China’s growing presence in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and its construction of a port at Gwadar have long bothered India. Recently, these two separate issues were brought together. This is because a plan has been formalized between Pakistan and China to connect Kashgar in Xinjiang province of China to Gwadar on Balochistan’s Makran coast in Pakistan. The construction of this economic corridor will be fast-tracked for completion within five years.
While China has already begun to modernize the Karakoram Highway, under the corridor project, it is expected to add a railway line, optic fibre link and a petroleum pipeline across the Karakorams. It would also involve the development of industrial projects all along the corridor and the construction of a massive special economic zone in Gwadar. The Gwadar project, along with Hambantota in Sri Lanka and Kyaukphyu in Myanmar are likely to raise China’s strategic profile in the Indian Ocean. Many in India see Chinese interest in Gwadar, located close to the Persian Gulf, as part of a larger strategy to build up China’s strategic presence in the Indian Ocean.
India can respond to these activities in the following ways:
- It can continue to object to the Chinese projects in PoK and Balochistan. However, Indian protests are unlikely to stop or slow the construction of the corridor.
- India can try and match China’s transformative infrastructure projects on its periphery; like advancing its own rail link to Kashmir and developing the Chabahar port further west of Gwadar on the Makran coast.
- In parallel to the second option, India can reach out to Pakistan and China and propose trilateral collaboration on mega infrastructure projects. India must test the intentions of both China and Pakistan by offering to join them in the development of the corridor. It must also show interest in investing in the Gwadar Special Economic Zone. India can also propose new connectivity projects across the current lines of control in J&K with Pakistan and China.
Instead of treating trans-border infrastructure projects as competitive, India can see them as part of a wider regional economic cooperation. The joint projects in J&K can be undertaken without a reference to the competing territorial claims of India, Pakistan and China.