Leaders of the business community of Kashmir are keen to become part of the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The under-construction $46 billion economic corridor that is being built on Kashmir’s borders in Pakistan aims to connect Gwadar Port in southwestern Pakistan with Xinjiang in western China. The project is a collection of various infrastructure and energy projects, and includes the establishment of special economic zones in the region.
Chairman of Kashmir Economic Alliance (KEA) Mohammad Yasin Khan told Kashmir Reader that the business community of Kashmir has suffered huge losses in recent years and the CPEC provides an opportunity to restart economic growth.
“The project is being constructed in our neighbourhood, so ideally we should be part of it. Every one of us here wants to link with it and make profit out of it. But in the status quo, joining the CPEC would be futile. It will be fruitful only if there is a political solution of the Kashmir dispute,” Khan said.
Khan said that business bodies see the CPEC as a platform on which India and Pakistan canbuild trust and cooperation. “Thinking positively, I as a Kashmiri and as a businessman, wish that this project becomes a platform for both India and Pakistan to reach consensus on a solution of Kashmir. It is in the interest of economic development of both nations, besides Kashmir,” Khan said.
General Secretary of the Kashmir Traders and Manufactures Association (KTMF) Bashir Ahmad Kongposh said that the CPEC is an opportunity for Kashmiris to repair their devastated infrastructure. “The project is being constructed in (undivided) Kashmir. We could have joined this project if India shuns its hard stance and makes efforts for good relations with Pakistan, and vice-versa. We see in CPEC a chance for Kashmir to become a gateway for India to have billions of trade with central Asia, apart from friendly relations with its rival neighbour, Pakistan,” Ahmad said.
Economist Professor Nisar Ali is of the view that the CPEC is the revival of the historical Silk Route that connected Kashmir with Pakistan and Central Asia.
“It was the natural route for Kashmirs to connect with the rest of the world. Kashmiris would export handicrafts to several nations and gain huge returns,” Ali said. “The new corridor is actually the restoration of the old route of which Kashmiris were daily travellers.”
“Before we all dream of joining this multi-billion project, good relations between India and Pakistan are a requisite,” Ali said. “Both these nations should leave aside their conflicts and work for economic development to make the subcontinent economically strong. Nations like China, Pakistan, Iran and India can exploit each other’s resources mutually and thereby counter western influence in the region.”
Political analyst Dr Shiekh Showkat Hussain says that unless the Kashmir issue is resolved, there is no possibility of Kashmir joining the CPEC. “This seems a remote possibility, given the fierce rivalry between India and Pakistan. If a political solution is chalked out, then Kashmir would automatically become part of this grand project,” Showkat said.
Director of the Centre for Central Asian Studies, Dr GN Khaki, said that the national highway which connects Kashmir with India is historically a route of lower importance than the routes that connected Kashmir to central Asia. “Geographically, Kashmir was connected to central Asia via many routes. Unfortunately, the majority of them were blocked. Now that the new corridor (CPEC) is under construction, Kashmir can become part of that old route once again,” Khaki said.—KR