But Pakistan’s geographic and ethnic tensions have already caused problems for the CPEC. Separatist militants in Balochistan
have found the plan’s infrastructure projects a convenient target to express their grievances. The opposition Pakistan People’s Party, similarly, has accused the government of devoting more resources to CPEC initiatives in the country’s predominantly Punjab regions. In response to the mounting regional strife, local governments have expanded policing along the corridor, while the Pakistani military has established a special task force and security division to patrol the Gwadar port and a nationwide special security division dedicated to protecting CPEC projects. Still, the militant and political dynamics will become only more complex as the project progresses, and more questions over the project’s economic viability will arise.
Overcoming the Partition
Elsewhere in South Asia, Belt and Road will face equally daunting problems, including Afghanistan’s continued disarray
. The far greater challenge, however, will be securing India’s cooperation on the matter. As much as the country wants to project power over its namesake subcontinent
and establish strong, secure ties across its borders, it has struggled to do so in its modern history. India’s partition in 1947 created lasting rifts with Pakistan and Bangladesh (then known as East Pakistan), which left its orbit after gaining independence. Nepal
and Sri Lanka
, on the other hand, have each sought support elsewhere to limit New Delhi’s influence over their affairs. Despite its rapid growth and position at South Asia’s geopolitical core, India has neither the economic clout nor the internal political coherence
to overcome its domestic divisions, much less to become a powerful regional hegemon. And China’s sway in its periphery threatens New Delhi’s prospects for realizing that goal.
China’s manufacturing prowess has already made it an important economic power in the Indian subcontinent. Today, the country is the top source of imports for Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, as well as India; between 2010 and 2015, China’s exports to Pakistan doubled. By contrast, Bangladesh is the only South Asian country among India’s top 10 export destinations, ranking ninth. India simply can’t compete with China when it comes to regional trade. Nepal presents a good case study. After delaying for months to consult India, Nepal decided to sign on to the initiative ahead of the May 14-15 Belt and Road Forum. Ultimately, Katmandu said it could not pass up such a massive economic opportunity. Nor has it had much success with development projects in nearby countries. India’s Chabahar port venture in Iran
, for instance, has foundered while similar Chinese projects in Pakistan and in Sri Lanka have proceeded apace.
As China builds inroads through the region as a result of the Belt and Road Initiative, India must decide whether to throw its weight behind the campaign. Beijing would like New Delhi to participate in Belt and Road; in fact, the success of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC) partly depends on India’s involvement. The plan, originally proposed in 1999 — long before Belt and Road — would connect Kolkata with China’s Yunnan province, giving India the access it so desires to lucrative markets in Southeast Asia. By adding India to Belt and Road, China hopes to dovetail with the Act East Policy initiated in 1991, something the country’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has emphasized since it came into power.
A Tough Sell
The possible benefits notwithstanding, though, the Belt and Road Initiative also presents major risks for India. With even fewer barriers to trade in the region, Chinese goods could crowd out India’s struggling manufacturing sector
altogether. For that reason, New Delhi will be careful to keep Chinese imports from overwhelming its consumer market if it decides to join in on the Belt and Road Initiative. India’s Cabinet has already passed a proposal mandating the use of domestic steel in state infrastructure projects.
Pakistan’s prominent role in the initiative is the another deterrent for India. The rivalry between the two nuclear-equipped nations has become a defining feature of South Asian geopolitics, and it finds enduring expression in the dispute over Kashmir. India claims control of the region in its entirety, though Pakistan and China each administer portions of the territory. And it fears that the CPEC, which runs through Pakistan-controlled Kashmir as well as the Aksai Chin area under Chinese jurisdiction, will change the status quo
in the contested region. As it is, the portion of Kashmir that India administers is home to a restive population and an active separatist movement
; New Delhi worries that the CPEC will further undermine its authority there.