CPEC is a nightmare for India?

Well, there is a lot of negative talk about China Pakisatn Economic Corridor(CPEC) in Indian circles. It seems that CPEC has become a challenge for India, why?

The groundbreaking ceremony for the new expressway, linking Peshawar and Karachi is the single biggest transit project planned for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which is a key project of China’s “One Belt, One Road Initiative”.

Regionalism has failed to take off in South Asia due to political differences, con-generic economies, socio-religious cleavages and deep rooted conflicts between the states, particularly India and Pakistan.

Conventional wisdom has it that India is worried because of its two ends : Gwadar, where the Chinese are building a maritime presence, and Pakistan-occupied segments of the former kingdom of Jammu & Kashmir, where Pakistani and Chinese territorial and military frontiers are merging.

CPEC conveys a chilling message to India – that Pakistan is about to become a far more powerful country only because the Chinese munificence.It also means that  that China is full steam ahead in empowering a nuclear-armed restive neighbour who will inevitably use its to-be-acquired economic and military strength against India.

In monetary time the $46 billion Chinese funding for an ambitious 3,000-km-long China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which will shorten the route for Chinese energy imports from the Middle East by 12,000 km, is the biggest overseas investment by China announced yet.

These differences have not only created an obstacle for proper galvanization of interest both within and around South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), but its procedural and operational products, such as the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTD) and other regional economic agreements are also suffering from lack of commitment.

There is another deeper issue, one that has hitherto underpinned India’s long-term Pakistan strategy. The very fundamentals of that strategy are now under question. Indeed, CPEC is rewriting the economic geography and regional integrity of the subcontinent in a manner that will require more than a tactical, episodic response.

As India opened up its economy in 1991, this absence of sufficient economic osmosis with its neighbours emerged as a paradox. Every prime minister since then, irrespective of party and whatever his individual instincts and political beliefs, came to accept that as India’s economy grew, Pakistan would be compelled by business and commercial logic to engage with India.

CPEC alters that supposition. It replaces Pakistan’s dependence on a north-south trade corridor with its bet on an east-west corridor, from Kashgar (Xinjiang province) to Gwadar. This trade route is fairly unprecedented and is an expression of a new economic and strategic geography that China wants to define.

Once completed, the CPEC project would enlarge China’s strategic footprints in the Indian Ocean and would change the regional power matrix forever and moreover, once completed, the CPEC project would mean that the Chinese presence in entire Pakistan, including Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, becomes all pervasive and powerful.

This is a nightmarish scenario for the Indian strategic establishment. Needless to say, China’s hectic economic and so-called “commercial” engagement with Pakistan, which is nothing but a strategic gamechanger in the region, would go a long way in making Pakistan a richer and stronger entity than ever before.

This is truly unacceptable for India given the fact that a strong and resurgent Pakistan would inevitably needle India all the more.

India cannot obviously intervene or influence China-Pakistan bilateral relations, New Delhi will have to think out of the box and come up with pragmatic solutions in the shortest possible time.

China is invariably the elephant in room and epicenter of all discussions whenever two powerful nations engage with each other irrespective of their geographical locations.

But after Xi Jinping’s historic visit to Pakistan means that Pakistan will be the proverbial gorilla in the room when PM Modi confabulates with his Chinese interlocutors in Beijing next month.

Now irrespective of how quickly or impressively India’s economy may expand in the coming decades, Pakistan is not interested in a linkage let alone integration. New Delhi’s assumption that this was a long term inevitability no longer holds.

A harder school in the Indian establishment believes that if the subcontinent is no more the unit of reckoning for Pakistan, then India’s interest in recognizing and preserving shared tangible legacies, including natural and water resources, should correspondingly decline. Expect more on that in the coming days.