kashmir, however, is one of the prospects that Kashmiris will look forward to. The state could again emerge as a scene for a fresh violent confrontation between India and Pakistan. And this will not be happening in a uni-polar world controlled exclusively by US but in a multi-polar world where US is already facing stiff competition from China followed – albeit farther behind – by the likes of Russia, India, Germany and Brazil. In this changing geo-politics, the story of India, Pakistan relations could be different, if only the neighbours manage to get Kashmir issue out of the way by finding an acceptable settlement to the longstanding dispute.
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