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Opinion

Fifth column

Murtaza Shibli
November 18, 2017

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The peace potential

The peace potential

Fifth column
In a recent public interaction, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi rejected the idea of an independent Kashmir as unrealistic since it lacked support. This was a clear articulation of Pakistan’s long-held official position that is scarcely expressed so glaringly.
Usually, Pakistan’s public position is quite ambivalent as it continually claims to support the right to self-determination for Kashmiris that would allow them the agency to express their free will in order to decide their future. Although Abbasi did add the standard official blurb that “Kashmir should be resolved according to the UN Security Council Resolutions, which call for the right to self-determination for the people of Kashmir”, it was evident that he wanted to negate any possibilities of an independent Kashmir.
This departure from Pakistan’s ambivalent stance perhaps seems to have been partly provoked by the aftermath of the separatist referendums in Kurdistan and Catalonia. Despite the overwhelming political support, the aspirations of the Kurds and Catalans have been quashed. In the Kurdish case, there is an overwhelming American, European and Israeli support for the independence project. But all the regional powers – Iraq, Turkey and Iran, and even Syria – have joined hands to deny the proposition, claiming that it is a US-Israeli plan to further destabilise the Middle East. For Catalonia, the remarkable public support finds no reception in European capitals that otherwise espouse the cause of self-determination elsewhere.
Under these circumstances, any slogans for independent Kashmir could be seen as yet another Western attempt to destabilise the region and, more so, a move against Pakistan as well as the new flagship development programme, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Any idea of an independent Kashmir could provoke a strong Chinese reaction. Abbasi’s statement seems to be more of an attempt to address any Chinese anxieties as the Indo-American opposition to CPEC has increased phenomenally over the last year while the infrastructure around the corridor is taking a definitive shape.
Earlier this week, General Zubair Mehmood Hayat, Pakistan Army’s Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Committee, claimed that the Indian spy agency RAW had allocated $500 million “to carry out sabotage activities against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor”. Despite the glaring discord between the political government and its army, there is a near-total consensus in Pakistan that India and America are targeting CPEC for its strategic importance – both in terms of security and the economic potential for Pakistan.
In October, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis clearly opposed CPEC for “running through the disputed territory” as it was the main vulnerability of the initiative. Earlier, on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in China in September, Indian Prime Minister Modi raised concerns about CPEC running through the Pakistani side of Kashmir, which he termed a disputed territory. India, for its part, has been regularly raising concerns about the project. The most candid concern came from the Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat. In late August, he declared CPEC a challenge to Indian sovereignty. Earlier, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also criticised the initiative, saying that it undermined the country’s sovereignty and must be resisted.
The Pakistani reaction to the Indo-US opposition has often been dismissive or nonchalant. In response to Mattis, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, displayed scant appreciation of America’s disapproval and instead asked the US “not to look at CPEC from India’s perspective”. In fact, the opposition to CPEC fits well within the American plan for the region to deny any strategic advantages to China and to prop up India while breaking Pakistan from the Chinese orbital to suit the US game plan. Long before 9/11 – which is touted as a breakpoint in the US policy shift towards Pakistan – US think tanks funded by the American security establishment were projecting scenarios that saw Pakistan being nullified by India to work as a US-sponsored bulwark against an emerging China.
Regardless of the rhetoric, both India and Pakistan seem to be quite content with the status quo on Kashmir. This is what Farooq Abdullah, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, has been consistently positing. Irked by the continuous Indian claims on the Pakistani part of Jammu and Kashmir, Abdullah dared the Indian government to snatch it amid warnings that “Pakistan was not weak or wearing bangles”. “They too have atom bombs”, he warned while emphasising the need for a dialogue. “Before we think about war, we should think how we would live as humans,” he counselled.
Pakistan should see the Indian opposition to CPEC more as an American blueprint rather than the reverse and involve India. CPEC offers the best opportunity for both countries and the disputed Jammu and Kashmir to reap the benefits of an emerging economic corridor that will define the future of trade and commerce in the region and beyond. The Chinese have been more inventive on their part and have been trying to offer various solutions to soften India’s opposition to CPEC. In early May this year, prior to the Belt and Road Summit which India boycotted, the Chinese offered to rename CPEC to allay Indian concerns.
Delinking sovereignty issues with bilateral relations could be the best way forward to allow the successful completion of CPEC and nurture its full potential. In the past – most recently in the Musharraf era – India and Pakistan have worked together to make some thawing gestures in Jammu and Kashmir, much to the chagrin of Kashmiris. This culminated in a trans-Kashmir bus service and the establishment of the cross-LoC trade. Both these initiatives created better communication for the divided region and raised hopes of a better future. The opening up of the trade routes has been hailed by both sides. It is even being designated as the mother of all confidence-building measures (CBMs) by the optimists. If cross-LoC trade is the mother of all the CBMs, CPEC could be the father of all given its vast potential and global dimensions.
Twitter: @murtaza_shibli

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