CPEC a misnomer: India must rename it
The online reproduction of Chinese envoy Luo Zhaohui’s address at a New Delhi gathering on May 5 was swiftly edited to delete a particular line where he offered to rename CPEC if that were to alleviate India’s growing sovereignty concerns on the project. CPEC is emerging as a potential pivot in the geo-strategic calculus between India-Pakistan and China, and it has, for a while, been rearranging conventional parameters of the trilateral equations. From blatant indifference towards India’s territorial concerns, to cajoling New Delhi to participate in CPEC and now possibly progressing towards a rather accommodative mode — the triangular dynamics between the three countries are unfolding at a fast pace. Abiding by its extant claim on Gilgit-Baltistan as part of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), India has pitched a strident opposition to the corridor that is set to traverse across approximately 300 kilometres of Gilgit- Baltistan before culminating in Pakistan.
The Chinese envoy’s indication on renaming CPEC is unelaborated. However, even in its current formulation, the CPEC nomenclature ignores a critical strand i.e. Gilgit-Baltistan, which is neither a part of Pakistan or of China. Gilgit-Baltistan is not a province of Pakistan yet and remains unrepresented in the National Assembly and Senate. It is disputed area and its future political status is contingent upon the outcome of the Kashmir issue. As a result, the region has been ruled by ad hoc structures of governance since 1947. People of Gilgit-Baltistan have remained disenfranchised for decades and it took an overpowering public demand to revert the region’s original nomenclature — Gilgit Baltistan, which till 2009 was referred to merely by a geographical annotation “Northern Areas”. Part of the region — Shaksgam Valley — was ceded to China by Pakistan in the 1963 provisional border agreement. Article 6 of the agreement binds the future of the ceded territory to the bilateral settlement of Kashmir by India and Pakistan. In the event of change in sovereign control over Gilgit-Baltistan, China’s control over Shaksgam Valley will be reopened for negotiation. Therefore, till Kashmir is resolved, and Pakistan, meanwhile, continues to exercise rather interim control on Gilgit-Baltistan, is it not appropriate to refer to the project as CGBPEC (China-Gilgit-Baltistan-Pakistan-Economic Corridor) instead of CPEC? Some thinking must be invested here.
It is not just taxonomy. China-Pakistan spurred discourse on CPEC have consistently failed to acknowledge the salience of the region to the connectivity corridor. Gilgit-Baltistan is the virtual pivot in CPEC routing as the crucial and only land link between the two sides without which the corridor was inconceivable. While Pakistan and China are briskly marketing the project on a plank of development, self-sufficiency and stability, least is being thought or projected on Gilgit-Baltistan, apart from empty promises of bringing up one odd special economic zone (SEZ) in the region.
This is possibly because the region is tagged disputed. The gross neglect of the region in CPEC underscores the broader disregard of the region in the decades-old Sino-Pak bilateral liaison. The state of development in the region is dismally low despite a rich natural resource base. On CPEC, local population has been kept in oblivion regarding their share of projects and benefits thereof.
Had Gilgit-Baltistan charted an alternative trajectory in 1947, the contours of Sino-Pak strategic partnership may have differed materially from what it is today. As the region sits at a key geographical conflux, Pakistan’s control over the region has been used to unleash a relentless strategy to keep India hemmed in a limited geopolitical sphere. The territory swap, building of the Karakoram Highway, and Chinese infrastructure intrusion in parts of PoK have been forged to cement Sino-Pak bilateral ties on one hand, and more significantly, hedge India on the other. India’s territorial concerns vis-a-vis PoK continue to be flagrantly disregarded by a thriving Sino-Pak nexus and have often manifested in the wider realm to thwart India objectives — be it at the UN or NSG platforms.
China is holding the OBOR summit on the May 14-15. CPEC is the flagship project from the OBOR stable but is incrementally clouded by layers of speculation and suspicion. The corridor across belts of unrest and political instability is further stigmatised by Gilgit-Baltistan’s disputed status and India’s oft-stated reservations. To counter India’s objections, a concerted effort is being made to portray it as an obstructer to CPEC. Pakistan has consciously linked recent arrests in Gilgit-Baltistan to India’s efforts to sabotage CPEC.
India’s options to deal with an imminent threat from a Sino-Pakistan axis on its periphery are limited. Censuring the Dalai Lama’s visit, China impulsive response was unilaterally renaming parts of Arunachal Pradesh. While the Chinese gambit did cause brief bilateral disconcertment, renaming projects or contested territory is least potential as an option to solve vital territorial concerns. India must, however, think in term of generating variety options to offset a rather aggressive Chinese stance on such issues. In this regard, option to refer to CPEC as CGBPEC or may be at some point call it CIPEC (China-India-Pakistan Economic Corridor — counting India’s pending claim on Gilgit-Baltistan) — could be contemplated upon during policy formulating exercises.
(The writer is an Associate Fellow with South Asia Centre, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. The views expressed here are her own)
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