NEW DELHI / ISLAMABAD: The Indian government slammed on Tuesday plans by China and Pakistan to involve third countries in their ongoing multibillion-dollar infrastructure project.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a central part of the Belt and Road Initiative, under which Beijing has since 2013 pledged over $65 billion for energy and infrastructure projects in Pakistan, much of it in the form of loans. The plan is part of China’s aim to forge “Silk Road” land and sea ties to markets in the Middle East and Europe.
A key artery of CPEC runs through Gilgit-Baltistan, a northern mountainous region administered by Pakistan, which is the South Asian country’s only land link to China. It is also part of the disputed Kashmiri territory which both Pakistan and India have been claiming since gaining independence in 1947, and over which they have fought two wars.
Pakistan’s foreign office said last week that Beijing and Islamabad "welcomed interested third parties to benefit from avenues for mutually beneficial cooperation opened up by CPEC.” China’s foreign ministry spokesperson told reporters on Monday that they had also agreed on extending CPEC projects to Afghanistan.
The narrow resource-rich Wakhan Corridor, which connects Afghanistan to China, borders Gilgit Baltistan as well.
“We have seen reports on encouraging a proposed participation of third countries in so-called CPEC projects. Any such actions by any party directly infringe on India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said in a statement.
“India firmly and consistently opposes projects in the so-called CPEC, which are in Indian territory that has been illegally occupied by Pakistan. Such activities are inherently illegal, illegitimate and unacceptable, and will be treated accordingly by India.”
The Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Bagchi's statement was “baseless.”
“The whole world knew that India has no locus standi on Jammu and Kashmir that it is their integral part. Kashmir is a disputed area and There are United Nations resolutions on Kashmir and also it's on the agenda of UN Security Council. They have no claim in this sense,” the ministry’s spokesperson Asim Iftikhar Ahmad told Arab News.
Pakistan earlier this year invited several countries, mainly from the Gulf, to explore investment opportunities in CPEC.
The possibility of additional foreign investment is what Indian experts say worries India as it could strengthen Pakistani claims to the disputed Kashmiri region.
“If more countries join CPEC, it would give legitimacy to the CPEC and hamper India’s claim to regain that territory in any foreseeable future. India’s claim over Pakistan-occupied Kashmir would further reduce if more countries participated in CPEC,” Sujata Aishwarya, assistant professor at the Centre for West Asian Studies of the Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi, told Arab News.
“Any third or fourth country joining the CPEC would be directly against India’s stand on the border dispute with China and Pakistan and India’s claim over (the) other side of Kashmir.”
Besides its decades-long dispute with Pakistan, India has also been at loggerheads with China over their border in Ladakh — also a part of the larger Kashmir region, which was the subject of the Sino-Indian War in 1962. Since 2019, Ladakh has been witnessing clashes and a build-up of troops on both sides of the border.
According to Anil Trigunayat, India’s former ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta, the CPEC project “implies direct security threats for India.”
“For Pakistan and China the CPEC infrastructure is claimed to be the backbone of their interdependencies and likely aimed against India,” he said. “It will make the situation more illegal and complex, and will create rifts with the third country which becomes a part of this.”