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CPEC: Connectivity and prosperity

Shakeel Ahmad Ramay

23rd Oct, 2021. 03:42 pm

 

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has been designed to foster the economic development, and well-being of people without compromising the needs of future generations. It is a flagship project of the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) with elements of the Chinese vision of eco-civilization.

 

Although the name suggests the key role of Pakistan and China, the project has wider relevance for the region and beyond. A closer look at the conceptual and implementation framework of CPEC highlights two major dimensions of the project. First, it is designed to foster economic revival of Pakistan. Second, it will enhance multidimensional connectivity within the region and beyond.

 

The relevancy of CPEC for the economic agenda of Pakistan has been proven by the results of the first phase of CPEC. Apart from providing 83,000 direct jobs (according to the latest data of 2020) and indirect jobs through 100 SMEs, it also helped improve connectivity within Pakistan. Pakistan has built an extensive network of infrastructure like the Peshawar-Karachi Motorway, Multan-Sukkur Section, KKH Phase-II Havelian-Thakot and Orange Metro in Lahore, which are major achievements of the first phase. There are also many projects which are nearing completion, including Khuzdar-Basima N-30 (46 percent), Awaran- Hoshab Section of M-8, Eastbay Expressway (84 percent) and the construction of a Motorway from Burhan-Hakla on M-I to D.I. Khan (85 percent). Fiber optic and Digital Terrestrial Multimedia Broadcast are two other major milestones on the digital front for improving connectivity infrastructure.

 

There is also a long list of projects in the pipeline which will help boost connectivity within the region. The major projects include Mirpur-Mangla-Muzaffarabad-Mansehra Road, improvement and widening of Gilgit-Shandur-Chitral road dualization & improvement of N-50 from Yarik-Sagu-Zhob including Zhob bypass, Sukkar-Hyderabad (M-6) and Peshawar-D.I. Khan Motorway etc. However, ML-1 is the game changing project of CPEC in terms of connectivity. It has been finalized and will be built through concessional financing. It will give impetus to affordable and quality mobility of humans and goods within Pakistan. Linking ML-1 with ML-2 and ML-3 will help Pakistan connect with Iran. In the future, ML-1 from Islamabad can also be extended to China, Afghanistan and Central Asia.

 

Gwadar, the shining jewel of CPEC, is the biggest ticket for expanding trade and transit through sea. It is operational and acting as an emerging business hub. Afghanistan, at present, is one of the biggest beneficiaries, as the trade route has opened doors of new opportunities for the country. China will also be a beneficiary and they will be able to use Gwadar for multiple economic purposes.

 

Gwadar will also provide alternative routes to countries from Europe, Western Asia, North Africa and others to reach China. It will be a secure, reliable, cheap and efficient route. For example, traveling time for Kuwait, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Germany, France to China will be reduced by 24, 21, 20, 21 and 21 days respectively.

 

The vision of CPEC envisages building linkages with further initiatives to enhance benefits for everyone involved by adopting a win-win cooperation formula. We will be focusing on four initiatives:

 

  • Middle Corridor by Turkey
  • Khaf-Herat Railway which is part of International North-South Transportation corridor
  • Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul railway
  • Bangladesh-China-Myanmar-India (BCMI) corridor, which is part of BRI.

 

Middle Corridor is also known as Trans-Caspian East-West-Middle Corridor. It has been designed by Turkey to connect with Central Asia, China and provides an alternative route from China to Europe. It also overlaps with certain parts of the China-Central Asia-West Asia corridor with one exception, that it bypasses Iran.

 

CPEC can provide the link to connect Middle Corridor with Iran. For that purpose, Pakistan-China will have to connect CPEC to Central Asia through Afghanistan. China and Pakistan are already working to expand CPEC to Afghanistan and connect South Asia with Central Asia. It will be a win-win situation for everyone as it will provide opportunity to energy-hungry economies of South Asia through access to the energy-rich economies of Central Asia.

 

South Asia will have an alternative and affordable market of energy and other natural resources like cotton etc. It will also be an opportunity for Central Asia to enhance its trade through the warm waters of Gwadar and other ports of Pakistan. On the other hand, Iran can enhance linkages to South Asia and Central Asia by connecting to CPEC. Iran can also look for options to connect the Khaf-Herat Railway with CPEC and BRI. The signing of China-Iran 25-years partnership agreement can assist in achieving the objective.

 

The Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul railway is another initiative which can benefit from CPEC and open new opportunities for Afghanistan and Central Asia. It is a 6,500-kilometer railway line which covers 1,950 kilometers in Turkey, 2,600 kilometers in Iran and 1,990 kilometers Pakistan. It will reduce travel time to 11 days from 21 days through the sea route. It will help transport 750 million tons of goods. It is an initiative under the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), which offers an opportunity to extend the railway to other member countries of ECO i.e. Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. By creating linkages with CPEC, it can also be extended to China and other corridors of BRI.

 

BCMI is another corridor of BRI, which can usher a new era of cooperation among countries if connected with CPEC. It will create linkages among three regions South Asia, South East Asia and Central Asia. For India, it will provide an excellent opportunity to connect with Afghanistan and Central Asia by land route through Pakistan. It is a dream of India to connect via land route to Afghanistan and Central Asia. On the other hand, Pakistan can reach South-East Asia and can also build linkages to Nepal (which can be negotiated separately).

 

Hence, it can be deduced that CPEC provides an excellent opportunity to connect different initiatives and usher in a new era of economic growth and development. It will help countries fight the challenges of food insecurity, poverty and health etc. By building linkages, the participating countries will be in a better position to eliminate conflicts. It will be a win-win proposition for all participating countries, regions and the business community.

 

However, for this to materialize, some steps need to be taken. First, the countries should make an effort to shed the baggage of history and get rid of the mindset of tit for tat (especially the South and West Asian countries). We have witnessed the havoc of such policies.

 

Second, there should be no superiority competition among the civilizations as we know, all these initiatives involve custodians of different civilizations including Chinese, Iranian, Ottoman and Indus. There should be a constructive dialogue among all parties. Pakistan can provide a platform for dialogue. Third, countries should focus on cooperation, which will be key to building consensus and trust. It will pave the way for a “community with a shared future” with the goals of prosperity and peace on the basis of sustainability.

 

 

The writer is a political scientist and defense analyst.

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