Col (R) Muhammad Hanif
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a mega connectivity project being constructed with the Chinese investment of $ 46 billion, which has now been raised to $ 52 billion. The project is a network of roads, railways and optical fibre line laying, along with the construction of energy pipelines and industrial zones. An agreement between Pakistan and China to jointly construct the CPEC was signed in April 2015 and the construction started shortly after the signing of the agreement. This is a regional connectivity project initiated as part of China’s Belt and Road (B&R) grand project, to connect the Khashgar city of Western China with the Gwadar port city of Pakistan. It is a flagship project of the B&R that also includes the construction and expansion of airports and seaports. The CPEC passes through Pakistan and it will interconnect China, Pakistan, South Asia, Central Asia, West Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, Russia and other Eurasian countries. The project is part of the Chinese current philosophy of shared development of China and the neighbouring regions based on the concept of shared destinies.
The CPEC is purely an economic project meant to bring prosperity to China and other countries being mutually connected through a ground route. This route will reduce the distance for trade from China to the above mentioned regions and vice-versa by about 10000 kilometres if we compare it with the existing sea route passing through Mallaca Straits. In a nutshell the CPEC project is being termed as a game changer for the region as it will positively impact the economy of Pakistan and other developing countries in the region by enhancing economic growth through foreign investment and enhancement of trade.In this respect, South Asian countries including Pakistan and India are expected to be the major beneficiaries of the CPEC.
Despite economic orientation of the CPEC project and disregarding its future economic benefits to India with respect to cheaper trade with Central Asia and West Asia, India is opposing it on flimsy grounds that it passes through Gilgit-Baltistan, being part of the disputed former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, which India falsely claims.This objection has been raised by Prime Minister Modi, Indian Foreign Ministry officials and Indian Army chief, General Bipin Rawat, through their statements.
This Indian stance is untenable because the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has decided through its resolutions of 1948/49 about the Jammu and Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India that the dispute should be resolved by ascertaining will of the people of the state to decide whether they wanted the state to join Pakistan or India. And while Pakistan has been more than willing to hold the plebiscite under UNSC supervision, India has been denying it.To establish its claim over Jammu and Kashmir, why India does not immediately agree for holding a plebiscite as per UNSC resolutions.
In fact India is opposing the CPEC to deny its economic benefits to Pakistan and deny China an access to the Indian Ocean through Gawadar bypassing Mallaca Straits. India too does not require that other South Asian states should benefit from CPEC to keep them under its hegemony.In this context, in view of its strategic and defence alignment with the US to contain China, being a part of USA’s Indo-Pacific policy and its encouragement by the US to attain influence in Afghanistan, India sees an opportunity to harm Pakistan’s economic and security stakes. It does not want that due to CPEC related economic benefits, Pakistan should become an economically strong state, therefore enabling it to withstand Indian hegemony. It also suits India to counter China’s increasing influence in Afghanistan and South Asia with the help of the US, to keep the region under its influence.
In view of the above, it can be concluded that India will continue to create challenges for the construction and smooth operation of the CPEC by sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan using Afghan soil to disturb the Chinese working here. India will also wish and struggle to create political discord and engineer a 1971 like situation in Balochistan with the support of some foreign powers to fail the CPEC. In this context, it is likewise appropriate to state that India will continue to feed engineered intelligence to Afghanistan and the US to blame Pakistan for supporting terrorism in Afghanistan to keep Pakistan’s relations strained with the US and Afghanistan. It will also struggle to support those forces in and outside Afghanistan, that want to spoil peace efforts and perpetuate instability in Afghanistan for their vested interests. In view of the foregoing, to complete the CPEC successfully to reap its economic and security related benefits, Pakistan will have to adopt well considered foreign and domestic policies to counter Indian challenges to the CPEC.