CAN CHINA-PAKISTAN ECONOMIC CORRIDOR LEAD TO A SOLUTION OF KASHMIR CRISIS?
A good part of Narendra Modi’s energy during his whirlwind international tours in the first two years after he became Prime Minister were spent in trying to convince the world leaders that Pakistan was a terrorist state and wanted the world to isolate it. When China called the One Belt One Road summit about one third of the countries of the world were represented and it was India which isolated itself by not participating. Pakistan was the centre of attraction as China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is an important initiative of OBOR, an effort to link economies of Asis and Europe.
Before the OBOR summit Narendra Modi made a visit to Sri Lanka in an effort to keep the island country on India’s side. Shared Buddhist heritage was highlighted as the occasion was a big Buddhist festival. Modi invoked Buddha’s message of peace as an answer to growing violence. However, this didn’t prevent Sri Lanka or for that matter Bangladesh or Nepal, from participating in the OBOR summit indicating the influence China has on these nations. China, in fact, used the concept of Buddhist globalisation to gain support for its economic project OBOR. It can be anybody’s guess as to who’ll be more successful in mobilization using the Buddhist identity – Narendra Modi or Xi Jinping?
India boycotted the summit because it has objection to CPEC being built through Pakistan occupied Kashmir, which it considers as its territory. It is not clear though, how by not participating in the OBOR summit, it is going to stop the joint China-Pakistan project? If anything, it should have used the opportunity to put forth its point of view in front of the assembly.
A Line of Control (LoC) which separates Indian and Pakistani controlled regions of Kashmir was designated in 1972. Given the balance of power it is unlikely that Indian or Pakistani ambition of controlling the whole of Kashmir is going to be realized anytime soon. A solution proposed is to freeze the LoC as the international border. As PM, Manmohan Singh proposed the idea of a borderless Kashmir. This implied a unified Kashmir under joint administration of India and Pakistan.
Considering the strong aspiration for Azadi among the Kashmiris probably the best solution would be respectable degree of autonomy to Kashmir in a mutually agreed framework between the Indian and Pakistani governments. The building of CPEC may not be a bad idea at all because it will expand the number of countries which will now have interest in a peaceful Kashmir. China can play the role of a mediator between India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute and work out the joint arrangement under which Kashmir will participate in the joint economic project as an equal partner. The approval of the Kashmiris is necessary before any project is built in their area.
This should not be seen as India giving up its claim on whole of Kashmir. For one thing Pakistan will also have to give up its similar claim. Moreover, in the increasing sensitivity towards human rights globally, the rights of Kashmiris cannot be subsumed under Indian or Pakistani ambition. India or Pakistan cannot hope to govern Kashmir with the help of their respective armies forever. The deadlock which continues to persist for 70 years must end so that Kashmiris get a chance to live a normal life. An entire generation has grown up in Kashmir now who don’t know what life is like without the presence of security forces. Certainly Kashmiris deserve a better deal.
In fact, the CPEC can help create an atmosphere in which the animosities between India and China and between India and Pakistan can be ended when these countries will have better economic cooperation. All the governments since the time economic policies of globalisation, privatisation and liberalisation were implemented have been trying to attract investment. Additionally, Narendra Modi has been trying to boost manufacturing as part of his Make in India programme. Now India has an opportunity to be part of a regional but big enough economic forum but it is trying to shut itself out from it.
If China takes the initiative, supported by Russia, then a Europe like model can be created in Asia where the economic union will make the requirement of passport and visa across the border between countries redundant. Needless to say it’ll ease the pressure on defence budgets and loss of life in low intensity warfare between India and Pakistan will end. Most importantly Kashmiris will heave a sigh of relief.
Once the issue of Kashmir is resolved then other disputes between India and China would have to be resolved. China has been claiming Tibet to be its integral part, like the Indian or Pakistani claim about Kashmir. However Tibetans consider themselves to be an independent country and have a government in exile in India. India being a democracy, human rights violations in Kashmir are easily reported but that is not the case with Tibet. The non-democratic government of China has been involved in brutal suppression of people’s aspirations in Tibet. How can this go on in a modern globalised world? China would have to be ready to give up its claim on Tibet if India and Pakistan do the same for Kashmir. Autonomous Tibet and Kashmir will being happiness for its people. China will also have to give up its claim on Arunachal Pradesh as there is no aspiration for autonomy or independence in this region unlike Kashmir and Tibet.
In a similar vein Pakistan will have to grant autonomy to Baluchistan, an issue which Narendra Modi raised briefly but dropped due to some inexplicable reason. With the regional aspirations duly addressed it is hoped the peace will return to South Asia.
By Sandeep Pandey
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