Pak's dependence on CPEC
Pakistan wants to make Gilgit–Baltistan its fifth province in addition to Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baloch.
Since 1947 when both India and Pakistan became independent, Pakistan has been eyeing Jammu and Kashmir. Though Kashmir has legally acceded to India in 1947, Pakistan has not reconciled itself to this fact. What is worse, it sees a Muslim majority province staying with India as a threat to the basic ideology on which Pakistan is founded.
Hence, it has tried several methods since 1947 to capture Kashmir. It has waged a number of wars against India and used terrorists. It has intensified the proxy war since 1989. All along, it has claimed that it is providing only moral, political and diplomatic support to the Kashmiris to achieve their right of self-determination.
But the false narrative that Pakistan has so assiduously built has been exposed by its decision to change the status of Gilgit–Baltistan (GB), which is also known as Northern Areas. Islamabad now plans to change its status by making it the fifth province of Pakistan. So far, Pakistan has only four states – Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
Pakistan’s minister for inter-province coordination Riaz Hussain Pirzada says that his government now plans to bring in a bill to amend the constitution of Pakistan in the National Assembly to give GB the status of fifth province of Pakistan. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief’s special powers can also be used for that purpose. Whatever be the modus-operandi, the important thing is that Pakistan has decided to change the status of GB, which borders PoK. It also means that Pakistan no longer considers GB as part of J&K.
Pakistan has been calling the occupied areas of J&K as autonomous territories. It has been federally ruling these areas with puppet regional governments. Over the years, it has tried to integrate these areas in to Pakistan by settling Pakistani population there. Some people of Gilgit – Baltistan have been working in other parts of Pakistan including its military.
Still, this area is disturbed and has seen frequent ethnic conflicts. The Pak government has tried to subsume the ethnic identity of people of the region by spreading extremist religious ideology. In this effort, so far it has not been very successful. At the same time, it has not given up this approach to consolidate its hold over GB.
Ideally, Pakistan would like to continue with the present status of GB for some more time. But it is facing pressure from China which is investing nearly $51 billion in the CPEC project. The CPEC is not just a road project, it also includes energy, infrastructure, ports and industry related projects. This project has created great hope in Pakistan which is otherwise in turmoil.
A significant section of Pakistanis now thinks that the successful implementation of the CPEC would help the country come out of the morass it finds itself in. But the Chinese corporations which are investing billions of dollars in CPEC want security for their investment. Besides the law and order problem, there is no clarity on the constitutional status of GB.
The CPEC is the first chapter of Chinese One Belt One Road (OBOR) plan which is in recent times also called as the Belt Road Initiative (BRI). This is the pet project of Chinese President Xi Jinping who thinks that through OBOR, China can achieve its next stage of development. A number of Chinese policymakers think that they are facing the problem of `middle income trap’ and see OBOR as a way out of it.
Access to Indian Ocean
The successful implementation of the CPEC also makes China an ocean power. Besides, having access to the Pacific Ocean, the CPEC will also give it access to the vital Indian Ocean. The dependence of China on the Malacca Straits also creates a dilemma for them. They hope to overcome this by the CPEC. But the disputed status of the GB once again creates another dilemma for the Chinese.
The Chinese see the Indian opposition to the CPEC as a major hurdle in the implementation of the OBOR. Hence, they have now also invited India to join the CPEC. They have also stated that the mega project does not change the status of Kashmir. They are still repeating that India and Pakistan should try to resolve Kashmir issue through dialogue.
They have likened it to Taiwan and say that as Taiwan is free to develop its economic relationship with other countries, similarly Kashmir should be allowed to do so and reap the benefit of economic developments that CPEC is likely to bring to the region. China also argues that successful implementation of the CPEC would bring regional stability.
However, there is an important difference between the situation prevailing in Taiwan and Kashmir. Kashmir is facing continuous proxy war from Pakistani side. The present Pakistani game plan appears to be to incorporate GB as another province of Pakistan while keeping the remaining territory of Kashmir disputed by continuously waging proxy war through terrorists.
Though Syed Salahuddin of the United Jehad Council and Hurriyat leaders have opposed Pakistan’s plan, another tool in the Pakistani hand Zakir Rashid Bhat (alias Musa) of Hizbul Mujahideen has criticised the so called Kashmiri nationalism and urged them to be part of an Islamic caliphate. He also wants them to implement Sharia. Pakistan now seems to be working for closer integration of areas of J&K under its control while India, unfortunately, still debates the intricacies of its own constitution which stops the state from being mainstreamed.
(The writer is Associate Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses, New Delhi)