CPEC and Pakistan: Navigating Challenges Posed by India


The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is indeed a remarkable manifestation of the long-standing and strategic alliance between Pakistan and China. It was formally inaugurated in 2015-CPEC constitutes a pivotal infrastructural and economic initiative that seeks to establish connectivity between Gwadar Port in southwestern Pakistan and China’s north-western Xinjiang region through an extensive network of highways, railways, pipelines, and other infrastructure projects. It is the flagship project of multi-billion global infrastructure development plan of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The conflict in the South China Sea and Malacca Dilemma in Indian Ocean Region (IOR) adds another layer of complexity to China’s ambitions. The connection between the Malacca Dilemma and the South China Sea conflict is that both pose challenges to China’s aspiration to become a dominant economic power.[1] The Malacca Dilemma and the South China Sea conflict are interconnected challenges that have shaped China’s strategic thinking. They highlight the need for China to diversify its trade and energy routes to reduce its vulnerability and maintain economic growth and stability. To reduce its dependence on the Malacca Strait and the South China Sea, China has been actively pursuing alternative trade and energy routes, for instance in the form of the CPEC.  The Gwadar port is regarded as the linchpin of the corridor as it holds immense maritime significance due to its prime position. It provides an efficient trade and energy route between Central Asia, the Middle East and the rest of the world thus making it a key player not only geo-politics but also in geo-economics of the region. [2] The CPEC holds the potential to transform economic landscape of Pakistan and the region by facilitating new trade routes and fostering new economic prospects.

Many countries have expressed their interests in becoming part of CPEC and leverage its benefits by collaborating on various projects within the corridor. However, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) encounters various security challenges, the principal security challenge confronting the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) pertains significantly to the Indian factor.

The Indo-Pakistan hostility is not a new subject it predates the inauguration of CPEC and has led to three major and one limited conflict between the two nations.  It is anticipated that India, as a regional rival of Pakistan, have reservations regarding the developmental initiatives undertaken within Pakistan through the CPEC framework. CPEC had an immediate impact on elevating Pakistan’s international standing. It was labeled as “the world’s most dangerous country” in 2007[3], and transitioned into “the next success story” in 2015.[4] The apprehension that Pakistan might utilize its newly acquired economic resources to bolster its military capabilities, potentially impeding India’s ascent as a global power, has prompted New Delhi to openly express opposition to the CPEC. Secondly, The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) traverses through Gilgit-Baltistan, a region in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, which is a highly disputed territory between India and Pakistan. India regards the entire Kashmir region as an integral part of its territory, and it considers Pakistan’s control over the western portion, including Gilgit-Baltistan, as illegal. India’s official stance is centered on the claim that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) breach its territorial integrity.[5] Micheal Kugleman, the Director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center, opined that due to New Delhi’s vehement resistance, CPEC is likely to further intensify tensions between India and Pakistan.[6] Also, in an unprecedented move, US Defense Secretary James Mattis supported India’s claim that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passes through a disputed region. [7]Following this statement, there was an increase in propaganda against CPEC. These statements are intended to undermine and question the legitimacy of the large-scale project.[8] Despite such efforts, several countries, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Central Asian Republics, have expressed their desire to participate in the project.

Additionally, India’s opposition to the development of CPEC is also influenced by its strained relations with China. From the Chinese perspective, the creation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is primarily viewed as an economic initiative.[9] However, critics argue that it carries geopolitical implications and considerations.

