Pakistan: Dynamics Of CPEC In Realpolitik – OpEd


CPEC is a ray of hope for the people of Pakistan who have fought back militancy and are still fighting. The first 10 years of CPEC has led to an investment of US$ 26 billion in Pakistan. 8,000 megawatts of electricity have been generated, and 510 kilometres of roads, and highways are constructed. Due to the economic activities, 236,000 jobs have been generated for the people of Pakistan.

These developments are reflective of the improvement in the lives of people. Thus, CPEC is an opportunity for the people of Pakistan to connect with adjoining regions and through energy links, and industrialisation, the prospects of economic growth will multiply. At present, 28,000 Pakistani students are studying in China and 8,000 of them are pursuing doctorate degrees. This is a positive development, the Pakistani students access to Chinese educational institutions will strengthen the prospects of technological exchange between the two countries.

India’s Rivalry

India has raised objections to CPEC and the corridor’s passage through Gilgit-Baltistan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has termed CPEC as “unacceptable.” India alleges that Pakistan and China are building permanent routes through Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). India’s Minister of External Affairs has said: “The CPEC project will have a huge impact on India’s sovereignty. India is concerned about China-Pakistan naval cooperation in Gwadar.” In November 2020, during the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit, Prime Minister Modi stated: “It is necessary to respect each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity to further deepen cooperation (among the SCO nations) for regional connectivity.”

This statement by Prime Minister Modi promulgates Delhi’s so-called rightful claim over the disputed territory of AJK. However, the Karakoram Highway (KKH) operational since the 1970s passes through the same territory. The only difference between the Highway and the Corridor is that the latter promises more prosperity for Pakistan and this is probably the concern which makes India uneasy. Another angle to India’s opposition over CPEC’s route could be that New Delhi would not want the internationalisation of the Kashmir dispute.

In this regard, Suchitra Vijayan, New York based lawyer who has worked on India’s borderlands including Kashmir opines: “India does not want to internationalise the Kashmir issue, but with Pakistan, China and CPEC coming, it happens.” A major challenge that CPEC faces is the competition in region, emanating from Gwadar seaport’s operation and China’s economic advancement in South Asia. Both factors carry the potential to alter the balance of power equation in region. On the economic front, the region will be exposed to industrialisation and technological exchange. Whilst on the political side, China’s enhanced role in region will change the Indo-centric character of South Asia. Likewise, with CPEC, Pakistan will emerge as a conduit to Central Asia, Iran and the Middle East.

Iranian Stance 

Iran has expressed an interest in linking Chabahar seaport to Gwadar by highway and natural gas pipeline. This interest was articulated by Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammed Javed Zarif, during a May 2019 visit to Pakistan: “We believe that Chabahar – one of Iran’s developing seaports on the Oman Sea – and Gwadar – a port city on the southwestern coast of Balochistan, Pakistan, also on the Oman sea – can complement each other.”

Iran can benefit from CPEC if it links its infrastructure with China via Pakistan. This holds particular importance when considering the potential of a robust transport corridor for the supply of oil and gas. The ‘China-Iran 25 Year Strategic Cooperation Pact’ (worth US$ 400 billion, signed in 2021) is a development that will positively impact the regional dynamics. Under the deal, China will invest in Iran’s oil and gas sectors. This will enhance the China-Iran economic ties. Resultantly, the Chabahar seaport is likely to emerge as a complementary port to Gwadar.

Afghanistan’s Eagerness  

Afghan Interim government has expressed the desire to join CPEC. In this regard, Acting Commerce Minister Haji Nooruddin Azizi statement is significant, the Afghan representative said: “We requested China to allow us to be a part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Belt and Road Initiative.” Afghanistan can be a major beneficiary of CPEC. It can serve as bridge between CPEC and Central Asian states. 

Russian modus operandi

Russia supports China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and has even demonstrated interest in joining the CPEC. In November 2020, Russia along with other SCO members, except India, fully supported CPEC in a joint communique issued at the end of the SCO council of heads of government in New Delhi. Pakistan has granted Russia access to Gwadar seaport. Russia’s expected future participation in CPEC will strengthen the Beijing-Moscow-Islamabad trilateral cooperation. If Russia formally joins CPEC, it would be a critical breakthrough in Russia-Pakistan bilateral relations. The bilateral ties will open a gateway to economic opportunities between the two countries. 

American Apprehensions 

In July 2019, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated: “any potential International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout package for Pakistan should not be used to pay off CPEC loans.” The US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Alice Wells in a statement criticised CPEC, she said: “the lack of transparency in the CPEC deals and the financial conditions imposed by China have increased Pakistan’s overall debt.” On the economic feasibility of CPEC, Wells opined: “a number of firms blacklisted by the World Bank had received contracts in the CPEC.”

Ms. Wells during an interview to Wilson Center, Washington DC (November 2019) questioned upon the notion that CPEC will create job opportunities in Pakistan. Her argument was, “CPEC relies primarily on Chinese workers and supplies even amid rising unemployment in Pakistan. CPEC is even bringing in Chinese workers who earn money in Pakistan, take the wages back to China, leaving very little in the local economy.” Pakistan’s economy has suffered due to terrorism. 

The US criticism over CPEC is to weaken prospects of China’s economic growth in Asia and beyond. The term like ‘debt trap diplomacy’ and the perception that CPEC will entangle Pakistan into economic woes is a Western led narrative. 

Amna Ejaz Rafi

Amna Ejaz Rafi is a Research Associate at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI).

One thought on “Pakistan: Dynamics Of CPEC In Realpolitik – OpEd

  • April 19, 2024 at 7:50 am

    Pakistan will realise not long from now that its love affair with China over CPEC has turned out disastrously for Pakistan when China’s geopolitical interest and calculus change.


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