By Trilok Sharma (KATHMANDU 2 February 2017) – Putting aside all controversies and plot of arch rival India, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in 2016 underwent through major development signaling the possible early completion of one of the major One Belt One Road (OBOR) projects in the region. Rapid and proficient progress of the project is a clear indication of the level of seriousness from both the countries. Also, the inclusion of CPEC in the China’s 13th five-year development plan with Beijing tag as “flagship project” and top priority by Pakistani government clearly reflects its importance.
CPEC is a mega multidimensional project, proposed by China, ranging from geopolitics to geo-economics. An agreement on which was signed in April 2015 during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s official visit to Islamabad. The project is a network of 3,000 km network of roads, railways and pipelines linking Kashgar in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to southwest Gwadar port of Pakistan. The completion deadline has been set for 2030.
Initial estimation of CPEC was $46bn. In November 2016, China announced an additional $8.5bn investment in CPEC related projects, raising the total cost of project around $55bn.
After one-and-half year of continuous effort from both sides, now partially CPEC has come in operation. In last year November as a part of first trade activity Chinese cargo was trucked down via corridor and loaded on to the ships at Gwadar port that headed to markets of West Asia and Africa.
With the CPEC taking momentum, the discussion on its multifaceted aspects is also taking pace both inside the borders of Pakistan and China and at global level. The world is skeptical and is reluctant to accept Chinese claim of primarily economic gain at a time of rising Chinese geopolitical ambition. India and the United States in particular, view CPEC as development project with geo-strategic gambit in center.
However, large chunk of foreign affairs pundits seem close to the common notion on CPEC as international extension of China’s effort to deliver security through development in the world.
Once globally criticized for breeding ground of terrorism, now CPEC has brought Pakistan to limelight with improving image in world stage. The project has bolstered the Pakistan’s engagement in terms of foreign policy with powerful countries like Iran, US, Turkey and Malaysia as they have also shown interest to be part of maritime economy related to CPEC. Iran wants Gwadar to be ‘sister’ port of Chabahar.
With increasing role in global politics due to CPEC, Pakistan now firmly believes that this is the only project that has all potential to address its security and development concern and has started to view as a project of peace and prosperity.
Several power plants, highways and projects related to Gwadar port are under construction and more than 10,000 new jobs have been created for Baloch youths and for local people of other provinces. Pakistan officials have also predicted this number to go up to 700,000 direct jobs in between 2015-2030 adding 2 to 2.5 percentage to the country’s annual economic growth and could increase the Pakistan economy to three to four times that of present.
This project is also believed to address the energy shortage transforming the current semi-industrialized to complete industrialization of Pakistan’s economy.
As the project is designed to span throughout the length and breadth of Pakistan, all provinces are expected to be equally benefitted. This has eased the job of Pakistani officials to develop mutual consensus on the CPEC routes.
Although the entire Pakistan is one with one voice for this project, the progress of CPEC is facing one after another hurdle both inside and outside the nation.
For a nation like Pakistan with large mass of population divided by religious sects, ethnicity and politics and dominated by extremism and militancy, progress and completion of any big project is indeed full of challenges.
Gwadar, the heart of CPEC, is cut off from rest of the Pakistan because of separatist insurgents one-sided domination in Balochistan. The Chinese engineer working for previous multibillion dollar refinery project in Gwadar was kidnapped and killed by Blaoch separatist in 2009, forcing Beijing to step back. Taking this as lesson, this time Beijing has asked Pakistan to deploy 10,000 special force for the safety and security of Chinese officials and assets in Balochistan.
Feared from CPEC potential to transform Pakistan into ‘Asian economy tiger’ and possible alliance of China, Pakistan, Russia and Iran (CPRI) in the region, India has already tried its all possible means to fuel the separatist Baloch force, to take local leaders in confidence encouraging them to spark violent protest demanding separate Balochistan. In this context, Indian media too had the same tongue as Modi government. Popular Indian news channel Aaj Tak even broadcasted breaking news with headline, “2000 crore se Modi karenge Balochistan ko recharge, Pakistan ho jaaye ga discharge,” meaning Modi government will invest 20,000 million IC to support the independence movement in Balochistan initiated by small group of Balochs.
India even approached to UN accusing Pakistan for ignoring the ongoing human rights violations in Balochistan and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK) and focusing only on CPEC progress. Being the US allay, India has some sorts of expectation that UN will sound in its favor. But everything went wrong when US strongly said that it respects the unity and territorial integrity of Pakistan and do not support independence of Blaochistan. Since then India is in complete silence on CPEC.
Considering the sensitivity of Balochistan, Pakistan has initiated a number of projects for Baloch youths and local people. In addition, PM has also pledged for establishment of university in Gwadar in affiliation with reputed Chinese university.
Another possible big challenge identified for CPEC progress is Uighur militant groups of Xinjiang, who are believed to have sought refuge in Pak-Afghanistan border areas developing some sorts of link with al-Qaeda and the Taliban fighters of Afghanistan and Pakistan. China has constant fear of attack on Chinese ongoing projects and officials by Uighur militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan. To tackle this Pak-China security force is in red alert.
The other medium level challenges that Pakistan is facing on CPEC are concern of local community that whether their province will get better share or not, what if CPEC in future turned as another East India Company making Pakistan the first colony of region and what if Pakistani firms and industries products are heavily dominated by Chinese goods and so on which PM Nawaz Sharif government is handling properly assuring all the concerned stakeholders that the project is totally in favor of Pakistani people and will complete at any cost within the stipulated time frame.
Sharma is MA in Conflict, Peace & Dev. Studies, TU (2015).