Another major concern of New Delhi revolves around the possibility that Gawdar Port would be employed by China as a maritime base. This facility could potentially support China’s extensive blue-water fleet and enhance its operational capabilities within the waters of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).[10] The Indian Navy has faced challenges in transitioning from a primarily littoral (coastal) naval force to becoming the largest blue-water naval force in the region.[11] The political pundits in New Delhi believe that China has strategically acquired control of key seaports in various locations, including Gwadar in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Cambodia, and the South China Sea, as part of its “String of Pearls Strategy.” [12]India perceives the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the strategic partnership between China and Pakistan as challenges to its aspirations for regional and global dominance. India aims to establish itself as the primary power in South Asia and on the global stage. [13]

According to Nicholas Kitchen, the state leader always strive to pursue their national interest employing both military and non-military strategies to attain their objectives.[14] Since its inception in 2013, the development of CPEC has been ongoing, and correspondingly, security concerns and threats in Pakistan have increased ever since.
The capture and confession of Indian spy Kulbhushan Yadav, reportedly affiliated with the Indian RAW intelligence agency, serves as evidence suggesting Indian engagement in Balochistan and various other regions within Pakistan.[15] Diplomatically, the objective of Indian government is to isolate Pakistan internationally. India has employed ideological and visible means to disrupt CPEC’s operations, through acts of terrorism. Ajit Doval, India’s National Security Advisor, has implemented Fifth Generation Warfare tactics, which have contributed to political and economic turmoil in Balochistan and Pakistan as a whole. Kulbhushan Yadav’s admission of coordinating meetings with Baloch insurgents for terrorist activities serves as clear evidence of India’s negative intentions and concerns regarding the security of Balochistan and CPEC.[16] Then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee of Pakistan, General Zubair Mahmood Hayat, revealed that RAW , had established a dedicated cell with a substantial allocation of over $500 million in 2015, specifically aimed at disrupting CPEC projects in Pakistan.[17]

In 2016, an Indian nuclear-powered submarine, was reported to have entered waters of Pakistan within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the Arabian Sea. This incident occurred just few days after the inauguration of a shipment from Gwadar, Pakistan. Pakistani officials alleged that the Indian submarine’s presence in the area was intended to disrupt CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) shipments, suggesting that it may have been “Gwadar Bound” and was engaged in clandestine intelligence gathering operation. [18]

Additionally, India’s objection to CPEC is closely tied to its vested interest in the Chabahar port in Iran, which holds paramount significance for several compelling reasons. India has made substantial investments in the development of the deep sea port.[19] The port is expected to enhance connectivity to Afghanistan and serve as the gateway to the International North-South Transport Corridor. It also serves as a counterbalance to China’s growing presence in the region, particularly its investment in Pakistan’s Gwadar port, which is not far from Chabahar.[20] It not only supports India’s economic interests but also plays a vital role in its broader foreign policy objectives in the region. However, the Chabahar project has not commenced as of yet due to the ongoing negotiations surrounding the Iranian nuclear issue. And Gwadar port is operational.[21]

Also, India is actively engaged in efforts to create a significant perception crisis around CPEC through various campaigns. These campaigns involve the widespread use of online media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and web links to disseminate misleading information and anti-state content related to CPEC.[22] According to findings by the European DisinfoLab in December 2020, India has been accused of destabilizing Pakistan through the dissemination of false information. The report suggests that India has employed tactics such as creating clone global think tanks, pseudo local media outlets, clone global supranational organizations associated with UN human rights, and websites to propagate a discourse and narrative against Pakistan.[23] DisinfoLab’s findings also unveiled that India employed Baloch separatist groups as a tool to tarnish Pakistan’s human rights record, glorifying their militant activities and portraying separatist leaders in a heroic light.[24]

Moreover, the militants have been carrying out attacks on development projects linked to CPEC, Chinese laborers, civilian communities, army personnel and government infrastructure.[25] This militancy in Balochistan has been utilized as a proxy by India with the aim of disrupting and destabilizing both the CPEC initiative and the Balochistan province.[26] This situation has increased the likelihood of conflicts arising from the competing interests of different regional players.

What needs to be done?

