Naveed Aman Khan
The multibillion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a game changer in Pakistan, has raised apprehensions in India. In June 2015, barely two months after Chinese President Xi Jinping announced plans of investment US$ 46 billion to develop infrastructure and energy projects in Pakistan as part of CPEC. It was unacceptable for India
China’s “One Belt One Road” or new Silk Road project is a series of roads, railways, pipelines, hydropower plants and other development projects, being built from the restive Xinjiang province in China to Gwadar in South Western Pakistan.
CPEC which came into operation last November passes through Gilgit-Baltistan in Independent Kashmir. India claim Indian-occupied Kashmir in full, but controls parts of it. “Only by respecting the sovereignty of countries involved, can regional connectivity corridors fulfill their promise and avoid differences and discord,” said Modi. CPEC passes through Pakistani territory. Surely people will understand what Indian reaction would be.
Economic corridor is a comprehensive and broad-based economic cooperation project.
This project will contribute to economic development of entire region. It can be a catalyst for economic connectivity and integration in Central Asia, South Asia and West Asia.
Objection by India or any other country to such an economic project is, therefore, beyond comprehension. This project promises to be an immense economic and strategic windfall for China and Pakistan. China is projected to become world’s largest economy, with GDP of $58.5 trillion, up from $5.7 trillion in 2010. The country’s GDP growth rate has declined in recent years, from 7.3 percent in 2014 to 6.7 percent in 2016.
CPEC is anticipated to boost Pakistan’s economy, where GDP is expected to grow by more than five percent by 2020.Pakistan’s GDP will reach $4.2 trillion by 2050 from the current $988bn.
This 3,200km-long corridor is intended to connect world’s second largest economy, China, with the Middle East and Central Asia, reducing alternative sea route distance via the Malacca Strait by 10,000km.
For Pakistan, combined value of CPEC’s infrastructure projects was equivalent to 17 percent of Pakistan’s GDP in 2015.Economic corridor would create some 700,000 direct jobs between 2015 and 2030, and add up to 2.5 percent to country’s growth rate.
The fact that this route passes through disputed Kashmir region has worried India, which has half a million troops stationed in its part of the territory to quell more than two decades of freedom struggle.
“China is using Indian land area illegally occupied by Pakistan,” said Seshadri Chari of Bharatiya Janata Party.
China has been willing to address Indian concerns, though. China is committed to developing friendly and cooperative relations with others and that CPEC would not affect China’s position on Kashmir.
Keeping the door open does not mean that India will become enthusiastic about CPEC but that “it will be neutrally disposed – seeing some potential security benefits if Pakistan’s economy is stabilized”. Indian opposition to CPEC reflects concern over internationalization of Kashmir dispute and growing influence of China in Indian Ocean. There is considerable concern within India that China, which has been neutral on Kashmir since 1963, can no longer be so now that its economic and security interests in these territories are growing.
After 1962 India China war, China sought to cultivate good relations with Pakistan, which has emerged as the biggest buyer of Chinese defence equipment in recent years.
New Delhi sees Gwadar a deep sea port located in Balochistan province as part of China’s “String of Pearls” bases, that extends from its eastern coast to the Arabian Sea. China is also developing ports in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh that are considered a potential military challenge to India.
Gwadar port again looking one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes in Arabian Sea, has been leased to China for 40 years. India fears that the port might become a Chinese naval outpost threatening India’s energy and economic security as more than two third of India’s petroleum imports pass through the area.
India and Pakistan cannot expand their commercial interactions without resolving their larger conflict a point echoed by a leading Kashmiri leader Mir Waiz Omer Farooq. He explains that India needs to join CPEC anyway. In the future, it could maintain its formal objections to the initiative but still deepen trade relations with Pakistan and in the process implicitly by utilizing CPEC infrastructure, energy projects, industrial zones and more.
It is the last chance for the Indian economy, India’s relations with Pakistan are simply too unstable for the former’s primary land connectivity corridor to Central Asia, Russia and Europe, to run through the latter’s territory.
The risk of the investment and of trade through that corridor, in both geo-strategic and economic terms, might be too high.
In May last year, Indian Prime Minister Modi travelled to Iran and announced a deal to develop Chabahar port, barely 75km from Gwadar. India announced an investment of $500m but the project has been repeatedly delayed. Chabahar port deal, which also includes Afghanistan, could be a parallel project to connect with Central Asia and Europe while by passing Pakistan.
India has committed close to $2bn in development aid to Afghanistan and it maintains close military cooperation with Kabul as it seeks to reinforce its geostrategic interest in the region. Chabahar will provide India with land access to Afghanistan something Pakistan has denied India for years.
Iran could use Chabahar about 843 nautical miles from India’s commercial hub Mumbai to export more goods to India and the Asia Pacific region.
This would open more investment opportunities to Indian firms which could gain a foothold in Iran emerging from years of sanctions. There would also be benefits for land locked Afghanistan which would get connected to the Gulf, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean.
The Chabahar port will be linked to Zaranj city, in Nimruz province, Afghanistan which is connected to a highway built by India in 2009.Chabahar is typically billed as an alternative rival port to Gwadar and a counter play to CPEC. It’s still possible that Chabahar and Gwadar would end up functioning as a network .India has planned to sabotage CPEC at Gilgit Baltistan airing communal and sectarian tool.