A train to Pakistan, but this time from China!
“The enemy of your foe can be your best friend.” Nothing but this describes China’s long standing plans of getting cozy with Pakistan. Struck between two nations, each of which wants a piece of its territory, India has been trying hard to settle the issues amicably. The latest headache for the Indian Government is China’s plans of building a rail link to Pakistan which will pass through the disputed PoK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) territory.
Adding to India’s concerns is the fact that China is taking it as a swift project with pre-feasibility stage of the link already completed. Pakistan, on its part, sees huge value in the project with its ambassador to China making a remark “This new link will enhance the economic ties between China and Pakistan as well as create a new link between East and South Asia.” The proposed route of the rail link would pass through the Xinjiang region in China, which was a part of the ancient Silk Route. It will join the railway network of Pakistan via Khunjerab pass, which lies in the PoK. China justifies the entire project by saying that it would help them easily receive import material from the countries of West Asia.
What is interesting to note here is that while China is offering a deaf ear to the concerns of the Indian Government regarding the disputed PoK territory, the Chinese government, itself, is much against any third-party involvement in its own disputed territories in the South China Sea. Case in point would be China’s vehement opposition to the exploration projects undertaken by the ONGC Videsh in the South China Sea territory. Although the Chinese officials have maintained their anonymity regarding the PoK dispute and cite ‘ease of imports’ as the lone reason behind the rail link, it is extremely hard not to think about China’s bigger objective of disrupting the Indo-Pak equation.
What further raises the eyebrow is China’s enhancing interest in other projects related to the PoK apart from the rail link. China has taken up the work for renovating the Karakoram Highway which connects the Pakistan mainland to the PoK. The Chinese Government has also pledged a $500 million loan to Pakistan to help complete their side of the project. One of the other reasons given by China for its enhanced interest in the road and rail link to PoK is the ease of importing adequate material for its newly planned Special Economic Zone in Kashgar. One of the western most cities of China, Kashgar has seen relatively low development over the past decades. The planned SEZ seems to be China’s latest attempt to raise this area to the level of other developed Chinese cities.
The recent (June, 2014) visits from Hamid Ansari, Indian Vice President and Sujatha Singh, Foreign Secretary, have initiated a much needed discussion on the rail link issue. While the Chinese Government tries its best to avoid discussion on such issues and instead, releases copy paste joint statements, the Indian Government must place issues like these at the top of its list to ensure a speedy resolution.
India must remember, the Dragon won’t go away if you just close your eyes and assume it’s gone. It is wiser to open the eyes and tame the dragon before it starts laying its eggs!