CPEC: Boon or Bane for Kashmir?

CPEC:  Boon or  Bane for Kashmir?

Ashiq Hussain Bhat

For some years now, the talk of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has been ringing the air in South Asia, in general, and Kashmir,  in particular. Kashmiris are happy that Pakistan and Pakistan administered parts of Kashmir State would achieve economic prosperity with the help of China that is funding the project.
Since the geo-politically ambitious trade Corridor passes through Kashmir State territory of Gilgit-Baltistan(GB) before entering mainland Pakistan; and since Azad Jammu Kashmir(AJK; called PoK, Pakistan occupied Kashmir, on Indian side), is also going to be linked with it, the people of the rest of the State, especially the people of Kashmir Valley have already expressed their desires to be connected with it. CPEC enthusiasts have set up “think tanks” for highlighting its advantages, and its potential for final resolution of long-pending Kashmir Dispute. These “think tanks” maintain that people of Kashmir also have a right to share the benefits of trade like the people of AJK and GB so that the evils of poverty and unemployment could be addressed.
And those who believe that it will help break the status quo on Kashmir, visualize the iron curtain between India administered and Pakistan administered Kashmir falling to the ground and the former Princely State of Kashmir metamorphosing into an international trading hub.
However, in their enthusiasm to join the CPEC as early as possible, these “think tanks” and their votaries seem to be oblivious of the political fallout that the CPEC may spell out for Kashmiri Muslims because it is now confirmed news that because of the alleged Chinese pressure, the Nawaz Sharif Government intends to merge GB as the 5th Province of Pakistan.
Nawaz Sharif has his personal political compulsions also. He has to face Pakistani voters in March 2018 when his present term as Prime Minister would end. He and his family members are facing accusations, since Panama Leaks, of having indulged in massive corruption. Also, he faces accusations in the country of collusion with Narendra Modi Government of India via the good offices of an Indian steel baron.
Chances are high that he may not win another term but instead end up in the dock to face corruption charges. So, the result of the upcoming general elections in Pakistan would be for him a matter of do or die.  Therefore, he would like to sell the development of the CPEC and the merger of GB to the people of Pakistan to canvass votes to stay in power. This, he would have to do before March 2018. Since his party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), is in majority in GB Legislative Assembly since 2015, it would not be a difficult affair for him to manage its “endorsement” for the merger.
The GB Legislative Assembly would justify “endorsement” in the name of ridding their homeland of the seven decades long political uncertainty and their aspirations to develop trade and tourism in their homeland with the help of the CPEC which, according to some of them, entails full merger with the Federation of Pakistan.
What the merger of GB with Pakistan without a plebiscite would spell out for Kashmir is the question that needs to be faced squarely by CPEC enthusiasts in Kashmir. The  Pakistan State will cease to be a party to the overall Kashmir Dispute which includes GB, AJK, and Indian Administered Kashmir(also called J&K), because merging GB without a plebiscite(to be possibly followed by merger of AJK in a like manner), would be a stark violation of UN resolutions on Kashmir.
Consequently, the Indian Government may shun its rhetoric that GB and POK/PaK were/are integral parts of India which it has maintained to counter Pakistan Government’s rhetoric that Kashmir was/is the jugular vein of Pakistan. Instead it(GOI) would direct the Legislative Assembly of Kashmir to initiate the process of abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India as laid down in its clause 3.
The Legislative Assembly of Kashmir is composed of members of “mainstream” political parties. All these parties are dependent on New Delhi with little political vision of their own vis-à-vis resolution of Kashmir Issue. History is witness to the fact that the “mainstream” parties could go to any extent to appease New Delhi to stay in power.
, so far as the second political segment of Kashmir is concerned, that is, the “separatist” camp, they are dependent upon Pakistan for support-moral, political, diplomatic- and so on. Therefore, the “separatist” camp may not be in a position to vigorously oppose Pakistan’s merger of GB. At the most, they might issue statements for public consumption against the merger. Consequently,   Kashmiris will find themselves sans political guidance the way they were in 1846 and 1947.
Kashmir has been a conflict zone for decades. Conflict zones are breeding grounds for mercenaries. But conflict zones also produce geniuses. However, Kashmir seems to have failed on the second count. It has miserably failed to throw up independent minded civil and political activists in great numbers even after remaining embroiled in political contention against aliens since 1931. It has mostly produced opportunists, weathercocks, and renegades.
So the scenario that may develop in Kashmir as the year 2017 progresses appears to be very bleak. One can imagine New Delhi coming down very heavily against those Kashmiris(read Muslims) who may dare to oppose New Delhi’s attempts to get a recommendation from the Legislative Assembly in favour of  abrogation of  Article 370. Such Kashmiris would not be justified to oppose abrogation of Article 370 unless they had first opposed merger of GB with Pakistan without a plebiscite.
The resultant political turmoil would cause the business community of Kashmir to lose much more than they would have gained from the CPEC,  even if at all Kashmir were ever connected to the trade corridor. Political turmoil might lead to geo-political forces, state as well as non-state actors, to hijack the situation as they constantly remain in need of new battlefields.

—The author is a political analyst. He can be reached at: ashqhussainbhat@gmail.com