A strong desire to find alternative economic road link for valley is convincing the business community, and political parties across the party lines of Jammu to Kashmir, to explore the possibility of joining the $46 billion worth China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), often billed as “a game changer” in South Asia, likely to boost the economic condition of both China and Pakistan.
The 1300-kilometre CPEC is an ambitious economic and development project, including power projects, roads and railways, which will connect China’s Xinjiang with Pakistan’s Gwadar. Reportedly, Pakistan is aiming to make Gilgit-Baltistan as its fifth province to safeguard the Chinese interests in the region. The separatists in the Valley, however, have vehemently opposed the move.
A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) suggests that Pakistan could become the world’s 16th largest economy by 2050 and possibly overtake countries like Canada and Italy by then.
Since work on it started, India has been opposing the project, as it passes through the Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir in Gilgit-Baltistan. New Delhi has expressed strong opposition to the project, which is the key to Beijing’s ambitious ‘One-Belt, One-Road’ initiative.
“The CPEC passing through Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir challenges Indian sovereignty,” Union defence ministry said in its annual report submitted to the Parliament recently. On the other hand, China had said that CPEC won’t effect its on Kashmir.
“As a leftover issue from history between India and Pakistan, it needs to be properly settled through dialogue and consultation between the two sides,” Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said recently.
However, in Jammu and Kashmir, the business community sees a new ray of hope in the CPEC project. The issue was discussed recently at a seminar organised by Srinagar based think-tank The Kashmir Institute, where the universal view was that making Kashmir part of the CPEC, in some form will be beneficial.
During the discussion, Mubeen Shah, former president of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry strongly advocated for two divided sides of Kashmir to be declared as a single free economic zone. “Both India and Pakistan need to be specific about their political positions,” said Shah. “The CPEC might not change everything but it is a first step towards final settlement of Kashmir issue. We can focus on horticulture, textiles and other industries. The distance will be reduced and the road between Kashmir and Central Asia will be much cheaper.”
A few days later, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti also suggested that the Jammu and Kashmir can become the gateway to Central Asia and it could become a corridor of economic activity in the region, and the country could benefit from the economic activities going on across LoC.
“Why can’t we be partners in economic growth and share the benefits of projects like CPEC. Let us move beyond skirmishes,” she told a gathering in Delhi. “It would make the region a hub of emerging economic opportunities leading to cooperation in trade, commerce, tourism, adventure across the region.”
Even the separatist Chairman of Hurriyat Conference, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, in a recent interview said that though there is a rift between China and India, he believes all countries of the region will benefit from the CPEC in the longer run.
“India should not stay out of it. There is also an opportunity for India to assess the economic advantages it can have by being part of it. Kashmir can in fact become a gateway for India to be part of the CPEC, provided there is a settlement of the dispute first. Stronger the CPEC becomes, more the need to resolve disputes in the region,” he said.
China and Pakistan has left the door for India open but any decision on this issue will have political implications on the Jammu and Kashmir. For CPEC to be successful, experts opine that peace in Kashmir is inevitable. It has to be seen how will the Narendra Modi government deal with the rising demand of joining CPEC in Kashmir and China’s growing influence in South Asia.