By Namrata Hasija*
The December 20 statement of Lt Gen Aamir Riaz, Commander of Pakistan Army’s Southern Command, at an award distribution ceremony at the Baluchistan Frontier Corps (FC) headquarters in Quetta, advising India to “join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project instead of employing subversive activities against Pakistan” created some ripples in the region.
After this statement, a number of articles appeared both in the English and Chinese medium newspapers in China supporting the offer and asking India to give an answer to Pakistan’s offer.
An article in the Chinese version of Global Times was of the view that “New Delhi should consider accepting the olive branch Pakistan has extended in a bid to participate in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Such an opportunity could be transient. There is a possibility that the open attitude towards India joining the CPEC will quickly be overwhelmed by opposition voices from Pakistan if New Delhi does not respond in a timely manner to the general’s overture”.
China further added that it had no intention of using the CPEC as strategic leverage to intervene in the dispute between Pakistan and India. On the contrary, China is likely to adopt an open attitude towards India joining the CPEC and would be happy to see more friendly interactions between the two South Asian neighbors.
The project which is touted as a flagship for the One Road One Belt initiative by China and will involve countries like Afghanistan, Iran and several other Central Asian countries, has been opposed by India. The issue was taken up by India and discussed at the highest level with China.
What could have motivated Pakistan to make such an offer when there is heightened tension between India and Pakistan?
The general’s message came from Balochistan — an area where Pakistan has alleged that India is involved in subversive activities. The issue was ignited again recently when Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned that Pakistan authorities indulged in gross human rights violations in the restive province.
Pakistan wants to send a clear message to India that Balochistan is an integral part of Pakistan and it is working for its development; secondly, that CPEC is not against India and it wants India to get involved in the project.
From India’s point of view, this offer has come as a surprise. India’s concern over CPEC is that it is being built through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (which Pakistan calls “Azad Kashmir”). If India joins the project, it means that it has officially accepted POK as part of Pakistan’s territory.
As the project has been initiated by China — which has blocked India’s admission to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and refused to endorse a UN ban on Jaish-e-Mohammed leader Masood Azhar – India is unlikely to give its nod to the project.
The two countries have been holding talks on these issues and Lt Gen Riaz’s comments were seen by officials here as a trial balloon. While there can be little expectation of any room for India in CPEC at present, there is space for India to step back and see where China and Pakistan want to do with it.
*Namrata Hasija is Doctoral Candidate at the Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to [email protected]