CPEC and Resolution of Kashmir Dispute

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By U. K. Dar

Bilateral relations between Pakistan and India revolve around geopolitics of Kashmir and history has taught us that geopolitics is a zero sum game. Kashmir issue is no exception; it has been simmering around for nearly seventy years with no resolution in sight. However, with China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of  China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, in full swing the geopolitics in South Asia is likely to go in the background and geo-economic realities are likely to emerge on the forefront. The region is bound to see an economic growth under multibillion CPEC project and it will have definite impact on Kashmir Dispute.  Since the current phase of “intefadah” that started in the wake of Burhan Wani’s martyrdom in July last year, life in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) is circumscribed between stone pelting, pellet firing, injuries, deaths, curfews and mass arrests. With overwhelming use of lethal force by Indian Armed Forces with the intent to kill, the situation is becoming more volatile. Large number of locals comes out to disrupt the Indian Army’s operation that they launch for arresting the “terrorists” who are perceived as freedom fighters by the public. Various human right organizations have strongly condemned the high handedness approach of Indian Armed forces; tying of a young man as a human shield by Army and indiscriminate use of pellet gun which has blinded  thousands of innocent Kashmiri youths are  two points in case. Such atrocities in IOK stir unrest amongst the population of Azad Kashmir and Pakistan. Unrest in IOK has the potential of becoming a flashpoint of fourth war between two nuclear armed states that would have far reaching consequences. Kashmir is a dispute which is awaiting resolution since Indo-Pak got independence from Great Britain; with Pakistan eager for resolving even with third party intervention but India even refusing to discuss it bilaterally. Thus far, India’s biggest trump card in IOK has been its so- called vibrant democracy because of which she was able to get favourable world opinion. Though, the elections in IOK were always seen to have tainted with widespread rigging but nonetheless Indians were able to sell them as legitimate. However, with the unprecedented and dismal turnout in recent state election in Kashmir, mere 7%, India has lost even the democracy card.  With Indo-Pak relations at rock bottom and talks suspended since long it is difficult to imagine that a bilateral solution of Kashmir is even possible. Nonetheless, the international demand for solving the Kashmir dispute is also growing; with offers from America, Turkey and latest by China to act as  a mediator between India and Pakistan are welcoming signs. American leverage with Pakistan is fast eroding keeping in view the chequered history of mutual relationship. Turkey offer has been rejected by India but refusing China would not be easy for India. China’s interest in the region is enormous; not only because she is a neighbour but also because of CPEC.  As is the case with all investments, investors want stability in the region. So for CPEC to be successful, China will want stability in the region which cannot be achieved without resolving the core issue of Kashmir. Except India, many regional powers are interested in CPEC as well. Russia has shown her interest in becoming part of CPEC. Similarly Iran has shown signs of becoming part of CPEC by trying convincing Pakistan to make Chabahar port as sister port to Gwadar, similarly Afghanistan will be willing to join too because it is a landlocked country. Thus when CPEC will start bearing fruit and becomes economically beneficial, then it will be difficult for India to remain isolated in the region and do not get economic benefits. The collective expectation from CPEC for prosperous Asia is sure to internationalize the core issue of Kashmir and hence force India to resolve it. Policy makers in India need to understand this fact and act accordingly. Mere closing eyes like a pigeon will not solve the problems rather will aggravate the situation.  Top leadership in Pakistan and China has been offering India to become part of CPEC. But India must first step forward and resolve the Kashmir issue. China’s policy until recently has been of restraint and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries while focusing on its economic growth. Now having achieved its target and already the second largest economy in the world and projected to become the largest by 2030 or maybe well before then, China has started to roll out its plan for “new world order”. China’s recent mediation between Myanmar and Bangladesh over Rohingya issue shows her willingness to play her role in resolving conflicts beyond its borders. This is a sure sign that China will be ready to mediate between Pakistan and India for resolving long outstanding Kashmir issue peacefully. In my opinion, CPEC will not only help South Asia become economically strong but also help in building peace and tranquility in the region by resolving the long outstanding Kashmir dispute.  With more economic development in coming years, geo-economics of CPEC will impact geopolitics situation in South Asia.  (U.K. Dar is freelance columnist based in Manchester, UK)