CPEC and Kashmir

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The high-profile Belt and Road Forum in Beijing was attended by leaders of 29 countries as India boycotted the summit over the concern of territorial integrity, objecting to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor passing through Gilgit-Baltistan which India considers its territory. The spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs Gopal Bagalay said that “no country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity”. Though China and Pakistan have invited India to be a part of the Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), New Delhi wants such participation on its own terms. However, China and Pakistan continue to seek India’s entry. Speaking at BRF, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that the CPEC should not be politicized. Chinese President Xi Jinping said that the sovereignty that “all countries should respect each other’s sovereignty and territorial intergrity”.      

The BRI has come a long way since it originated from two speeches by President Jinping in Central Asia in 2013 in which he outlined plans for China’s global outreach through connectivity and infrastructure development. The mega road and infrastructure initiative includes land corridors from China through Central Asia and Russia to Europe with spurs to West Asia and to Pakistan — the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).  The project is blend of economic, developmental, strategic and geopolitical motives, the most ambitious global infrastructure project ever envisaged by one country.

In Kashmir the project  has drawn a lot of attention for its potential to help in resolution of Kashmir.   In March, even a seminar titled ‘Impact of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in Kashmir’ was organized in Srinagar by the newly floated think tank The Kashmir Institute.  Andrew Small,  the well-known author of  China-Pakistan axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics, addressed the seminar on Skype.  Small predicted that the CPEC will have very consequential impact on the overall framework of India-Pakistan relations, and China’s role in these disputes and equities that it has in these disputes.

The seminar was the first attempt in Kashmir to get Kashmiris thinking about the potential impact of the CPEC on the state and the lingering conflict over it.  The growing public interest in Valley in the 46 billion dollar project is the result of the collective expectation that it will introduce new geo-political factors which  in the short or long term will force the resolution of Kashmir.

Already,  the new factors  being unleashed by the project are straining existing geo-politics of the region. Islamabad is mulling the grant of statehood to Gilgit-Baltistan following China’s alleged insistence for a legal cover to its investment in the disputed region, a part of J&K claimed by India as a part of its territory. New Delhi has already objected to foreign investment in Gilgit-Baltistan, an entry point for CPEC, which has further complicated the situation for Beijing.

But in doing so, Islamabad faces opposition not only from New Delhi but also from Kashmiri separatists.  After New Delhi termed “entirely unacceptable” the attempt by Pakistan to declare Gilgit-Baltistan its fifth province, a joint Hurriyat statement used more or less the same wording to caution Pakistan against any such move.

 However, for now, we are only witnessing the beginnings of this global scale project. And we can only hope that in the long term it leads to an integrated South Asia which in turn helps create conditions for a permanent resolution of Kashmir.

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