Kashmiri expats in Dubai admit the CPEC is a major development in the region and may impact Kashmir but insist the golden glass emirate shall remain unchallenged for the next two decades, at least, reports Masood Hussain
As countries are bee lining to join the new sunrise in coastal Baluchistan, the $54 Bn China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the real talk that dominates Dubai elite. Dubai monarch sending his contingent to Delhi on the Republic Day is widely being seen as an effort to keep the age-old informal economic union alive as India does not only dominate UAE’s demography but is the second major exporter to the Emirates.
A general belief is that $11 Bn Gwadar deep water port will take away part of the business from Dubai because China is the major trading partner. With open visa policy for China, the two countries are currently moving towards $80 Bn trade target. Interestingly, India is the second major trading partner of Dubai.
Unlike India that constitutes nearly half of Duabi population, only three lakh Chinese live in “ultimate world-class glass metropolis”. Interestingly, Pakistanis do not make more than 16 percent of this emirate’s demography and its trade quantum is less than $9 Bn.
But Kashmiris living in Dubai and generation old understanding about how world trade is transacted have an interestingly different take on CPEC and its impact. By the time Gwadar will reach the level of existing Dubai, many decades might have eclipsed, they believe.
“I think there is lot of business in the East Asia region already, there is lot of un-utilized manpower and opportunities in and around Gwadar and Chabhar (Iran) which are waiting to be tapped,” Sameer Bhat, Opinions Editor of the Gulf News said. “There is a sense that competition gives scope for more growth as the entire region is untapped.”
Engineer Sajjad Shawl is based in Dubai but works across the Middle East. “Every place has its own essence,” Shawl said, “Having a port is OK but this place is multi-cultural as people from all walks of life from diverse background come and contribute.” The business magnate says that even if Gwadar takes most of Dubai business, the emirate will still live. “This place is heart of the Middle East and the world is still Dubai bound because it offers opportunities and hope.”
Smoking outside the Dubai International Stadium at a time when KSL2 finals were on, two engineers from Kashmir had interesting insights. One engineer who said his success has come at a massive cost – he could not see his parents one last time when they passed away – said the apprehensions are far-fetched, right now.
Dubai, he said, is alive to the change that is around. “It is already hub of sports, health, education and anything you think makes money,” the engineer, talking anonymously, said. He has served various official organisations including the office of the king and implemented various projects. “I believe the infrastructure and the systems are so robust and strong that Dubai can sleep for next 15 years. They will start detecting the change in real terms almost 20 years later.”
Ashfaq Fazili is a Project Manager and runs his own company. He sees Gwadar, “game-changing” initiative but not from the Duabi angle but from Kashmir point of view.
“I believe India cannot sustain its virtual isolation for a long time in CPEC but its joining will have to pave way for settling Kashmir first,” Fazili said. “China cannot make such a massive investment in a disputed territory, they will eventually push for its solution.” What happens if Delhi and Washington go for an alternative-trading pact to checkmate CPEC? Fazili said that would add up tensions in the region and prevent the belt from living normal prosperous lives. The advantage will obviously go to Dubai.
But in that case various capitalist economies will have to subsidise retail to pay for the huge costs that Mediterranean cargo will cost.
Far away from dazzling Dubai, voices in support of CPEC are clearly audible now. Given the fact that Karakorum Highway almost follows the offshoot of medieval silk route that Kashmir has historically used, non-governmental voices seek access to it. Separatists, however, have sealed their mouth on the issue but are quite vocal in cautioning Islamabad from converted the Gilgit Baltistan region, through which Chinese highway enters Pakistan, into a province.
Off late even Chief Minister Ms Mehbooba Mufti is talking on the subject.
“Why can’t we be partners in economic growth and share the benefits of projects like CPEC. Let us move beyond skirmishes,” Ms Mufti told a gathering in Delhi, almost talking the language of the policymaking think-tanks. “It would make the region a hub of emerging economic opportunities leading to cooperation in trade, commerce, tourism, adventure across the region.”
Though Kashmir has twin windows available for five-days-a-week barter in Poonch and Uri, Pakistan has remained reluctant in opening the Kargil-Skardu road, which is Srinagar’s less-than-a-day access to the arterial Karakorum Highway. With a tunnel being laid by Border Roads Organisation (BRO) to bypass perilous Zoji La, the route could be an all-weather trade track, if Delhi and Islamabad can sit and talk. But will they?