Opinion

View from Kashmir Observer: Curiosity is rising in Kashmir over China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

The view is that the project will give rise to new geopolitical factors that will force a resolution of the Kashmir conflict.

Leaders of 29 countries attended the high-profile Belt and Road Forum in Beijing over Sunday and Monday even as India boycotted it over its objections to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor – a $54-billion infrastructure project connecting Gwadar in Pakistan to Kashgar in Xinjiang – that passes through Gilgit-Baltistan, which India considers its territory.

The spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, Gopal Bagalay, said “no country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity”. Though China has invited India to be a part of its Belt and Road Initiative – which would give the world the largest ever platform for economic, social and cultural cooperation across all of Eurasia – New Delhi wants such participation on its own terms. However, both China and Pakistan continue to seek India’s entry. Speaking at the Belt and Road Forum, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor should not be politicised while Chinese President Xi Jinping said “all countries should respect each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

The Belt and Road Initiative has come a long way since it originated from two speeches made by Xi in Central Asia in 2013 in which he outlined plans for China’s global outreach through connectivity and infrastructure development. The mega road, maritime and infrastructure initiative includes land corridors from China through Central Asia and Russia to Europe with spurs to West Asia and to Pakistan – the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The project is a blend of economic, developmental, strategic and geopolitical motives, the most ambitious global infrastructure project ever envisaged by one country.

Valley interest

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has drawn a lot of attention in the Valley too, for its potential to help in the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. In March, a seminar titled “Impact of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in Kashmir” was organised in Srinagar by The Kashmir Institute, a think tank. Andrew Small, the author of The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics, addressed the gathering via Skype. Small predicted that the corridor would have a very consequential impact on the overall framework of India-Pakistan relations, and China’s role and equity in these disputes.

The seminar was the first such attempt in Kashmir to get Kashmiris thinking about the potential impact of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor on the state and the lingering conflict over it. The growing public interest in the Valley in this project is the result of a collective expectation that it will introduce new geopolitical factors

That in the short or long-term will force a resolution of Kashmir.

Already, new factors unleashed by the project are straining the existing geopolitics of the region. Islamabad is considering granting statehood to Gilgit-Baltistan following China’s alleged insistence on legal cover for its investment in the disputed region, a part of Jammu and Kashmir claimed by India as part of its territory. New Delhi has already objected to foreign investment in Gilgit-Baltistan, the entry point for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which has further complicated the situation for Beijing.

Islamabad’s statehood move faces opposition not only from New Delhi but from Kashmiri separatists too. After New Delhi termed Pakistan’s attempt to declare Gilgit-Baltistan its fifth province “entirely unacceptable”, a Hurriyat statement used more or less the same words to caution Islamabad against any such move.

However, for now, we are only witnessing the beginnings of this global project. And we can only hope that in the long term, it leads to an integrated South Asia that in turn helps create conditions for a permanent resolution of Kashmir.

This article first appeared on Kashmir Observer.

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German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

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Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.