As China embarks on ambitious OBOR (One Belt, One Road) initiative, which includes CPEC as the flagship project, it is high time for India make its geopolitical strategy fool-proof, especially in the neighbourhood. While it has been generally accepted by the global community, including India and Pakistan, that the dispute over Kashmir is a bilateral issue between the two countries, Chinese involvement in the regional matter between Delhi and Islamabad has always been apparent.
Now, with India’s refusal to participate in the first Belt and Road Forum (BRF), which concluded in Beijing on Monday, over Chinese involvement in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir with the CPEC project, China’s stake in the long-standing dispute has come to the fore like never before. Strategic affairs expert C Raja Mohan writes in The Indian Express: “India’s arguments with China on the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) have had one important effect. It has helped bring the triangular dynamic between India, Pakistan, and China in Jammu and Kashmir into sharp focus.”
In the past, the UK and the US had expressed their desires to mediate between India and Pakistan to resolve Kashmir issue, while the Hurriyat separatists continue to consider themselves as the third party in the dispute. However, Raja Mohan says that now, “it is China that is the real third force in Kashmir.”
It is an open truth that separatist groups in Kashmir are aided by Pakistan, which is a Chinese ally. With the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, Beijing is investing billions of dollars along a belt that passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) — an Indian territory illegally occupied by Pakistan. India didn’t participate in the BRF as China failed to address its concerns over the PoK area.
Contrary to Chinese propaganda that CPEC would primarily be an infrastructure project to boost trade, Pakistani daily Dawn has revealed that the flagship ‘One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project would have wider ramifications on trade as well as cultural aspects of the Islamic country.
China already occupies a large part of Ladakh in the north-eastern part of Jammu and Kashmir. In 1962, Pakistan had ceded a large part of the territory to Bejing in the west of Jammu and Kashmir. Moreover, China had started its first trans-border infrastructure project in Kashmir, the Karakoram Highway, way back in the 1960s. “As the CPEC deepens the integration between Pakistan occupied Kashmir and China, Beijing looms larger than ever before over J&K,” writes Raja Mohan, adding, “triangular nature of the Kashmir question can no longer be masked.”
The expert suggests a few ways in which India can deal with the growing Chinese threat in Kashmir as Beijing undertakes one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken in the world. Here are the suggestions made by Raja Mohan:
First, India should make more efforts to modernise and deepen the connectivity of Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of the country.
Second, Raja Mohan says that India should “test the sincerity of the Pakistani and Chinese statements that CPEC is open for Indian participation.”
Third, Raja Mohan says the argument between India and China in Kashmir is deeply connected to the Arunachal Pradesh question. He suggests India to “raise its game on accelerating the state’s economic development and its connectivity to the rest of India.”
Fourth, India should give “high-level political attention” to Andaman and Nicobar islands which sit across China’s planned silk routes in the eastern part of Indian Ocean.
Fifth, India should quickly complete connectivity projects with neighbours in the Indian sub-continent, South-East Asia and the Gulf.