Pakistan has endured severe consequences from terrorism since the turn of the 21st century, resulting in substantial economic, political, social, and human losses due to its active participation in war on terror. The projects under the banner of CPEC are established as an emerging opportunity for Pakistan. They not only offer a means for Pakistan to recover from the economic set-backs incurred during its involvement in the war on terror but also have a potential to reshape the country into an economic centre, reviving its path toward development. So Pakistan need to protect it at any cost from both external and internal threats. Though in order to mitigate the terror threat to the CPEC, Pakistan has formed a dedicated security force – special security division- consisting of 12,000 personnel responsible for safeguarding Chinese workers within Pakistan.[27] But more efforts are required given the changing and volatile dynamics of the region.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is not only crucial for Pakistan but also for China. One of the key advantages is that upon successful realisation, China would potentially reduce its dependency on the Strait of Malacca. The tensions in Balochistan and other parts where developments are initiated could have adverse implications for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), as potential foreign investors may be deterred from investing in CPEC related projects due to concerns about financial losses. Without addressing these challenges, what was initially envisioned as a “game-changer” could instead turn into the source of increased strain. Both Islamabad and Beijing should prioritize the strengthening of its political institutions and the adoption of advanced intelligence gathering and sharing methods to ensure the security of the CPEC.

Furthermore, Chahbahar and Gwadar could be viewed as complementary rather than competitive to each other. Both ports should operate on the principles of sharing and coordination, contributing to the prosperity and development in the region.

Similarly, Pakistan should build trust and collaborate with all stakeholders, including local communities, involved in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to address the perceived negative impacts of the project in the global public sphere. Neglecting these issues could potentially reduce the overall acceptance of CPEC within Pakistan. The extent of crisis perception on a global scale is significant, necessitating a counter strategy that includes involving the local populations in economic activities, supporting them through corporate social responsibility initiatives, and conducting extensive awareness campaigns to highlight the significance of this project, not only nationally but also internationally.


CPEC has emerged as a golden opportunity to rejuvenate the struggling economy. Its full potential can only be harnessed when all regional stakeholders actively participate in the project. India, unfortunately, is blinded by its opposition to the project and it may be preventing the country from objectively evaluating the potential opportunities that could arise from this project. It should consider putting aside its historical rivalries and prioritize the common interests for the betterment of all. This involvement can enhance cooperation, trade, and economic development across the region, making CPEC even more impactful. However, the anticipation of heightened tensions, crises, and rivalry would likely to increase the volatility in the realm of geopolitics.

[1] Hornat, Jan. “The power triangle in the Indian Ocean: China, India and the United States.” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 29, no. 2 (2016): 425-443.

[2] Hussain, Mehmood, and Ahmed Bux Jamali. “Geo-political dynamics of the China–Pakistan economic corridor: a new great game in South Asia.” Chinese Political Science Review 4, no. 3 (2019): 303-326.

[3] Blair, David . 2007. “Pakistan: The World’s Most Dangerous Country.” The Telegraph. November 6, 2007. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1568535/Pakistan-the-worlds-most-dangerous-country.html.

[4] Runde, Daniel. 2015. “Pakistan: The next Colombia Success Story?” Forbes. August 15, 2015. https://www.forbes.com/sites/danielrunde/2015/08/03/pakistan-the-next-colombia-success-story/?sh=632d302630da.

[5] Hussain, Mehmood, and Ahmed Bux Jamali. “Geo-political dynamics of the China–Pakistan economic corridor: a new great game in South Asia.” Chinese Political Science Review 4, no. 3 (2019): 303-326.

[6] Kugelman, Michael. “The China-Pakistan economic corridor: what it is, how it is perceived, and implications for energy geopolitics.” Asia’s energy security and China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The National Bureau of Asian Research, Washington, DC (2017): 15-28.

[7] Iqbal, Anwar. 2017. “CPEC Passes through Disputed Territory: US.” DAWN.COM. October 7, 2017. https://www.dawn.com/news/1362283.

[8] Khan, Hafeez Ullah. “Regional security threats to CPEC: a strategic overview.” Journal of the Research Society of Pakistan 56, no. 1 (2019): 181.

