By Jai Kumar Verma
The much touted $46 billion, 3,000-km-long China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) links Gwadar port in the troubled state of Balochistan to China’s restive autonomous region of Xinjiang. The project, which is an extension of China’s ambitious One-Belt-One-Road scheme, passes through Gilgit and Baltistan areas which are part of Jammu and Kashmir which is Indian territory but illegally occupied by Pakistan.
Hence the CPEC is against India’s geographical and strategic interests.
The official Xinhua news agency, in a clear departure from its past practice, mentioned in December 2014 about the closure of the Khunjerab Pass and also stated that Gilgit and Baltistan were parts of Pakistan.
Analysts claim that China, before taking up a project of this magnitude, wanted to reconfirm Gilgit-Baltistan as part of Pakistan and wanted to observe India’s reaction which was not severe at that juncture.
China would be constructing several infrastructure and hydropower projects, industrial parks, railway lines and all-weather roads and highways in Gilgit-Baltistan as well as in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. CPEC will also reduce by 12,000 km the distance from Middle East from where China imports its crude oil.
Pakistani leaders describe CPEC, as well as the multifarious projects linked to it, as a great economic achievement for the country and claim that it will solve the country’s economic problems and expedite growth. Government agencies declare that more than 700,000 direct jobs would be created.
Nonetheless, the Pakistani leadership is worried about generating funds for the main projects, which have to be financed indigenously. The Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet has set up a revolving fund to handle this, but analysts claim that Pakistan’s economic condition is in a shambles and it will be difficult for the country to create funds for the construction of the mega projects.
There is severe criticism of the project by non-Punjabis as they feel that although the CPEC passes through their areas, the benefits of the project would be usurped by Punjabis.
The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistani extremist outfit has already claimed the killing of some Chinese in Pakistan. Several separatist outfits in Balochistan are against CPEC and proclaim that it is against the interests of the state. They say they would not allow this project to be implemented.
Residents of Balochistan also mention that through the CPEC project, the government would settle outsiders in the province, thereby changing the demography of the province, and the Chinese and the Punjabi-dominated federal government would exploit the natural resources of the state without giving it due compensation.
Pakistan has alleged that India is assisting Baloch and Sindhi militants who are creating hurdles in the construction of CPEC. They allege that in May 2016, one Chinese worker was killed in Karachi by militants of an India-supported outfit. India has denied such charges.
Both China and Pakistan claim that CPEC has only economic dimensions, but India and the United States appropriately feel that it has more strategic significance. Gwadar would be a future sea port from where China would acquire a stronghold in the Indian Ocean region. China would also get an access to the Arabian Sea and would minimize the distance to the Strait of Hormuz through which 35 percent of world oil transits.
The linking of Muslim majority Xinjiang province through CPEC would be dangerous for China too, as the Muslim fanatics of Pakistan would start assisting the suppressed Muslims of the Chinese province and the secessionist movement would be strengthened. Pakistani Jihadists would certainly spread Islamic extremism in China.
India also feels that China has already encircled it by inculcating commercial as well as defence relationship with several countries including Pakistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Somalia. CPEC would further strengthen the encirclement.
After completion of the CPEC, the Chinese presence would enhance manifold in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, which would be detrimental for India.
India needs to chalk out a long-term rational policy concerning CPEC — nonetheless it will not be easy as the Indian public is very emotional about its relations with Pakistan and China.
As the project is against the interests of the country, India must oppose it but it should not lead to open confrontation. Efforts can be made to discourage China from going ahead with this ambitious project, but it will not be an easy task.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 summit (September 4-5, 2016 at Hangzhou in China), raised the CPEC issue.
Besides its all-weather friendship with China, Pakistan is also inculcating close relations with Russia. The closeness between Russia and China is also increasing. Hence, the possibility of a China-Pakistan-Russia axis cannot be ruled out and Indian policy makers must keep this aspect in mind.
Besides, India’s relationship with the United States is also growing at a fast pace and Russia may like to counter this by inculcating closeness with China and Pakistan.