Tangled in the demonetisation monster, it is certain that most people who matter in New Delhi will have unfortunately missed the recent statement of Mirwaiz Farooq regarding the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Mr. Farooq said that Kashmir can be India's link to CPEC, and the fresh economic opportunities. He termed Kashmir as the "gateway" for India to reach the network of the highways of CPEC. His idea of bridging India with CPEC comes in the wake of fast and exciting developments taking place in the region. With each passing day there is some news connected with the CPEC; some of them due to the extravagant expectations raised by the Chinese investment as well as by the reports of the interest shown by the regional powers. However, there is no doubt that interest in the multi-billion dollars Project is growing from the Central Asian Republics, Russia as well as Iran.
There is a geo-strategic churning underway in the region, part of the reason being the resurrection of this ancient route which crosses through all the provinces of Pakistan. While India is looking West, Pakistan is looking East and North. Russia, the Cold War friend of India is warming up to Pakistan. Iran is showing interest in the CPEC, not to mention the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In the backdrop of the death of SAARC and the revival of Eurasian Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the future seems to be centered on the fate of this new route. A key piece of this Project is the Gwadar Port, which is being hailed as the new Dubai. Robert D. Kaplan writing in the May 2009 issue of The Atlantic believed that this strategic port will determine the future of Pakistan. Either it will plunge the nation into savagery or help it unlock the riches of Central Asia and with that also the potential of its own human resources. He goes on to compare the port with Thebes, Troy, Carthage of the past and Singapore and Washington of the contemporary times. What essentially Farooq is saying is that India can latch on to the economic powerhouse of the future through Kashmir. He offers Kashmir on a platter for the use of the modernised Silk Route.
What he has said may not be entirely correct. Nor is it necessary that Mr. Kaplan would turn prophetic in his utterances about CPEC and Gwadar. However, warm, joyous images of the future, even if utopian can be brought closer to reality if the two antagonistic powers can come closer, for common economic goals. By opening the border in Kashmir, not only will the latter serve as a gateway but it will also release the population off the suffocation induced since the Partition of the sub-continent. While India and Pakistan can together reap the economic benefits, the population in Kashmir, caught up in a never ending war, will obtain a psychological reprieve. For if any place has been the greatest victim of the Partition it is the people of Kashmir. At other places, the Partition is more or less a closed chapter but here it is a living force, lived everyday by people who wake up every morning to the sight of soldiers or front pages of newspapers covered with descriptions of gunfights and bloodshed either on the border or in the mainland around their homes, fields and orchards. The gateway idea can bring India into a common futuristic economic destiny with Pakistan and even with China. There is every chance that if Mirwaiz's thought is given some reflection, even the search for a solution to Kashmir can wait, as people get a breather from a militaristic existence to which they've been made pathologically used to. The link with CPEC through Kashmir can unfold more linkages which have been put into cold store due to the mistrust between the two countries. Like the gas pipeline from Iran, this will unleash a new economic energy in the region. The gateway will not just open on the outside but it also mean that it will open out for those who wish to come in with ideas and products. That is how historically Kashmir has been towards Central Asia. Its food, dress and mannerisms are witness to the gateway that it has been in the past. To prevent that is to go against what nature has determined it to be like, and not without its violent repercussions.
Moreover, the linkage with the CPEC is in line with the traditional policy line of India, that trade and commerce should come first and Kashmir issue resolution later. The gateway proposal will be both at the same time; it will place trade and commerce at the center of the relations and yet at the same time also ease out on the search for the solution to Kashmir. The simultaneity of the two will be win-win for both the parties. For this idea to materialise a bold leadership decision is required which can break the traditional mould. That does not seem to happen with the kind of baggage carried by Narendra Modi, and the level of suspicion between the two nations at this stage, whose burden, once against, is borne not so much by the people of either country as by the hapless population of Kashmir. While the Indian Prime Minister is busy trying to prove that his pre-election image was not just an illusion (doing embarrassing things in the process), the local rulers are muddled about their election-promise of keeping the right-wing BJP out of Kashmir, and now supervising over more than four months of agitation in cooperation with the RSS-BJP. One can wager that Mirwaiz's idea will not be even given a moment's reflection but that does go on to show how serious New Delhi is towards applying balm in valley, and how spurious the claims of their local partners. Mirwaiz is offering both a plea as well as a promise; a plea to rid the place of the running sore of conflict and a promise towards a prosperous and peaceful future.
(Javaid Iqbal Bhat is Assistant Professor at South Campus, University of Kashmir)