The real impact of the construction of a $54 billion economic corridor in Pakistan on Kashmir will be decided by the people of the state, than by any other country, experts say.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) aims to connect Gwadar Port in southwestern Pakistan with Xinjiang in far-western China.
"If there will be an impact of CPEC on Jammu and Kashmir, it won’t be because of India and Pakistan, it has to be because of the people of Kashmir," Siddiq Wahid, noted historian and former vice-chancellor of Islamic University of Science and Technology, said on Saturday. He was speaking at a seminar organised by a newly launched think-tank, The Kashmir Institute, in Srinagar.
The three-hour long seminar, held in a jam-packed hall of a Srinagar hotel, saw a panel of experts debate whether Kashmir should be made part of CPEC and what could be its political implications on the state.
"It's going to be us, the people of Kashmir... we have to define what it (CPEC) is and how it's going to influence or impact us." Wahid, said.
"We need to put CPEC beyond India and Pakistan, as this would put Kashmir in the larger South Asia and Central Asia paradigm. Geographically, Kashmir's economy is closer to Kashgar than Jammu. In general, it is good for us as Kashmiris to be talking to China," Wahid said.
The CPEC project was launched in 2015 by China and Pakistan. The project involves the construction of a vast network of highways, railways, sea ports and energy projects.
CPEC has, of late, severed relations between China and India with the latter objecting to China's use of territory in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan. India claims that PoK, under Pakistan's control since 1947, is an integral part of its landmass. India believes China's presence in "India's territory" could internationalise the Kashmir issue.
"It is a much deeper strategic partnership supported by military power. Developments in Pakistan-administered Kashmir will be impacted the most because China will be building several development projects leading to Chinese military colonisation," Zubair Dar, a researcher at University of Berkeley, said.
He said when CPEC becomes more powerful and economically beneficial, then India may be forced to change its mind. "Economy drives the politics of any place, including Kashmir,” he said.
CPEC could help resolve the Kashmir dispute, former trade union head, Mubeen Shah, said. He also advocated that the two sides of divided Kashmir should be declared as a Free Economic Zone (FEZ).
"Both India and Pakistan need to be specific about political positions. Trade will decide the future of Kashmir. CPEC might not change everything but it is a first step towards final settlement of Kashmir. We can focus on horticulture, textiles and other industries. How distance will be reduced and the road between Kashmir and Central Asia will be much cheaper," a statement by Kashmir Institute quoted Mubeen as saying.
India is not interested in CPEC but it could help advance the peace process between India and Pakistan.
"India is not in favour of CPEC because they are more interested in the Chabahar port of Iran. Maybe CPEC could, in future, help in the peace process between both the countries and geo-economics can actually impact the geo-politics," Dr Mohammad Ibrahim, an economist, said.
Last week, India had said that it was opposed to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) because it passes through Indian Territory.
"We are all for promoting connectivity… our position is that CPEC passes through Indian Territory, that is where our difficulty lies," external affairs ministry spokesman, Gopal Baglay, said.
CPEC expert and author of 'The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia New Geopolitics', Andrew Small, said that CPEC has directly involved China in the India-Pakistan cross-border relationship.
"China has in the recent past made statements on Pakistan’s policy on the region, including the Kashmiri militant groups, and Kashmir itself through which some of the corridor route passes,” Small said.
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Updated Date: Mar 14, 2017 08:16:51 IST