Thursday, 21 December 2017

CPEC and the Indian concerns Dr Shabir Choudhry

CPEC and the Indian concerns
Dr Shabir Choudhry       21 December 2017

Prevailing view in the Indian security circles is that, CPEC, apart from other motives, has hidden agenda to encircle India to endanger its security and trade routes.

Of course, with that they feel that the CPEC will go through a territory of Gilgit Baltistan, which is disputed and which they claim belongs to India. If the CPEC is completed as planned, it may enable China to station their troops, and strengthen their grip over these areas, a big chunk of which was illegally given to China by Pakistan in 1963.

India doesn’t like Jammu and Kashmir dispute to be discussed at any international platform. Those who claim that so and so conference was funded by India need to understand that, unlike Pakistan, Indian policy for many decades has been to keep the Jammu and Kashmir dispute on the back burner; and avoid its publicity in any form or shape.

Indian policy makers feel the CPEC can ‘internationalize’ the Jammu Kashmir dispute; and will enable China and Pakistan to extend their influence in the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.

Areas of Gilgit Baltistan were part of the former Princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. On 22 October 1947, despite Standstill Agreement, Pakistan attacked to capture Kashmir. The Maharaja Hari Singh was left with no alternative, but to accede to India in order to save life, liberty and property of the people; however, this accession had to be ratified by the people.

On strength of this treaty, India call Gilgit Baltistan and so called Azad Kashmir as its ‘territory’. Bitter fact, however, is that just like Pakistan abandoned Bihari people in East Pakistan; India also practically abandoned these areas and left the people at the mercy of Pakistani establishmnent.

If India, in accordance with terms of the treaty had used its military muscle and had driven the raiders out of Jammu and Kashmir territory, then they would have had access to Central Asia via Wah Khan strip. It appeared they were satisfied with what they had under their control, and that is why Zulfqar Ali Bhutto and Mrs Indira Gandhi changed Cease Fire Line in to Line of Control in the Simla Agreement, practically acknowledging that what is under Pakistan belongs to them. It becomes apparent that views and sentiments of the people of Jammu and Kashmir state did not matter to rulers of India and Pakistan.

While speaking to a seminar in New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “Only by respecting the sovereignty of countries involved, can regional connectivity corridors fulfil their promise and avoid differences and discord.”

However, critics point out that if India was so concerned about its ‘territory’, then why no issue was raised by India when Quadrilateral Traffic in Transit Agreement (QTTA) was initiated in 1995. The QTTA was a transit trade deal involving four countries, China, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan; and had to go through Gilgit Baltistan.

May be Indian establishment regarded the QTTA an economic trade route and not a project planned to encircle India. The CPEC and control of Gwadar will enable China, and to some extent Pakistan, to influence the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, which is detrimental to interests of many countries, including India. The choking of Strait of Malacca will not be effective because of the CPEC and the Chinese control of Gwadar and other string of Pearls.

It must be pointed out that Gulf of Oman is the world’s busiest shipping route; and India’s more than two-thirds petroleum imports pass through this. Pakistan has leased Gwadar Port to China for 40 long years. It is believed that Gwadar has already become China’s naval outpost with ability to threaten India’s economic, energy and security interests.

A Swedish think tank, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, also asserts that India’s apprehension on the CPEC includes fear of ‘internationalization of the Kashmir dispute and the growing influence of China in the Indian Ocean’.

Also, Indian policy makers fear that because of the CPEC and huge Chinese investment, China’s role will become more pro Pakistan; and Gilgit Baltistan, a roof of the world, can become a military base of China which can have serious defence and strategic ramifications.

To counter the CPEC and to overcome Pakistan’s refusal to allow transportation of the Indian goods to Afghanistan, India also initiated its own strategies, which include development of Iranian Port of Chabahar and Air Cargo Service to Afghanistan.

Both India and Iran can make effective use of the Chabahar port. Iran can export goods to India and to Asia Pacific region. Chabahar Port is about 843 nautical miles from Mumbai, India’s commercial hub; and India can use that to access the markets of Central Asia via Afghanistan. Goods from the Chabahar Port will be transported by road to Zaranj city, in Nimruz province of Afghanistan, which will be linked to a highway built by India in 2009.

This route will also give Afghanistan access to the Gulf and the Arabian Sea. Furthermore, if this route becomes fully functional, it can take away some of the shine from the CPEC; and Pakistan’s pride that it controls strategic gateway.

If all countries of the region work in good faith and in partnership, then the Gwadar and Chabahar Ports can become sister ports. If rivalry and animosity continues, then in an atmosphere of tension and confrontation, it can become a battleground, resulting in death and destruction and economic slowdown of many countries.

Writer is a political analyst, and author of many books and booklets. Also, he is Chairman South Asia Watch, London and Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs.     @Drshabir

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