CPEC a Long-Term Stabilizing Factor with Regards to Pak India Relations

With an investment of $62 billion through China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan has acquired a significant place in Chinese foreign policy. The Chinese venture of Belt and Road (B&R) Network would positively bring peace, development and stability not just in Pakistan but also in South Asia which is the most under developed region of the world because of the pervasive conflict between Pakistan and India. While the bilateral relationship between Pakistan and China is strengthening continuously, there is an underlying debate going-on on how the two countries’ increasing collaboration will have an impact on the issue of Kashmir as a part of this great initiative as the road that is being constructed is passing through Kashmir which is claimed by India.

India also fears the rise of China through CPEC as paving it’s way of increased military presence in South Asia to besiege India. On the other hand, if we see a long term result of this Belt and Road initiative through the lens of Economic Interdependence then Pakistan’s relations with India through this trade corridor is seen to improve in long-term.

No doubt this cooperation between Pakistan and China pose formidable challenges but a positive scenario is also possible as with a settlement of the Kashmir dispute is possible as India has already signaled in previous negotiations with Pakistan, for example in 2007, that it is willing to accept the status quo in Kashmir. Also, with regard to Pakistan CPEC will gradually inculcate a more economically utilitarian approach in Pakistan that will persuade Pakistan to make economic development as its priority rather than politicizing trade and integration (with India mainly).

With time, effort and some concrete plan for India to join this project, CPEC can act as a catalyser for both Pakistan and India for diffusing regional military rivalry into greater economic cooperation. Also the success of CPEC can be useful in initiating a dialogue process for the resolution of this decades-old dispute between Pakistan and India. If India decides to join the CPEC or even find a way to connect the occupied valley with the economic corridor, the politics of the region would take a new turn. This would lead to increasing engagement between the two sides and help connect people through economic interests.

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is one of the flagship projects of the Belt and Road (B&R) China. This initiative would connect six corridors including CPEC which is meant to interconnect China, South Asia, West Asia, Central Asia, Russia, Middle East, Africa and Europe for a steady flow of trade and investment. This mega venture of China with Pakistan as its main partner is aimed to connect the countries and continents mentioned for trade, investment and exchange of people using the Land as well as the Maritime Silk Road together. All the interconnected regions under this project will carry huge economic benefits for the concerned countries and region.

The project worth US $ 62 billion that will connect the city of Kashghar to Xinjiang with Gwadar port of Pakistan carries immense benefits to trade and energy sector would improve infrastructure. South Asia is also most under-developed region of the world because of the persistent conflict between Pakistan and India on Kashmir issue mainly after the 1947 partition. But this venture can create a possibility of not just brining peace and prosperity in Pakistan but also can pave a way for solving Kashmir issue and brining India and Pakistan on a dialogue table. India should adopt an open minded approach and by joining CPEC it will benefit economically, but it could also allow Pakistan and India to ultimately reach a peace accord on the Kashmir issue. Hence, there are lots of chances for peace to thrive and CPEC can act as a catalyser for resolving this conflict between the two countries.

This project is very cost-effective for China because once the Western route starting from Gilgit-Baltistan is managed and the construction of Gwadar is complete, this distance will reduce from 16000 km to about 5,000 km. To broaden the scope of investment, China also is expected to have an open mind about inviting third parties to join like India who is reluctant to join this venture and is associating great fears with it.

The higher authorities in Pakistan are also keen to bring peace in the region by solving the Kashmir issue as Pakistani Lieutenant General Aamir Riaz of the Southern Command formally asked India to join CPEC, an open project that aims to promote long-term regional development and peace. Two days later, the Chinese Foreign Ministry released a statement querying whether New Delhi would accept the good will offer from Pakistan to become part of the $62 billion project.

China sees South Asia as an economically underdeveloped and conflict-sensitive region that has been stifled by Indo-Pak hostility. China is of the view that the nature of relations between India and Pakistan has inhibited many constructive trilateral or regional dialogue on CPEC, therefore, it has invited India to join the process. It continues to say again and again that CPEC is a long-term vision, with commercial aims only certainly serving Chinese and Pakistani interests, but, over time, those of the region too. South Asia is an underdeveloped region because of the pervasive conflict between Pakistan and India but CPEC can become a game changer by solving this conflict if all the three parties are serious and want peace and prosperity in the whole region. If China and Pakistan are serious about this proposal to add India in this venture then they need to create a space for India to have stakes in the success of CPEC.

