By Shahbaz Rana
GILGIT: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement on Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) was a manifestation of growing Indian frustration over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the strategic initiative that has isolated India in the region, said Chief Minister of the region Hafeezur Rehman Tuesday.
The chief minister was speaking at a CPEC seminar organised by the special region’s government to give an unequivocal response to Indian hegemonic designs. The participants of the seminar were also warned of a stronger Indian reaction as work on CPEC progressed.
“PM Modi is feeling pressure after committing atrocities in Indian-occupied Kashmir and execution of CPEC,” said Rehman, adding that India is feeling isolated in the region after CPEC, part of the greater One Belt One Road (OBOR), was launched to link 3 billion people of South Asia, Central Asia and China.
Two weeks ago, Modi stated that India would negotiate with Pakistan over the issue of vacating G-B and Azad Jammu & Kashmir triggering backlash from across Pakistan. Bangladesh’s government and former Afghanistan president also backed Modi’s statement, signalling rising political tension in the region.
Pakistan responded with demonstrations and the G-B Assembly passed a resolution, condemning Indian designs. Rehman said that the people of G-B would spoil all bids against CPEC, adding that the country’s intelligence agencies were also alert and alive.
“The people of G-B got independence from Dogra rule in 1947 and they would never support Indian hegemonic designs,” the CM said. “CPEC projects have provided a second opportunity for G-B, to change its destiny, after the construction of Karakoram Highway in 1970s.”
He expressed G-B’s support for CPEC, adding that location of projects could be discussed.
Also speaking at the ceremony, Federal Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal, the chief guest at the event, said that India cannot sabotage CPEC, as all federating units and special regions were standing behind it.
“The people of G-B are struggling for full integration into Pakistan,” said PTI MNA Asad Umar amid applause by locals present at the occasion. He said that there was unanimous national political support for CPEC and demands for change in priorities should not be construed as opposition to the project.
“Modi’s myopic vision is pushing India towards isolation,” said Umar.
The PTI official said that replacement of World Bank and Asian Development Bank loans with Chinese loans and transhipment of Chinese containers should not be considered as success of CPEC. To get maximum benefits, the government should work on skill development, build capacity of national institutions and Pakistani companies should be embedded into Chinese companies, he added.
Also present at the event, former Minister of State for Finance Omar Ayub Khan highlighted the evolving geo-strategic environment and its implications for CPEC.
Khan said that Modi’s malicious talk on G-B was designed to damage Pakistan’s economic well-being and weaken its defence. He said that CPEC was a guarantee of a strong and prosperous Pakistan.
The former minister said that India was threatened by CPEC, adding that once the corridor becomes operational it would reduce China’s reliance on sea lines passing through Straits of Malaka. About 80% of Chinese oil imports come through Malaka straits in South China Sea and US has the capacity to block the strait in times of conflicts, he added.
“It’s a strategic imperative for China to fast-track work on CPEC,” said Khan.
He said that CPEC development would also reduce cargo travel by six times. His estimates suggested that about 36,000 containers would move one way per month after CPEC is made operational.
Khan said China has also obtained a virtual monopoly over minerals in various parts of the world to meet its future growth requirements and other countries were not happy with these developments.
He advised the government to develop the G-B industry on modern lines aimed at bringing changes in the lives of the local population.