China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC): Challenges, Prospects And Recommendations – OpEd


Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Pakistan, Sun Weidong, while addressing the CPEC Media Forum, avidly expressed that, ”the CPEC is a process rather than just one project”.  CPEC is a flagship and a pilot project of the much larger One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative by visionary leader and the President of China Xi Jinping. Furthermore, CPEC is brimmed with a host of geo-economic, geo-strategic and geo-political connotations for Pakistan. It could potentially make Pakistan an economic and a trade hub. CPEC would lift the crippled economy of Pakistan, while accomplishing the target of $4200 Per Capita Income, would empower and develop the underdeveloped regions of Pakistan specifically Balochistan province, would alleviate poverty and unbridled inflation, would create around 02 million jobs and above all the CPEC would bring back the lost glory of Pakistan.

The following scheme of paragraphs deliberates upon the objectives of the CPEC, its major components, apprehensions, long-lasting internal and external challenges, prospects of the CPEC, and suggests a few inevitable recommendations.

According to the official message of Ahsan Iqbal, former Federal Minister for Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform (MPD&R), the CPEC is a $50 billion project at the outset. In addition, it would connect China’s underdeveloped western autonomous region Xinjiang through Khunjerab with the Pakistan’s southern deep sea port Gawadar Port, which is also the centrepiece of the CPEC, via a network of highways, railways and pipelines. The corridor, further, consists of one belt, three passages, two axes and five functional zones. Not only this, under the aegis of the CPEC China would invest $34 billion in energy sector and the remaining amount in developing the Gawadar city and region, improving basic infrastructure, industrial cooperation, reforming education, flourishing tourism and many other sectors with the passage of time.

The CPEC has a number of objectives. China’s President Xi Jinping has fairly observed that the CPEC would connect the ‘Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road’. Connecting the regions remains the prime objective. CPEC is aimed at connecting South, East, Central and West Asia and linking the entire Asian region with the African continent. Such a magnificent project as the CPEC would shift the power and economic centralization from West to East. Also it would change the strategic and economic paradigms in the region in general and make Pakistan an economic and a trade hub in particular. And for this very reason it is perfectly termed as ”fate changer” and/or game changer.

Moreover, there are various components of the CPEC. As per the details available on the official website of the Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform (MPD&R), CPEC would primarily work under 1+4 pattern. This further reveals that the 1) economic corridor is at the centre 2) development of Gawadar (city and region) 3) energy sector (thermal, hydro, solar, etc.) 4) industrial cooperation (twelve special economic zones) 5) basic infrastructure (Roads, railways, pipelines etc.) are incorporated.

Unfortunately, there has been a hue and cry over some aspects of the CPEC. Although, there are manifold apprehensions from distinct circles, a handful, however, has been unnecessarily questioning if the CPEC turn out to be another East India Company? Let’s not beat around the bushes the CPEC won’t turn out another East India Company. The reasons are as follows 1) notwithstanding its mighty strength China has never invaded another country in its 6000 years long history. Why would it do it now? 2) ‘Invest’ not ‘invade’ has always remained Beijing’s motto throughout its history. 3) China is an economic giant and it always explores new markets for its manufactures and investors.

Gwadar port of Pakistan. Photo by Umargondal, Wikimedia Commons.
Gwadar port of Pakistan. Photo by Umargondal, Wikimedia Commons.

Despite the fact, the Government of Pakistan, and formidable security forces specifically the robust Pakistan Army along with China have charted out a plan to address all the looming internal and external challenges, a few challenges still roam around. India, the United States, Japan, Iran and Afghanistan externally whereas, proscribed religious outfits such as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and unchecked insurgent organizations based in war-wreaked but peace loving Balochistan province have been at the front to impair the flow of the CPEC. Let’s analyze the external challenges in detail.

India: Hindu-centric Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, while addressing a public rally, termed the CPEC as ”unacceptable”. The CPEC is a thorn in India’s paw. Firstly, the CPEC would dismantle the dream of Modi’s India to becoming the regional power. Secondly, India’s maximum energy needs pass through the strategically-rich Strait of Hormuz, which is located merely 500kms from, Pakistan’s Gawadar Port. India wrongly perceives that once China gets access to the Indian Ocean via the Gawadar Port it would construct a huge naval base which would consequently threaten India’s maritime transport. Thirdly, India’s pipe dreaming has not ended yet. It has long been planning to re-occupy Kashmir and to take in its control Gilgit Baltistan, where the CPEC is initiated, and unnecessarily estimates these regions disputed. Nevertheless, for the aforementioned purposes Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s secret arm, has established an anti-CPEC wing and a huge chunk of $300 million were allotted by the Modi government.

USA: The United State of America feels frightened from the CPEC because it would neutrally lead to China’s altogether emergence in the world in general and in the region in particular. After all the US has penetrated a lot of power since the cold war in the region.

