Since  the beginning of work on China Pakistan Economic Corridor project (CPEC),  India is quite open in opposing this mega Project and now the US has also shown its weight behind India by saying that it too believes the route of corridor passes through a disputed territory — a reference to Northern areas of Pakistan. The statement has come at a time when Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif was in Washington and held series of talks with the US officials to normalize the tense relations. This new stance has started another debate and is undoubtedly going to further damage the bilateral ties, as it is profusely obvious now that US envision a greater role for India in the region. Pakistan and China are working on the economic cooperative initiative is backed by the UN and several other countries of the world adding it is not directed against any third party.

Indo-US Obnoxious Stance On CPEC
By Government of Pakistan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan makes the two countries traditionally alert against any possibility of large scale foreign investment coming into the region instead of any alleged political intent behind the foreign investment. India should focus on its negations with Pakistan to resolve this conflict as a solution to concern on CPEC.

It is pertinent to discuss here that the northern part of India bordering Pakistan and Indian Held Kashmir both lack basic infrastructure.

CPEC is not a zero-sum game where on one hand Pakistan gains and India loses. As if the China-Pakistan’s economic cooperation make better infrastructure in the region including Kashmir territory, still India has the opportunity to expand trade routes to Central Asia.

US Secretary of Defence James Mattis controversially waded into the CPEC debate by claiming that the “One Belt , One Road also passes through disputed territory an obvious reference to CPEC  route through Gilgit Baltistan. The development cannot be prohibited in the disputed territories.

CPEC is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and t is inclusive strategy, hence India needs to be optimistic for the speedy development of the region by putting aside the political mindset and welcome the economic development of this region.

The development does not depends upon the “disputed areas” rather on the economic cooperation where China Pakistan and India can cooperate with each other which would pave the ways for the resolution of Kashmir issue. In this context, Mr. Mattis statement shows the strong Indo-US nexus in which both pursues their strategic objectives; US wants to contain China in South Asia and tries to intimidate Pakistan to stay inside of the US orbit of influence and India wants to Contain China in this region.

There is also apprehension that India would start a military confrontation over CPEC. But that greatly depends on how many countries stand to benefit from CPEC. At the moment, the probability that India would be so reckless is very low.

The strategic implication of the construction of Gwadar Port under CPEC is meant to be monitoring the Indo-US naval activities on Indian Ocean. US has this concern and aspires to contain China’s access on Indian Ocean.

From Pakistan’s perspective, the Chinese seek to accelerate their trade and commerce through CPEC, which is an essential component of Maritime Silk Road enterprise composed of networks of railways, highways and pipelines along with various energy and industrial project subjected to stave off the energy starvation of Pakistan and regional connectivity and pave the way for China’s access to Indian Ocean by linking Xinjiang province with Pakistan’s Gwadar Port. The geo-strategic interests of both countries China and Pakistan converge beyond the geography and also include a substantial role in Afghanistan. As far as China’s interests in Afghanistan are concerned ranges from the development assistance, investment enterprises and emerging security role to get and preserve its strategic objectives in the country which need enhanced security environment.

One major factor behind India’s perceived sense of insecurity related to CPEC can be traced to the mega project’s potential for uplifting the masses living in Pakistan’s side of Kashmir from the evils of poverty and illiteracy, this is unacceptable to India as this hopeful situation presents a Pakistan’s GB stark contrast to the situation in Indian occupied Kashmir, where the occupation forces have unleashed a reign of terror against innocent Kashmiris for committing the ‘sin’ of demanding legitimate socio-political rights.

as far as the world’s disputed areas are concerned, there are such examples where the developmental work has been done such as last year Philippines released photographs of construction of structures by Chinese vessels in disputed Scarborough Shoal in South China Sea during ASEAN Summit in Vientiane. India beefed up its concerns against Chinese sponsored China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Will the disputes between or among countries obstruct the overall development of the region and the populace residing in those areas?

China would not give up CPEC just because of mere Indian protests. The Indian government will not cease its developmental activities in Arunachal Pradesh either. But is it not important to respect the voices of communities residing in disputed territories as a priority rather than following the institutional norms in developmental activities?  From inter-governmental institutions like ADB/World Bank to each country sharing disputed territories like India or China or Pakistan, it is foremost important to stand up with rights to development of communities. Otherwise, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cannot be considered ‘universal’.

Article by Asia Maqsood

Asia Maqsood is M. Phil Scholar in Defence and Strategic Studies at Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad.

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