India’s constant opposition towards CPEC should not be affecting this project at all.
Simultaneously, this project is not prohibiting India to be the part of CPEC as an inclusive project. This is purely a development project and has no excuse to restrain the development in the disputed areas as India is casting repeatedly its stance that CPEC passes through the disputed area and is a serious concern for that nation. Could it be that India intentionally does not want to raise the standards of living of the masses of those areas?
CPEC is a flagship project of China’s One Belt One Road Initiative that includes more than 65 countries of the world. It is not like a Multilateral Export Control Regime “an international body that states use to organize their national export control systems”/regime such as the NSG, in which a consensus of the member countries is needed for the new developments. For example if one member country is not giving its consensus for any development, the whole development will be halted.
Instead CPEC project is an open and inclusive project and inviting other countries to invest for the mutual benefit and shared prosperities of the respective regions. Pakistan and China are working on the economic cooperative initiative backed by the UN and several other countries of the world and it is not directed against any third party. There is no universal justification for India’s claim over the disputed territories on the ground because there are examples of where developmental work has been done — such as last year when the Philippines released photographs of construction of structures by Chinese vessels in the disputed Scarborough Shoal in South China Sea during ASEAN Summit in Vientiane. India beefed up its concerns against Chinese sponsored China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Will the disputes between or among countries obstruct the overall development of the region and the populace residing in those areas?
Recently on January 27, India’s Ambassador to China Mr. Gautam Bambawale’s said, “Beijing should pay serious attention to New Delhi’s concerns about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and not ignore them. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passes through Indian-claimed territory (POK) and hence violates our territorial integrity. This is a major problem for us.”
Since the introduction of this project, these kinds of statements have risen on different international or national forums from India’s side. Despite these stern statements, the project has been progressing very well. This despite the US having also thrown its weight behind India by saying that it too believes the route of corridor passes through a disputed territory — a reference to Northern areas of Pakistan. The statement came at a time when Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif was in Washington and held a series of talks with the US officials to normalize tense relations. This new stance has started another debate and is undoubtedly going to further damage bilateral ties, as it is profusely obvious now that the US envisions a greater role for India in the region.
Apart from the vicious existence of terrorism in South Asia, the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India is also the biggest hindrance for any possibility of a large scale of investment coming into the region. India should be on the front line to negotiate with Pakistan to resolve this conflict as a solution to the concern on CPEC to promote prosperity and development in that area because the northern part of India bordering Pakistan and Indian held Kashmir lacks the basic infrastructure.
India’s perceived sense of insecurity regarding this project is that through CPEC the sources and standards of livelihood of the people living in Pakistan’s side of Kashmir would be raised. This is a serious anxiety in India as this hopeful situation presents a Pakistan’s GB stark contrast to the situation in Indian occupied Kashmir, where the occupation forces have unleashed a reign of terror against innocent Kashmiris for committing the ‘sin’ of demanding legitimate socio-political rights.
However, China will not give up CPEC just because of mere Indian protests. The Indian government will not cease its developmental activities in Arunachal Pradesh either. But is it not important to respect the voices of communities residing in disputed territories as a priority rather than following the institutional norms in developmental activities? From inter-governmental institutions like ADB/World Bank to each country sharing disputed territories like India or China or Pakistan, it is foremost important to stand up with rights to development of communities. Otherwise, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cannot be considered ‘universal’.
In a nutshell, India’s regional aspirations to contain China’s growing regional influence and conveying such messages to China will not carry sufficient weight in the long run to cut China’s commitment towards CPEC. India has some faulty security relations with China even without CPEC. India, as being the major country of the region, should play its influential part towards the development of the region and make peace with its neighboring states.
Lastly, if India is striving hard by investing in Chabahar Port and other initiatives, such as its support to 116 influential projects in 31 provinces in Afghanistan — which are aimed to undercut CPEC and increase India’s hold in Kabul — then why is it protesting the developments in the disputed areas through which CPEC passes. These 116 India-sponsored projects will cover hydropower construction, farmland water conservation projects and renewable energy among others that will directly affect lives of the common people of Afghanistan. Likewise through CPEC the regional development is possible if India looks at this project through the prism of the development.
By Asia Maqsood*