India on the other hand has great concerns about CPEC and is apprehensive that it will damage South Asian stability by Indo-Pak rivalry and CPEC developments with much geopolitical suspicion. They also say that it is not economically viable. According to New Delhi the project has two functions, one is that it will lead to civilian-commercial development and second it will pave the way for an increased Chinese military presence in South Asia to besiege India.

The route passes through the disputed Kashmir region that has worried India, which has about half a million troops stationed in its part of the territory to quell more than two decades of armed rebellion. New Delhi is also concerned this road network runs through the disputed territory of Pakistan-administered Kashmir which makes them feel that China has not been sensitive to its vital interests there. Also India is of the view that it should have been consulted in the process as it is also a regional stakeholder.

The CPEC also passes through Gilgit-Baltistan, a region which India claims is part of their territory. India is also not happy over holding of elections in Gilgit-Baltistan by Pakistan, claiming that it is against the disputed nature of the region. Though China has always supported Pakistan over the Kashmir dispute, it wants Pakistan and India to resolve this issue through dialogue. I60 countries have endorsed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor but India has opted an anti-CPEC stance however, many analysts are of the view that it would be beneficial for the entire region of it joins the multi-billion dollar project.

The Gilgit-Baltistan region is a part of Jammu and Kashmir, which was divided between India and Pakistan, and is directly ruled from Islamabad. Pakistan has been deliberating on whether to elevate the constitutional status of northern GB as it holds a pivotal position in this project as it is the ‘gateway to CPEC’. Pakistani government is projecting the CPEC project as a panacea to all its problems, which will result in unprecedented nationwide prosperity.

Observers are of the opinion that the success of CPEC can be useful in initiating a dialogue process for the resolution of this decades-old dispute between Pakistan and India.From a political economy perspective, such a mega project could have a negative impact if there is no peace in the region. But, if dealt smartly, it can go a long way in resolving not only the Kashmir issue but also other disputes in the region. However, this will largely depend on how India reacts to events unfolding in its neighborhood with the mega project as an opportunity for the region to become part of the ancient Silk Route, even before the resolution of the Kashmir issue.

CPEC is going to incur many economic benefits to China, Pakistan, Russia, Central Asia, and other South Asian countries in terms of trade, investment and people to people contact, it is also likely to create a regional environment whereby South Asian countries would be attracted to seek peace based on the incentives of CPEC related economic benefits by joining it.

In this context, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, in support of China, Russia, Central Asian Republics (CARs) and other South Asian countries, might get convinced for seeking peace in the region by resolving the disputes confronting them. In this respect, some indicators are visible. Pakistan wants its economic progress based on CPEC related benefits for which a peaceful environment in the region is necessary. For this purpose, Pakistan wants to contribute in facilitating reconciliation talks in Afghanistan and also wants to resolve the Kashmir dispute by holding a result oriented dialogue with India.

There are a lot of advantages of the CPEC for India as well along with the main partners. It will be much easier for Northern India to develop trade and investment related relations with Afghanistan, Iran, the CARs, Russia, China and even with Europe and vice-versa, although such advantages can be properly exploited only if peace prevails between India and Pakistan and in Afghanistan. Hence it can be expected that in order to exploit CPEC related economic advantages, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan will work for peace in the region by resolving the disputes confronting them.

As far as the CPEC is concerned Pakistan wants that India and Afghanistan should join the CPEC so that these countries and other South Asian countries can benefit from the project. China also wants that India and Afghanistan should join the CPEC. It says that it has floated the CPEC project based on shared destiny and development. China is already working to facilitate a peace process between the Afghan Government and the Taliban and it also wants a resolution of the Kashmir dispute through dialogue between Pakistan and India.

Although there are legal hurdles that block the process of development of reforms in this disputed region. However, once the mega project of CPEC has bolstered up the economy of the region, then the next step can be the socio-political and infrastructural reforms.

Awareness should be spread and media should hold special live dialogues to broaden the positive perspective about CPEC in India as lot of negative narrative is being developed by Indian media about CPEC. Some observers in occupied Kashmir are of the opinion that making Kashmir an entry point to the CPEC may only benefit India. But at the same time they believe that inclusion of India in the mega project can pave the way for resolution of its dispute with Pakistan.

In today’s contemporary world, economic interdependence has surpassed conventional politics which demands that countries put aside issues that hold them back from economic development. Thus it would be wise for all stakeholders to embrace CPEC and the benefits it yields for immediate up-gradation of the living standards of the people in the region. To exploit the economic advantages likely to be generated by the CPEC, South Asian countries should work for building sustainable peace in the region by resolving the disputes confronting them by holding dialogue at bilateral and multilateral forums on priority basis.

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