Implications, options for India
Brig Pillu Subrahmanyam (Retd)
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) involving an investment of $46 billion is a grandiose policy initiative of China and is heralded as a game changer in regional and global geopolitics.
It will span the entire extent of Pakistan and is planned to connect Gwadar port in Pakistan to Kashgar in China’s western Xinjiang province through road infrastructure, railways and oil and gas pipelines passing through Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) region of Pak Occupied Kashmir (PoK) covering a distance of 3,000 km. Also included is development of Gwadar into a deep water sea port.
A major geopolitical challenge that is engaging Pakistan is about the constitutional status of GB through which CPEC passes. India has objected to CPEC passing through GB which is an integral part of India by virtue of having been part of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir. The feeling in Pakistan is that China may be concerned to invest $46 billion on a corridor passing through disputed territory lacking legitimacy. However, China is trying to overtly downplay such concerns.
None the less, Pakistan is mulling over various options to overcome this legal tangle ranging from fully integrating GB as the fifth province of Pakistan to raising the constitutional status of the region while keeping it short of a regular pro-vince with representation in
In effect, both amount to the same and is a complete reversal of Pakistan’s historical stand on Kashmir. Any efforts on the part of Pakistan to integrate GB constitutionally into its federal structure or its parliament will amount to violation of UN Resolutions and forfeiture of its demands for a plebiscite, and acceptance of de jure control of India over the parts of Kashmir it holds.
Ipso facto, it implies, legitimising the present Line of Control (LoC) as the border between the two countries. India may not be averse to such a prospect given the background of previous discussions on the subject and back channel chatter. The Kargil Review Committee of India, in its report of 1999, mentioned that such a possibility was reported to have been discussed during the Shimla talks of 1972 between India and Pakistan.
The CPEC is one component of Chinese “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) initiative and the other being the “21st Century Maritime Silk Route”. Disguised in the OBOR initiative is the Chinese vision of political expansion and economic ambition though China is quick to add that the initiative is aimed at integrating the whole of Asia as “One Economic Continent” due to the benefits that accrue to all of the entity of Asia as opposed to China alone. Towards this end, China’s endeavour is to bring all nations of Asia under the umbrella of OBOR; more importantly India.
The CPEC and the access it provides to the Arabian Sea through Gwadar are very critical for China to meet its geostrategic and economic needs in the changed geopolitical context. With the withdrawal of United States presence in Afghanistan, China seized the opportunity presented by the power vacuum to expand its regional sphere of influence and further its economic and strategic interests to Pakistan and Persian Gulf built around the linchpin of Gwadar.
Once Gwadar is fully operational, China will be able to ensure that a large share of its oil needs are secured via Gwadar, saving time and billions in costs apart from ensuring security to its oil routes.
More importantly, the new route would circumvent the potentially vulnerable Strait of Malacca and growing US naval presence in South China Sea as part of the US pivot to Asia. Gwadar, though being developed as a commercial port, has the potential to be transformed into a military facility for China’s navy with capability to threaten India’s energy routes from Gulf and as well impinge on India’s naval operations in the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.
India cannot be oblivious to such strategic changes taking place in its neighbourhood with far-reaching regional and global ramifications. While integration with OBOR initiative may be important for New Delhi to serve its national interests and to realise its concept of South Asian integration, Indian participation is equally important to China for its successful implementation. China is aware of this reality.
From a bilateral perspective, the joint statement of May 15, 2015 between India and China, released during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China, does enunciate “Asian Century” and recognise the emergence of India and China as ‘two major powers’ in regional and world politics, and their cooperative relations will be key to the realisation of an ‘Asian Century’.