Speaking at a conference on “Emerging security order in Asia Pacific and its impact on South Asia” in Islamabad the other day, Advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz expressed disappointment over India’s rejection of peace overtures and opposition to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Said he, “India’s loud objections to CPEC and its attempts to gain support of elements [read anti-Pakistan elements in Kabul] in the region are ill-advised”, adding that “co-operation between Pakistan and China is focused on economic development through connectivity and is not against any other country.”
Interesting, India’s stated objection to CPEC is that it is to pass through Gilgit-Baltistan, which is a disputed territory being part of Jammu and Kashmir. In that case, it should talk to Pakistan – something it stubbornly refuses to do – to resolve the unresolved issue of Jammu and Kashmir in accord with the wishes of the people of these areas. The underlying reason for challenging the CPEC, however, seems to be Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s deep-seated antagonism towards this country. His government continues to spurn Pakistan’s efforts for the resumption of the stalled peace dialogue, and has been unwilling even to honour a memorandum of understanding under which the two countries had decided to play cricket in the UAE. Another reason for the opposition to the CPEC is the country’s alignment with the US’ “Pivot to Asia” policy, which is primarily aimed at encircling China. In the fast changing geopolitical realities, it may not serve India well to court conflict instead of regional collaboration.
There are at least two strong arguments for India to join rather than oppose the CPEC which is to be connected to another corridor to provide the landlocked Central Asian Republics access to shipping routes in the Arabian Sea. As it is, for quite some time India has been seeking a land route to Central Asian markets for trade as well as to benefit from the region’s huge energy resources. The CPEC could provide it with the necessary infrastructure for the purpose. Secondly, as Sartaz Aziz pointed out, massive investments in the infrastructure envisaged under the project will generate enormous trade and investment, helping this country attain economic stability, and provide jobs to unemployed youth. India’s ultra Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi needs to understand that a stable Pakistan at peace with itself is in his own country’s interest. In any event, whether New Delhi supports or opposes the CPEC, the project is going to go ahead. With the present stance it risks being left out of a great project of economic progress via regional connectivity.