Japan: New Delhi and India have joined hands once again to counter the ambitious CPEC. Analysts see the so-called Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) as a rival to the CPEC. Japan needlessly fears that once China gets easy access to the warm waters the African, Middle Eastern, Central Asian and European markets would completely tilt towards China particularly for electronic items. Thus would gradually diminish the value of its large exports, Japan observes.

Iran's Chabahar Port at night. Photo Credit: Ksardar1359, Wikipedia Commons.
Iran’s Chabahar Port at night. Photo Credit: Ksardar1359, Wikipedia Commons.

Iran: Though, Iran lambasted Gawadar Port seeing it as a rival port to its Chabahar Port which barley lies 70 kms from Gawadar Port, the reservations of Iran were meekly addressed by Pakistan. Therefore, in recent months Iran had expressed its desire to be a part of the CPEC.

Afghanistan: While depicting a goodwill gesture Pakistan formally asked Afghanistan to be a part of the CPEC to reap benefits. In fact, Islamabad, under the sponsorship of the CPEC, plans to construct 256 kms motorway from Peshawar to Kabul. However, the NDS-RAW nexus has underpinned Afghanistan’s unfortunate desires for the CPEC. On the other hand, the long lasting insurgency in Afghanistan is another major external threat to the CPEC.

The imminent internal security threats as follows:

The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Islamic State (IS), Islamic State in Khorasan (ISK), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and The East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) have been at the front to sabotage the CPEC. Whereas, the Switzerland, London and New Delhi based influential have not left any stone unturned to work against the CPEC. These self-exiled influential are ruthlessly exploiting innocent followers to achieve their craves. Moreover, lack of national of national consensus, political discontent, provincial disharmony and a pointless enigma of the Punjab’s development at the expense of other provinces are all damaging the very purposes of the CPEC.

The CPEC is a win-win project while fetching a host of opportunities from it. It would not only change fortune of the 208 million Pakistanis but of the 03 billion people. Not only this, the CPEC would make Pakistan an economic and a trade hub. Additionally, it makes 20% of Pakistan’s total GDP and makes Pakistan a high middle income country. Unsurprisingly, it has potential to generate approximately $40 billion annually. Besides, once the early harvested projects are completed by 2020, it would end up Pakistan’s menace energy crisis. According to the Water and Power Ministry, 25000 MWs of energy are identified and possibly 10400 MWs would be added to the system by 2020 whereas, soon after that 6600 MWs would be added to the national grid. Apart from the above mentioned prospects, the CPEC would possibly create 02 million jobs, enhance basic infrastructure, improve people to people contacts, overcome governance crisis, alleviate the menace poverty and unbridled inflation, bring dramatic change in education system and would flourish tourism industry.

In contrast, China is immensely interested in the project because 1) it provides a link to China’s Silk and Maritime initiative connecting Europe, Africa and Asia. Consequently, it would a) save time b) save distance c) reduce logistics cost d) minimise risk management 2) China imports 80% of its energy needs through the Strait of Malacca posing manifold risks due to the changing power paradigms there. Therefore, the CPEC would prove risk-free route 3) the CPEC naturally gives space to China to insert its power in the region.

Albeit, various splendid prospects, the CPEC needs a few fields to be direly worked upon at the earliest in order to reap as much as possible from the CPEC. Firstly, policy makers specially the establishment apparatus must revisit its ‘flawed’ policies. Precisely, policies toward the neighbouring nations more importantly toward East and West neighbours direly need reconsideration. Besides, utter care must be taken in order to tackling with the religious fanatics, insurgents and their patrons. Furthermore, though 12,000 robust forces under the auspices of Special Security Division (SSD) have already been deployed, all unresolved security threats should be addressed at the earliest. Moreover, protection of the workforce in general and of the Chinese workforce is mandatory. Meanwhile, another issue of provincial accusation of diverting the route exit. Despite all the efforts by government the issue is not figured out yet. Thus, for the long term provincial reservations must be addressed. Another factor of strained ties between the government and the military should be solved out. Being a pillar of the state the military can’t be surpassed in important state matters whereas the military should completely abstain itself from the politics and from indulging in areas not in its domain for its own splendour. Most importantly, merely for political gimmicks national consensus should not be compromised and the onus falls on the government to come up with a viable plan for the solution of all the problems.

To sum up, the CPEC is catalyst for property, development, transformation, connection and above all economically empowering 3 billion people. It’s a game changer and it would dramatically mend the lives of the 03 billion people in general and of the 208 million Pakistanis in particular. Besides, it has such a magnificent force behind it that it would shift power and economic paradigms from West to East. The Easterners have long been bearing miseries and the CPEC would end up their miseries.

*Orangzeb Khan is an Islamabad based columnist and teaches current affairs.

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