ISLAMABAD: The India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir is a matter of concern, according to a United Nations (UN) report, claiming that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) might create geopolitical tensions with India and ignite political instability.

The report released by the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap) on Tuesday feared that Afghanistan’s political instability could limit the potential benefits of transit corridors to population centres near Kabul or Kandahar.

The report, ‘The Belt and Road Initiative and the Role of Escap' was prepared at China’s request and covers the six economic corridors spanning Asia, Europe and Africa under the umbrella of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

CPEC holds the promise of closer trade, investment and energy cooperation between the two countries, as it creates alternative maritime trade routes for China and its trading partners, it said. According to the report, CPEC could serve as the “driver for trade and economic integration” between China, Pakistan, Iran, India, Afghanistan and the Central Asian states.

Incensed India

India did not send an official delegation to attend the “Belt and Road Forum” (OBOR) in Beijing after the Chinese Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui called on India to join.

Instead, India criticised China's global initiative, warning of an “unsustainable debt burden” for countries involved.

India is incensed that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor ─ one of the key Belt and Road projects ─ passes through Kashmir and Pakistan.

“No country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Indian foreign ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay said.

He also warned of the danger of debt. One of the criticisms of the Silk Road plan is that host countries may struggle to pay back loans for huge infrastructure projects being carried out and funded by Chinese companies and banks.

“Connectivity initiatives must follow principles of financial responsibility to avoid projects that would create an unsustainable debt burden for communities,” Baglay said.

'Shared prosperity'

On the other hand, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif insisted that the CPEC and OBOR initiatives were all about shared prosperity, beginning a new era for humanity and progress in poor regions.

“Work has already begun across Asia and Africa on infrastructure, industrial cooperation and new platforms of technology. Financial flows have found their way to some of the least developed parts of the world. These outcomes are knitting nations and regions into economic networks and inclusive neighbourhoods that transcend borders,” he said while addressing the second session of the Leaders Roundtable at the two-day Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.

He added that the core of the OBOR initiative was connectivity and long-term development, especially in developing countries.

Similarly, China’s regional governments are falling over each other to curry favour with President Xi Jinping, jostling for roles in his New Silk Road plan to boost economic and cultural links through Asia to Europe.

One says it wants to send its young people to be Silk Road “super connectors”, while a second is pitching to become a new home for foreign consulates. Another wants to build a folk museum to commemorate Beijing’s overseas push.

While official plans published in 2015 only list 18 provinces as areas key to the plan, over 30 of China’s territories now say they have an OBOR strategy.

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2017

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