[9] Hussain, Mehmood. “CPEC and Geo-Security Behind Geo-Economics: China’s Master Stroke to Counter Terrorism and Energy Security Dilemma.” East Asia 38, no. 4 (2021): 313-332.

[10] Asif, Muhammad. “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: Security Concern and Role of Gwadar Port Prospect for Regional Integration.” International Journal of research 5, no. 20 (2018): 1464-1476.

[11] Kalim, Dr Inayat. “Gwadar port: serving strategic interests of Pakistan.” South Asian Studies 31, no. 1 (2020).

[12] Panneerselvam, Prakash. “Maritime Component of China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC): India–China Competition in the Arabian Sea.” Maritime Affairs: Journal of the National Maritime Foundation of India 13, no. 2 (2017): 37-49.

[13] Safdar, Ms Sahrish, Muhammad Aqeel, Safdar Hussain, and Muhammad Madni Asghar. “China-Pakistan Economic Corridr: A Study of Indo-US Nexus to sabotages CPEC.” Harf-o-Sukhan 5, no. 3 (2021): 60-71.

[14] KITCHEN, NICHOLAS. “Strategic Assessment and Grand Strategy.”

[15] Javaid, Umbreen. “Assessing CPEC: potential threats and prospects.” Journal of the Research Society of Pakistan 53, no. 2 (2016).

[16] Abbas, Khurram. “Strategizing Kashmiri Freedom Struggle Through Nonviolent Means.” Policy Perspectives 16, no. 2 (2019): 41-57.

[17] Tribune, The Express . 2017. “RAW Operating from Afghanistan to Sabotage CPEC: Gen Zubair Hayat.” The Express Tribune. July 15, 2017. https://tribune.com.pk/story/1458586/raw-operating-afghanistan-sabotage-cpec-gen-zubair-hayat.

[18] Ali, Ghulam. “China–Pakistan maritime cooperation in the Indian Ocean.” Issues & Studies 55, no. 03 (2019): 1940005.

[19] Pant, Harsh V. “India-Iran Cooperation at Chabahar Port.” CSIS Briefs (2018).

[20] Omidi, Ali, and Gauri Noolkar-Oak. “Geopolitics of chabahar port for Iran, India and Afghanistan.” South Asia Research 42, no. 1 (2022): 21-39.

[21] Abid, Massarrat, and Ayesha Ashfaq. “CPEC: Challenges and opportunities for Pakistan.” Journal of Pakistan Vision 16, no. 2 (2015): 142-169.

[22] Azam, Maryam. “Pakistan–India Security Paradox: Between Deterrence and Coercive Diplomacy.” Journal of Security & Strategic Analyses 7, no. 1 (2021): 160-180.


[24] Machado, Gary, Alexandre Alaphilippe, Roman Adamczyk, and Antoine Grégoire. “Indian Chronicles: subsequent investigation: deep dive into a 15-year operation targeting the EU and UN to serve Indian interests.” (2020).

[25] Amir, Adnan. 15AD. “The Balochistan Insurgency and the Threat to Chinese Interests in Pakistan.” Jamestown, February 15AD. https://jamestown.org/program/the-balochistan-insurgency-and-the-threat-to-chinese-interests-in-pakistan/.

[26] Liu, Peng. “Connotation and Dilemma of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy and China’s Responses.” Annual Report on the Development of the Indian Ocean Region (2018) Indo-Pacific: Concept Definition and Strategic Implementation (2019): 131-164.

[27] Brewster, David. “Silk roads and strings of pearls: The strategic geography of China’s new pathways in the Indian Ocean.” Geopolitics 22, no. 2 (2017): 269-291.

Sara Aleem
Sara Aleem
Public Policy graduate from National Defence University, Islamabad. My research interests include foreign policy of Pakistan and major powers, Climate Change and different policy-related issues.


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