Indo-Pak tension over CPEC: China claims neutrality in Kashmir dispute

Sayed Kamaluddin | Published: March 31, 2017 20:19:55 | Updated: October 22, 2017 09:04:22

Following a recent decision of India to fast-track six hydropower projects, worth $15 billion, in the India-controlled Kashmir, tension has apparently risen along the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) - a $46-billion 3000-km-long network of roads, railways and energy infrastructure. 
Earlier, Islamabad had warned Delhi that power stations on rivers flowing into Pakistan would disrupt water supplies guaranteed by World Bank-brokered Indus Waters Treaty between the two countries, signed in 1960. 
However, the fast-tracking of the Indian hydropower projects seems to have been prompted by Pak-China decision to build the 1,100-MW Kohala hydropower plant costing $2.4 billion in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir on Jhelum River despite strong Indian objection. The dam is located on the river downstream Muzaffarabad (Pakistan side of Kashmir). It is being constructed by the China Three Gorges Corporation (CTGC), China's largest hydropower company. After finalising the deal in early last year, the CTGC has formed a subsidiary in Pakistan in September for the purpose.
Chinese sources say, India had alleged that the CPEC posed threat to its sovereignty in Kashmir. But Beijing argued that CPEC was an economic plan and won't affect the status quo of Kashmir dispute.
NEW PROVINCE FOR CPEC'S SAFETY: Meanwhile, Pakistan is planning to declare the strategic Gilgit-Baltistan region as its fifth province, according to the Karachi-based Dawn and India's news agency PTI. Pakistan's minister for inter-provincial coordination Riaz Hussain Pirzada told Geo TV that a committee headed by foreign affairs adviser Sartaz Aziz had proposed that Gilgit-Baltistan region be given the status of a province. In fact, Gilgit-Baltistan has been enjoying separate geographical entity for long in Pakistan; it has a regional assembly and an elected chief minister. Pirzada was quoted as saying that a constitutional amendment would be    made to change the status of the region, through which the CPEC passes. The Dawn in a report said that Pakistan was thinking of elevating the "constitutional status of the region in a bid to provide legal cover to the CPEC". This obviously concerns India as the Gilgit-Baltistan region forms part of the Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.
Last year, Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif inaugurated five tunnels on the 24-km Karakoram Highway (KKH) that connects its Gwador port on the Arabian Sea to Kashgar in China's Xinjiang province under the 3,000-km long China-Pakistan Economic Corridor's (CPEC) route map. The projected Kohala dam (hydropower project) on Jhelum River is an important link to this highway. 
While this issue was under contemplation for sometime, it was made public after the Indian decision to fast-track its hydropower projects. 
TALKS ON WATER DISPUTE: The Indus Waters Treaty requires annual meetings to be held between the two sides under the auspices of the Permanent Indus Commission for sorting out any hiccup in the implementation of the treaty. But no such meeting has taken place since 2015. Actually, the Commission's meeting got stalled following Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to Pakistan in April 2015 and his announcement of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) programme. India had denounced the move and later, while visiting Beijing, Indian Prime Minister Modi reiterated his firm objection to the deal.
However, a roundtable meeting was held between India and Pakistan in Islamabad on March 20-21 in Islamabad to discuss water dispute. This may have eased the tensions somewhat. Pakistan's minister for water and hydroelectric power Khawaja Asif, while welcoming the Indian delegation, hoped that the meeting "will move the issues forward in anticipation of continued talks on April 12 next in Washington." 
CHINA AND KASHMIR DISPUTE: China has maintained its neutrality on India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir.  In an editorial in early March 2017, the Chinese official weekly the Global Times reiterated: "When the China-Pakistan boundary agreement regarding the Xinjiang-Kashmir border was signed in 1963, both sides have agreed that it was a temporary pact, and China will have negotiations with the regional administration after the disputes are solved …. China still stands firm with the agreement in a show of China's diplomatic principles and goodwill to India, which New Delhi should recognise and appreciate."

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