CPEC and its importance for the Kashmir region

The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is gradually gathering interest from regional economies due to its wide-ranging benefits for all. One such instance of this interest was witnessed when a seminar focusing on CPEC was organized by the Kashmir Institute, on 11th of March, on the Indian side of Kashmir.

Speaking at the event titled ‘Impact of China Pakistan Economic Corridor on Kashmir’, Andrew Small – the author of China-Pakistan Axis – in his video lecture said that the CPEC had directly involved China in the risks of India-Pakistan cross-border relations. Small also referred to Beijing’s stand after the Uri attack urging both New Delhi and Islamabad to bring down tensions in the region stressing that such atmosphere could create difficulties for CPEC. Small was also making a reference to the Chinese state announcement after the Uri attacks that it was in touch with both New Delhi and Islamabad through different channels and had asked them to properly deal with their differences and work jointly to maintain peace and security in the region.

CPEC is also relying on its flagship Gwadar port project, which is a warm water deep-sea water port and links the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China. CPEC is also a link in the chain of the Chinese dream of ‘One Belt, One Road’ Project and thus Gwadar holds the key in improving China’s connectivity with South, West, Central and East Asia, which would in turn have implications in limiting India’s outreach to the critical Eurasian region.

Noted academic Siddiq Wahid said that the people of Jammu Kashmir needed to take CPEC out of the India-Pakistan paradigm and put it into the paradigm of Central Asia. “If there will be an impact on Jammu Kashmir due to CPEC, it won’t be because of India and Pakistan, it has to be because of Kashmiris,” he said. “We have got to do it for ourselves.” Wahid, the former vice chancellor of the Islamic University of Science and technology, said the economy of Kashmir was closer to the economy of Kashgar than to Jammu or Lahore and Kashmir’s proximity was more to Central Asia than South Asia.

“Globalisation is threatening the status quo states as empires and colony states do not want their borders to be opaque and we need to be ready for fitting in when the next collapse (of empires) happens,” he said. Wahid said the weak point of CPEC was that it did not help the people on the way (of the project) – which includes Kashgar, Yarkhand, Leh, Srinagar. He said India was on the wrong side of history right now and for that to change, New Delhi needed to give up its rigid stance on Kashmir.

For countering the influence that Gwadar Port would have on the future of economics in the region, New Delhi is actively involved in the construction of Chabahar Port, 72 km west of Gwadar. Chabahar Port in the Sistan-Balochistan province in Iran’s southern coast lies outside the Persian Gulf which is easily accessed from India’s western coast bypassing Pakistan.

New Delhi entered into a deal with Tehran to develop the strategic Chabahar Port to gain access to the Middle East and Central Asia and to counter Pakistan and China’s plan to develop Gwadar Port. India has committed a 400 million US dollar investment in steel to construction of the railway connecting Chabahar and Zahedan, near Afghan border.

Former president of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI), Mubeen Shah in his address over Skype from Malaysia told the audience that CPEC had the potential to break the status quo. Shah also called on India and Pakistan to make the whole Kashmir region – Kashmir valley, Jammu, Ladakh, Pakistan administered Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan – as a single Free Economic Zone, an issue which has yet to find any takers in both the countries.  He said that both the separatist leadership and mainstream politicians needed to pressurise New Delhi to include Jammu Kashmir in the CPEC project.

Muhammad Ibrahim Wani, a researcher at the University of Kashmir, said CPEC can help Kashmir get access to the international market. Earlier, Fahad Shah, Director of the Kashmir Institute, laid down the importance of CPEC for Kashmir and entire region and outlining different contours of the project highlighted its importance for engaging in the debate on the issue.

The event was also attended by senior journalist and media analyst Gowhar Geelani, Syed Mujtaba Rizvi, Saba Nazki and Saba Mir. Prominent civil society members including Dr. Altaf Hussain, Prof. Hameed Nayeem, Abdul Majeed Zargar, journalists Mufti Islah, Muzaffar Raina, Tariq Bhat, Peerzada Ashiq, Hakeem Irfan, students from various disciplines also attended the event. There was also attendance from analysts and student interested China Pakistan affairs, along with people from different sections of the society. 

The seminar, panel , and Q&A session was moderated by renowned journalist Gowhar Geelani.

(Original Report by Faisul Yaseen, for Rising Kashmir. Adopted for the CRSS Blog by CRSS blogs editorial team)

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