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Pakistan using its Kashmir narrative to give China footprint via CPEC

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif speaks at the inauguration of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor port in Gwadar, Pakistan November 13, 2016. REUTERS/Caren Firouz

Islamabad [Pakistan]: For nearly 70 years, Pakistan has defined Kashmir as the core issue and root cause of its differences with India. Traditionally, since 1947, the narrative in Islamabad has been to champion the right of self-determination, security and sovereignty of Kashmiris. It is seen and regarded as a highly emotive issue in the nation’s domestic politics.

But of late, it is being suggested by some observers and analysts that Pakistan’s is using its Kashmir narrative and the United Nations resolutions linked to it to cement ties with China through the much publicized China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.

Social media is abuzz with suggestive views that with China maintaining a neutral stance on Kashmir, and refusing to extend support to Pakistan on the so-called dispute with India, Islamabad is looking at it purely from a selfish perspective by using it for the CPEC and giving China a footprint.

Why is the CPEC important for both Pakistan and China? Some observers opine that its success could eventually be useful in achieving a resolution of the decades-old Kashmir dispute with India through dialogue.

The view is that the CPEC is a mega project that has both political and economic ramifications, which if dealt with smartly, can go the distance in resolving not only the Kashmir issue, but also other disputes in the region.

The CPEC passes through Gilgit-Baltistan. The proposed economic corridor will be connected to the Karakoram Highway, a 1300-kilometer-long highway located at an elevation of 4,693 meters. Comprising of a number of development-related projects, the CPEC connects Pakistan and China through networks of roads and railways.

Looked at from a global linkage perspective, Pakistan’s Gwadar Port is just 400-kilometers away from Muscat and 500-kilometers from the Strait of Hormuz through which a majority of Gulf-produced oil passes. Another factor is the proximity to Africa, where China has a dominant economic presence which Pakistan could take advantage of in the short and long term.

From the Chinese point of view, Pakistan and the Gulf offer a lucrative market in terms of investment, access to natural resources and an opportunity to flood both regions with its cheap products and make a windfall.

Then there is the view that the CPEC will allow for greater proximity to Sri Lanka in the event of the USA/UK tightening control over the Malacca Strait and or India deciding to choke Beijing’s movement across the Indian Ocean.

Financial and economic experts in Pakistan have said that the 2017-18 budget proposals have a clear and visible Chinese footprint.

The formalization of the CPEC project has resulted in China becoming the single largest lender of money to Pakistan.

Why, should a cash-strapped Pakistan not devote time and energy on the Kashmir issue domestically as well as internationally, when it has been successful in convincing Beijing to part with Rs.168.3 billion in loans?

Media stalwarts like Najam Sethi are, however, on record as saying that the CPEC is all about boosting Beijing and its currency, rather than Islamabad’s position. Sethi has opined that China is competing to make the Yuan the alternate global currency to the Dollar, and see its One Belt One Road (OBOR), of which the CPEC is a part, playing a major role in this.

“Pakistan has no opportunity for bidding, it takes whatever China provides and in such a scenario transparency does not exists,” he said.

The Pakistan Government is convinced at present that the road to economic development, prosperity and provision of jobs is through the multi-billion dollar CPEC project, though critics feel that China will use Pakistan as a dumping ground for its unused exports and enhance returns to its exchequer.

Why think of the Kashmir issue in isolation at a time when you know that almost 60 billion dollars worth of deals happening with Pakistan are tied with the Chinese Yuan?

The CPEC will also allow the Pakistan Army to have a formal role within the country’s politico-military administrative institutions.

Pakistan’s Planning Minister, Ahsan Iqbal is on record, as saying that challenges notwithstanding the CPEC will see Pakistan’s four provinces competing for greater opportunities, and added that the federal government has built a mechanism to coordinate with “internal and external stakeholders” (ANI)