China Pakistan Economic Corridor
The China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a development megaproject which aims to connect Gwadar Port in southwestern Pakistan to China’s northwestern autonomous region of Xinjiang, via a network of highways, railways and pipelines to transport oil and gas. The economic corridor is considered central to China–Pakistan relations and will run about 3,000 km from Gwadar to Kashgar. Overall construction costs are estimated at $46 billion, with the entire project expected to be completed in several years. The Corridor is an extension of China’s proposed 21st century Silk Road initiative. According to a Firstpost report, “this is the biggest overseas investment by China announced yet and the corridor is expected to be operational within three years and will be a strategic gamechanger in the region, which would go a long way in making Pakistan a richer and stronger entity than ever before.”
The announcement of an economic corridor between China and Pakistan linking Kasghar and Gwadar through multi-modal communication lines is an encouraging sign for a weakened economy and is a long awaited step in the right direction. The government is en-cashing on the historically friendly relations between the two countries termed as higher than mountains and deeper than oceans. Now comes the vision and desire to link these mountains and oceans with trade goods and economic opportunities freely flowing to and fro.
Pakistan has long been involved and immersed in management of internal and regional security issues but now the time has come to take a turn in the right direction for welfare and prosperity of its people. Opportunity of having an economic corridor for the west China region can put us on a track of economic and trade development, provided that we prove ourselves equal to the task and are able to plan and manage accordingly. We can reap the fruits of our strategic location on the world map by appropriately moving ahead with consistency in policy formulation, development of maritime cluster, building of transportation infrastructure and ensuring best practices while managing the maritime and internal security aspects in parallel.
In context of emerging economic opportunities in the west China region and development of an economic corridor from Gwadar to Kasghar, following are the areas that can be emphasized;
- Plan of developing the economic corridor can be a turning point in the welfare and prosperity of our nation as a whole and we should be all geared up to grasp this opportunity.
- While China has become an economic giant with at least one third of its area in need of logistic linkages, we need to facilitate these linkages for the sake of our own growth and development.
Maritime cluster in Pakistan, both at sea and ashore, should be ready to grasp this magnanimous change while ensuring long-term sustainability of operations, especially vis à vis maritime environment and security management. For this purpose all the political parties and the stake holders have to join their hands and do not deter from their goal of achieving this milestone. They should understand that their national unity alone will be able to keep the project on track.
The CPEC, an idea speculated for decades, gained traction when, in February 2013, Pakistan transferred the contract to upgrade and operate its deep-water Gwadar port, at the mouth of Straits of Hormuz, from Port of Singapore Authority to China Overseas Port Holdings. Much of the world’s oil traffic flows through this Strait, and a good bulk of it goes to China. With the idea firmly on the table now, the Chinese banks and companies pledged over $45.6 billion for energy — and infrastructure-projects along the corridor, during Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to China in November 2014. The agreements demonstrate a deepening strategic linkage between the two countries.
CPEC is a collection of projects and has thus embraced several existing projects. In Balochistan it includes expansion of Gwadar Port, the east-west expressway and the international airport at Gwadar. The Chinese investments are expected to add 16,000MW of electricity by 2021, easing Pakistan’s energy shortages to a considerable extent.
However, Pakistan continues to face many challenges to its security, especially in areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, where militants target power pylons, gas pipelines and other points, causing economic consequences. If the route is changed it will almost entirely bypasses Baloch and Pashtun areas, and will run through Sindh and Punjab. The smaller provinces, KP and Balochistan, are protesting and demanding their share. Asfandyar Wali Khan, head of KP-based Awami National Party, accuses the Punjabi-dominated federal government of discrimination against the smaller and less-privileged parts of Pakistan. “We want a brotherly federation, one that treats all equally”, he adds. The change of route means that the less-privileged areas get deprived of a chance of getting their populations involved in economic activity. With fewer chances for economic engagement, the chances of the youth turning extremists go higher. Balochistan evidently has the most to lose by this change of route.
Externally, Indian sensitivities were also ruffled when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif performed the ground-breaking ceremony for a $297-million, 4-lane highway, parts of which pass through AJK. The Indian fears were aroused further when the Chinese prime minister labelled the CPEC as a flagship project to strengthen connectivity with neighbouring countries and as a strategic framework for pragmatic cooperation between China and Pakistan.
Regardless of political and military implications of this major project, it has several benefits for the people of the region. Pakistan, suffering from chronic energy shortages and limited trade with its immediate neighbours, will be better-connected and will hopefully become energy-sufficient. A Pakistan-centred road network will facilitate contacts between Pakistan’s neighbours on east and west. India and Iran need this corridor for closer integration with each other’s economy. While the CPEC facilitates movement of goods and services in the area, China’s involvement in the region’s economy turns adversaries into stakeholders in maintaining peace and stability in the South and Central Asian regions.
The Chinese understand that, for the CPEC to succeed, peace in the region is essential, for which both Afghanistan and Pakistan must cooperate. Pakistan on its hand should understand that it has to firmly stand united on all fronts as many external factors may also threaten this project. A troubled region will thwart the intended benefits of the CPEC. If countries, both regional and extra-regional, can get power politics out, the CPEC has the potential to uplift the region and beyond.