Views from Srinagar
Dr. Mohammad Ibrahim Wani
AN economic corridor is the ‘Big-bang Shock-therapy’ which involves the availability of economic resources for creating the new economic opportunities for the people of the connected and surrounding countries rather links them into one transnational entity and their mutual relevance increases. The countries that perform excellently in economic, industrial and trade domains will have greater impact on other countries than those possessing bigger military and weaponry systems. A strong economic and human interaction among the countries is going to be a major strength for any country in the near future. Two Asian economies have joined hands to form an Economic Corridor which is known as China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to achieve their shared objective of mutual growth. The proposed corridor impacts relations between India and Pakistan, as it passes through the Gilgit Baltistan area of J&K. No doubt that there are conflicts between India and Pakistan, but when the people of both sides will be engaged in economic activities and progress, this could completely minimize the conflict & stakeholders some time may think over the peace of both the regions. This would be rather a step towards the commercialization of LOC Trade.
Benefits for India: If India will show an optimistic signal towards CPEC, India can extract large benefits out of this venture by opening up trade channels through Pakistan as Indian aspiration is to reach out to Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics (CARs) to enlarge access for its market and to realize the dream of Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline(TAPI); however, problem dwells where the two South Asian key players (India and Pakistan), because of their animosity and long-inflicted mistrust, are hesitant to lessen up their policies for each other. At present, both countries should resolve their outstanding issues through talks for the collective benefits of this region. If both countries harmonize with the idea, then CPEC can be extended to India through supplementary links from Punjab and Kashmir thus, turning the mutual security threat suspicion to benefits. Moreover, CPEC has the capacity to materialize a faster culmination of Iran-Pak-India gas pipeline to fulfill the energy needs of India. So India should live with the game otherwise India’s role would be vanished in future decisions of any economic activity.
Why is Kashmir so important?: Kashmir is strategically important to Pakistan, India and China. Kashmir provides Pakistan with much needed waters to irrigate the fertile plains of Punjab. The Indus and its tributaries flowing in from Kashmir comprise the primary source of fresh water in Pakistan. As a result, control of the flow of water in these rivers through dams and canals has been a very important issue for decades. Furthermore, the Silk Route, the primary land link between Pakistan and China passes through Gilgit area of Kashmir. Pakistan has handed over complete control of Gilgit (a modern air force base on this route) to China. This is important as Gilgit is the point from which China can enter into Indian Territory this could neutralize the natural security created by the Himalayan range over north India. As China is world’s fastest growing economic power, it needs massive energy reserves in order to maintain its status.
So China is focusing on resource rich areas for acquisition of natural reserves. For the supply of raw material China constructed Karakoram highway in Pakistan side Kashmir through which it can gain access to all parts of the world which would be a non-cooperative game for India. Besides its strategic importance, Pakistan and India both claim Kashmir because of cultural and social reasons. Kashmir has become ingrained in the minds of both Pakistanis and Indians as the single biggest issue facing the Indian subcontinent. Pakistan has suffered defeats in previous wars with India over Kashmir. Pakistan and India have developed a universal enmity and rivalry extending across all spheres of life. As a result, Kashmir has come to represent very high stakes for both countries in terms of national pride.
Impact of CPEC on Kashmir: Conventionally, conflict and war can be managed by cultivating cooperation in socio-economic and technical areas of mutual interests across the territorial boundaries of sovereign countries. Such an inter-country cooperation can be cultivated if the power elite and politically relevant sections of population learn from experience that there are tangible economic rewards in cooperation within a region and beyond. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor recognizes the new realities of global and regional politics by cultivating a more systematic, up-graded and need-based interaction for socio-economic, industrial, energy and trade development.
Jammu & Kashmir which is geographically in close proximity to CPEC could cultivate benefits while connecting to it if trio (India, Pakistan and China) will see it through the eyes of geo-economics that will be a step towards the resolution of conflict between India and Pakistan. Although, the ‘Kashmir Valley’ is a landlocked region has no access to the rest of the world except the one link route (which connects Srinagar to Jammu), but will have an absolute and comparative advantage if India participates in this corridor (CPEC).
Kashmir, in recent past was connected to ‘Old Silk Route’ through Gurez (Bandipore) and Ladakh. In doing so, CPEC can provide an opportunity to improve its (Kashmir) interaction with Central Asia, West Asia, the Middle East and Europe and are expected to gain from this connectivity through highways, railways, sea-lanes, energy pipelines and electricity transmission lines through economic activities, increased trade linkages, enhanced technical cooperation, generate new financial opportunities, and amplify socio-cultural connectivity among people which can equally contribute to the socio-economic indicators of the valley this way Kashmir economy will get connected with the rest of the world and at the same time could get big market for its various commodities and would become a large transit zone. The execution of this inclusive project would bring economic revolution that can transform the fate of the valley. This way CPEC has a greater regional and economic value as it would provide opportunity to all connected and regional actors to make South Asia a faultless integrated region. However, following are some of the important points through which the Kashmir economy will get benefited while connected to the CPEC.
1) Through this land route the valley will get an international market of its commodities which have an absolute advantage such as apples, dry fruits, Kashmir art etc; 2) The foreign exchange reserves will get enhanced through the large flow of tourists which could benefit the state economy from the gross root level; 3) With the increasing economic activities, our unemployed labour force would get jobs easily – both inside and outside the valley; 4) This way Kashmir will have a trickle down effect on its chronic poverty and unemployment; 5) It will allow people to people contact which would bring peace and harmony among the people of regional countries and the people of Kashmir valley; 6) It will lead a critical minimum effort to grow and develop the Kashmir economy; 7) Big investors would come and invest our sleeping tigers like tourism, horticulture, sericulture and hydropower etc.
This corridor would bring prosperity to Pakistan and make it stable which is always seen in favour of India. This would start a new chapter in the peace and prosperity of Asian region in general and South Asia in particular. In addition, J&K being gateway of Central Asia could become a corridor of economic activity in the region and the country could take huge benefit of the economic activities going on across the line of control which would not only bring political stability across the region but will enhance the stakes of local people in peace and would formulate the region a hub of emerging economic opportunities leading to cooperation and partnership in trade, commerce, tourism and adventure across the region. Therefore, the opening of more routes and combining free economic zone with Loc trade, the economy of J&K state will completely change and will lead to prosperity to a large extent for the people of the state and we can hope a brighter future than at present for the both parts of Jammu & Kashmir.
—Courtesy: Greater Kashmir
[Author is Post Doctorate Fellow (Energy Economics), CCAS, University of Kashmir]