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 the geographical and strategic interests of India.
The Official press agency of China Xinhua News Agency, in a clear departure from its past practice, mentioned in December 2014 about the closure of the Khunjerab Pass and in that news item it 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-occupied Kashmir (PoK). CPEC will also reduce by 12,000 km the distance from Middle East from where China imports POL.
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 economic problems and expedite economic growth of the country. The government agencies declare that more than 700,000 direct jobs would be created and the economic growth of the country would be greatly enhanced.
Nonetheless, the Pakistani leadership is worried about generation of funds for the main projects which have to be financed indigenously. The Economic Coordination Committee of the Pakistan cabinet has set up a revolving fund to handle this but analysts claim that the economic condition of Pakistan is in shambles and it will be difficult for the country to create funds for the construction of mega projects.
Economists also assert that although Pakistan would be benefitted by the trade with China, it would be difficult for the country to repay the debt generated because of CPEC. They also doubt Pakistan’s capability to complete its share of projects. The economists also mention that Pakistan is getting loan at a high rate of interest and the terms and conditions of the project which are against the interests of Pakistan are kept secret. A few critics mention that Chinese investments in Pakistan would be akin to the investments of East India Company which later subjugated the country.
There is severe criticism of the project by non-Punjabis as they feel that although the project passes through their areas, the benefits of the project would be usurped by Punjabis.
Tehrik-i-Taliban, an extremist outfit in Pakistan, has already claimed 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 and they would not allow this project to be implemented.
A few terrorists attacked the Police Academy in Quetta on October 25 and killed over 60 policemen and injured more than 150 cadets. It appears that an Afghanistan-based terrorist organisation was behind this heinous crime.
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.
The CPEC would pass through Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan areas — all of which are anti-government hence there are numerous security-related issues. But China is determined to reach the oil-producing areas of West Asia through Pakistan and the latter’s leadership — isolated in the world arena — is depending heavily on China’s support hence the project would be completed. The Pakistan government has already constituted a Special Service Group (SSG) to provide security to the Chinese in an indication of the tenacity of the Pakistan government. However there are chances that the scope of CPEC is abridged.
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. The Pakistani security agencies also apprehended one Indian businessman Kul Bhusan Jadhav and alleged that he was an Indian agent and was assisting secessionist groups in Balochistan.
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.
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, Maldives and Somalia. CPEC would further strengthen the encirclement.
After completion of CPEC, the Chinese presence would enhance manifold in PoK 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.
The first option is that India also joins this mega project but it would be difficult as India has to deviate from its old stand and it will be seen as India bowing to the pressure of the China-Pakistan alliance which may not be good for the prestige of the country. Secondly, 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 issue of CPEC which passes through PoK. Modi also mentioned about the terrorism which originates from PoK and mentioned that both countries must be “sensitive” to the interests of the other country.
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 China, Pakistan and Russia axis cannot be ruled out although India signed major defence projects with Russia after the meeting between Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Goa (October 15-16, 2016) — but Indian policy makers must keep this aspect in mind. Besides, India’s relationship with United States is also growing at a fast pace and Russia may like to counter this by inculcating closeness with China and Pakistan.
Indian policy makers should also consider that infusion of $46 billion in Pakistan would boost its economy and a strong Pakistan would be more treacherous for India.
*Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to [email protected]