(China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which includes Gilgit-Baltistan area of the erstwhile State of Jammu & Kashmir can revive historical connection of Kashmir with China)
Presently, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor is the hot news. The project is being implemented by China and Pakistan at an accelerated pace. Work in full swing started on it in 2015 after an agreement was signed between China and Pakistan to link the warm waters of the Arabian Sea to China and Central Asia. CPEC projects will provide China with an alternate route for energy supplies, as well as a new route by which Western China can conduct trade. Pakistan stands to gain due to upgrade of infrastructure and introduction of a reliable energy supply. It is said that the plans for the corridor date back to 1950 and motivated the construction of Karakoram Highway in 1959. The CPEC was formalised on November 13, 2016 when the first Chinese convoy carrying 250 containers arrived in Gwadar for export to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the UAE and the EU. The Chinese exports via Malacca Straits have not only been lengthy but also subject to risk due to the problems in the area. The new corridor is a big boon for Chinese from all angles. It will also allow the Central Asian countries to have an alternate route. Pakistan will have a tremendous impact in every possible way including abundance of energy from which it has been suffering.
In fact, the development of this economic activity would be a boon for the entire South Asian region. One would have expected that India which from the time of Pandit Nehru has been trying to lead South Asia for development would welcome the setting up of this economic zone. On the contrary, the Indian side has been feeling uncomfortable with the setting up of this economic corridor. Unfortunately, they have been facilitating the re-colonisation of the country by the western powers especially, the Americans through a corporate culture. There is still time to take a bold initiative and offer to join this important economic activity which could sort out the age old political problems facing the sub-continent. Ironically, all the earlier Indian supporters including Russia are keen to join the corridor.
The most important constituent of the corridor is the road and rail link that would be passing through Gilgit-Baltistan which has been part of the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir. Interestingly, Kashmir getting a connection to this link which has in fact been the historical route of trade between Kashmir and China till 1947 would be a big boon to the otherwise physically and politically isolated Kashmir Valley. The traders from Yarqand, Kashgar and other places used to come regularly to Kashmir with their long lines of Bactrian camels.The Zoji La route was the famous caravan route for trade with the Central Asia and China including Yarqand, Kashgar, and Sinkiang and so on. The Hajis from Yarqand used to go to Makkah through Kashmir. There was a Sarai of Yarqandis in Safakadal known as Kak Sarai where one could see lines of Bactrian camels (Double Humped) which used to come from Yarqand and other places. In fact, a large number of refugees from the Chinese Revolution in 1949 came from Sinkiang and Yarqand to Kashmir. They ultimately migrated to Turkey and other places. Some remained here. This route was a small branch of the historically famous Silk Route.
Incidentally, Kashmir has had strong relationship with China in the past. The Annals of Tang dynasty of China know Lalitaditya-Muktapida under the name of Mu-to-pi, as the King of Kashmir who sent an embassy to the Chinese court during the reign of Emperor Hiuen-tsung (AD 713-755). The main purpose of the embassy had been to seek alliance of the Chinese rulers against Tibet. Ambassador U-li-to whom Mu-to-pi had sent to the imperial court distinctly claimed for his master repeated victories over Tibetans. The auxiliary Chinese force of two hundred thousand men which the Kashmir King invited to his country and for which he proposed to establish a camp on the shores of Mahapadma or Volur Lake, was meant for further operations against the common foe. There is evidence that the Tibetans had established a powerful empire at that time and had threatened both Kashmir as well as China. As there is no evidence of any Bhautta invasion of Kashmir, one must assume that Lalitaditya’s expeditions towards north were real and lasting and checked the Tibetan march towards Kashmir. Lalitaditya had also subdued Kashmir’s immediate northern neighbours, the Dards. The Dard tribes have from very early times to the present day inhabited the mountain territories immediately adjoining Kashmir to the north and north-west. The very safety of the valley has many times necessitated expeditions against these areas.
As has been opined by many experts, the setting up of this corridor which passes through a part of Kashmir may ultimately help in resolving this age old problem and bring peace not only to the valley but the entire sub-continent. The example of the European countries shows that it is ultimately the economic considerations which take precedence. If after fighting two destructive world wars all these countries finally came together to form the European Union, why can’t India and Pakistan which too have fought a number of wars come together to ameliorate their economically backward masses? We did fight the colonialists and got rid of them but they came back as neo-colonialists through various economic handles with local collaboration. Those people instead of ameliorating our economically weak status created discord and disputes and supplied us weapons to fight each other. This helped them keep their own economies running at our cost. It is time for a rethink if we want to survive and progress. Kashmir could become a free trade zone for the Corridor and practically take on the role of Switzerland through those destructive wars. Let there be an open debate on the subject.
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir