It comes as a little surprise that Pakistani army chief Raheel Sahrif has blamed India for what he describes as the efforts being made by its long time regional rival to undermine the high profile US$46-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor Project (CEPC).
…Baloch separatists and Baloch ethnic groups have expressed themselves against CPEC as well as Chinese involvement in various projects in the province.
According to Sharif, this project highlighting the economic cooperation between the China and Pakistan, described as “all weather friends” has raised eye brows in the region. As envisaged now, the CEPC project that seeks to link Pakistan’s southern port city of Gwadar in the ethnically turbulent Balochistan province with Kashgar, the headquarters of China’s restive north western province of Xinjiang inhabited by the Uighur ethnic minority group has been considered a win-win development for both the countries. Going specific, Sharif said, “In this context, I must highlight that India our immediate neighbour, has openly challenged this development initiative”. A well planned network of all weather roads, railway lines and pipelines forming part of CPEC is expected to spur growth in the geographical stretches—in both Pakistan and China– that are considered far from well developed.
According to reports in the Pakistani media, the first phase of CPEC, made up of a series of power plants including coal based ones, will be completed by the end of next year. Incidentally, Pakistan and China had inked an agreement in April 2015 to initiate work on CPEC with a financial commitment of US$46-billion which works out to 20% of Pakistan’s annual GDP (Gross Domestic Product). The two leading ethnic groups of Pakistan, Balochs and Pashtuns, have opposed the CPEC saying that it would, in the end, benefit only politically influential Punjabis. But Pakistani Government sources in Islamabad stress the point that CPEC would benefit the entire country by acting as a catalyst for the expansion of the economy and business in a big way.
In view of the threat that Baloch separatists fighting for an independent Baloch homeland and Islamic militant groups bent upon creating anarchic conditions could pose to CPEC projects running through Balochistan, Pakistan has made extraordinary security arrangements in and around Gwadar deep sea port under the administrative and managerial control of China. In fact, Baloch separatists and Baloch ethnic groups have expressed themselves against CPEC as well as Chinese involvement in various projects in the province.
The biggest geopolitical challenge for Pakistan is how to comply with the Chinese request for giving constitutional recognition to the illegally held Gilgit Baltistan region without inviting opposition from Kashmiri separatist leaders on both the sides of divide.
Media reports reveal that “a heavy police force presence, guarded convoys, new check posts and troop reinforcements” have turned parts of Gwadar into a veritable fortress. In fact, the political leadership, in both China and Pakistan, have been concerned over the safety of heavy investments being made to make CPEC a reality. A top ranking police official in Gwadar pointed out that“Soon we will start hiring 700-800 police to be a part of a separate security unit dedicated to Chinese security, and at a later stage a new security division would be formed.” Indeed, in the aftermath of Islamic radicals launching a daring attack on Mehran naval air base on the outskirts of Karachi in May 2011, Pakistan is not willing to leave anything to chance in so far as the security of Gwadar and CPEC projects are concerned. In fact, there are instances of ethnic Baloch separatists having kidnapped Chinese nationals in the province.
In the ultimate analysis, CPEC, at its take off point at Gwadar in Pakistan and final destination in Kashgar could face serious security problems. In particular, China will have to face the challenge of violent activities of Muslim Uighur separatists in Xinjiang. The light skinned Uighur ethnic minority of China which is culturally close to some of the communities in Central Asia is fighting for an independent homeland. There is now way that the CPEC will have a safe and smooth progress through other parts of its run.
The biggest geopolitical challenge for Pakistan is how to comply with the Chinese request for giving constitutional recognition to the illegally held Gilgit Baltistan region without inviting opposition from Kashmiri separatist leaders on both the sides of divide. China had made it very clear and vocal that it is essential for Pakistan to provide legal cover to the Chinese investment on CPEC running through Gilgit Baltistan where undercurrent of discontent against Pakistani occupation continues to simmer. Accordingly, Pakistanis mulling the possibility of turning Gilgit Baltistan region into the constitutionally recognised fifth province of the country. But this step will have serious repercussions in so far as keeping on boil the Kashmir dispute. As it is, Pakistan had not merged Gilgit Baltistan with the rest of the country with a view to project Kashmir as the disputed territory.
The foolhardy decision of Nehru Government in stopping the Indian defence forces from crossing the Kishan Ganga River helped keep Kashmir dispute alive.
Not surprisingly, China describes CPEC as a vital component of its much publicised One Belt One Road project that is aimed at linking Europe and Asia to boost trade, commerce and industrial production. On the other hand, the strategically located Gwadar sea port, on which China has a total control, would provide China an easy access to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea. And during the times of crisis, Chinese navy can move its personnel through the surface transportation network of CPEC to Gwadar from where they can straightaway make it into the Arabian Sea. Clearly and apparently, this is the most significant geostrategic advantage that China could derive by exercising control over Gwadar.
On another plane, the oil and gas pipelines originating from Gwadar can be utilised for the transportation of crude and natural gas secured from Iran. On a more practical level, this approach would help China to circumvent the highly vulnerable Strait of Malacca for the transportation of crude. Growing US naval presence in the disputed South China Sea is a major reason for China looking at an alternative route for transporting crude. Strait of Malacca choke point forms a part of South China Sea.
Beyond registering the protest against the CPEC run through Gilgit and Baltistan, an integral part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir that was occupied by Pakistan through subterfuge in 1947,the Narendra Modi led Government has done precious little to break the illegal Pakistan-China nexus in the Pak occupied Kashmir. It was the glaring failure of the independent India’s first government led by Pandit Jawaharalal Nehru to re-annex Gilgit and Baltistan that opened the pandora’s box of Kashmir dispute. The foolhardy decision of Nehru Government in stopping the Indian defence forces from crossing the Kishan Ganga River helped keep Kashmir dispute alive. And the enormous price that India continues to pay for this thoughtless action is there for everyone to see.
The political leadership in New Delhi should wake up to the possibility of CPEC putting India in a vulnerable position in so far as the geo strategic calculus of the country is concerned.
The modernization and up-gradation of Karkoram highway—passing through the illegally occupied Gilgit and Baltistan region — as part of CPEC could enable both China and Pakistan to move heavy trucks and armoured vehicles without let and hindrance. The formidable Karkoram highway, described as one of the highest paved international expressways, connects Gilgit and Baltistan to Xinjiang. The still far from vocal movement for a separate Balwaristan in Gilgit and Baltistan could assume serious dimensions once increased Chinese presence becomes evident for executing projects under CPEC. Inhabitants of Gilgit and Baltistan have expressed themselves against the stationing of Chinese security personnel to take care of various projects being executed bythe Chinese companies.
There are apprehensions that CPEC could end up as a formidable wall planned to deprive India of access to areas that lie westwards in Afghanistan and Central Asia. There is no denying the point that the long term strategic challenge posed by CPEC could prove very costly for India. The political leadership in New Delhi should wake up to the possibility of CPEC putting India in a vulnerable position in so far as the geo strategic calculus of the country is concerned. The Narendra Modi led Indian Government should blaze a new trail in responding to the fall outs of CPEC with particular reference to the Indian security in the years ahead.