According to media reports, Pakistan believes regional rival India may be planning to sabotage the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The multi billion dollar project spearheaded by China, aims to create transportation networks, energy projects, and economic zones throughout Pakistan. The CPEC project is currently worth $62 billion, making it the largest project within China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The project aims to modernize Pakistan’s infrastructure, while granting Beijing access to a rail and highway transport network connecting China to the Middle East and Africa.
India has taken issue with CPEC, not just because Pakistan is India’s main regional rival. CPEC transport networks would cut through Pakistan Administered Kashmir, Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK), a self governing, but contested territory between India and Pakistan. Kashmir also shares a border with China. Indian Ambassador to China, Gautam Bambawale, has explained India’s position on CPEC, “CPEC passes through Indian-claimed territory and hence violates our territorial integrity. This is a major problem for us. We need to talk about it, not push it under the carpet.” While critics say India just wants a piece of the economic action, Indian officials claim CPEC violates Indian sovereignty.
India’s Alleged Plans
Dawn newspaper reports that the Interior Ministry believes a terrorist attack directed towards CPEC may be imminent. According to reports from Dawn, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry has notified authorities that India plans to attack the Karakoram Highway in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) province.
The Interior Ministry has informed the provincial government of Gilgit-Baltistan, a northern territory that borders China as well as Azad Kashmir, about the potential attack on the Karakoram Highway. An anonymous source from within the government confirmed to Dawn that they had been warned by the Interior Ministry about the potential for a coming attack. A letter sent to officials in GB claims that India has sent 400 Muslim men to Afghanistan to receive training that would enable them to carry out terror attacks against CPEC projects. The local government is said to have responded by increasing security on the route, especially on the two dozen bridges along the highway.
Saturday, Gilgit-Baltistan Home Secretary Jawad Akram and Inspector General of Police Sabir Ahmed, along with other intelligence officials, made a visit to the Diamer district in GB. During the visit they reviewed security measures, especially for the bridges, which the envoy reported had been declared “sensitive.” Inspector General Ahmed, also said that foreigners will be facing extra scrutiny at the time and suspects will be detained.
Could Talks be Held?
Although India has long protested CPEC, Beijing has indicated that they are ready to hold talks with New Delhi. Chinese officials have even said that Beijing is willing to rename the project to satisfy New Delhi. Spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Hua Chunying, announced last Monday that China is willing to discuss India’s concerns over CPEC:
Regarding the CPEC, China has repeatedly reiterated its position. As to the differences between China and India, China stands ready to communicate and hold talks with India to seek a proper solution so that these differences will not affect our general national interests. This best serves the interests of the two countries… CPEC is merely an economic cooperation project. It has not targeted any third party. We hope the Indian side can put this in perspective and we stand ready to strengthen cooperation with the Indian side.
In regards to contested Kashmir, Hua said Beijing believes this dispute should be resolved by Pakistan and India themselves.
Hua went on to say the Belt and Road Initiative has progressed smoothly and created many jobs. She also highlighted Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s comments at the World Economic Forum at Davos.
At Davos, Prime Minister Abbasi lauded China’s BRI, saying that it is much more than just an infrastructure project, “We strongly recognise the vision of China and President Xi Jinping.” The Prime Minister continued:
We believe the Belt and Road Initiative is perfectly in sync with the WEF theme of creating shared future in a fractured world. It is much more than just a partnership on infrastructure and it will cause significant improvement in lives of people from different countries.
Prime Minister Abassi also pointed out that half of the world’s population lives within the sphere of BRI, while other speakers, like Aecom Chairman Michael Burke, underscored the potential for GDP growth brought to the region thanks to BRI.
Pakistani Minister of State for Information, Broadcasting, National History and Literary Heritage Marriyum Aurangzeb is currently on a four day trip to China. She has said on her trip that BRI will cement ties between Pakistan and China, while helping Pakistan to overcome its energy crisis. She also stated that she would like to see greater cultural and media exchange between the two nations. Greater cultural exchange is a stated purpose of the CPEC project.
Afghanistan has likewise voiced their concerns over CPEC. Friday, Yao Jing, China’s ambassador to Pakistan, said that CPEC may expand to other states within the region. Ambassador Yao specifically pointed to Afghanistan as a potential partner and claimed China has had contact with the Afghan Taliban in Qatar, requesting that they hold talks about Afghanistan’s future with CPEC.
Although Aurangzeb has insisted while in China that all political parties in Islamabad support CPEC, the project is not without its critics.
While Chinese and Pakistani officials have been adamant that CPEC will bring economic stability to the region, not everyone agrees. Critics in Pakistan and abroad wonder whether Islamabad will be able to repay the debts incurred through the project. They also question the lack of transparency that surrounds many of the projects.
Because of the secrecy regarding CPEC, independent economists have been unable to accurately assess the potential benefits to the Pakistani economy; many worry that China may be exploiting Pakistan through the project.
Others point to the use of Chinese instead of Pakistani workers. According to Beijing, 10,000 Chinese citizens are working on various CPEC projects in Pakistan, while some 60,000 Pakistani workers have been contributing to the joint project. Critics doubt these numbers and ask why China has imported the majority of the project’s materials, while avoiding partnerships with local businesses.