China and Pakistan friendship has transformed into a congenial strategic partnership over versatile canvass of mutual interest. Over the years, both the countries have developed strong bilateral trade and economic collaboration. China has gradually emerged as Pakistan’s major trading partner both in domain of exports and imports. Today, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has become talk of the globe. The golden CPEC project is likely to become a strong bondage to enormously boost trade and economic cooperation between the two countries. The corridor will connect Gwadar Port to Kashgar, China.
The project will enable full operationalisation of Gwadar, the first deep sea port in the region. Control of Gwadar Port after operationalization in 2007 was transferred to China’s state-owned China Overseas Ports Holding in February 2013. Since then, Gwadar has undergone many major expansions to attain the status of full-fledged, deep-water commercial port. Presently China is some 13,000 Kms from Persian Gulf with a long shipping time of about 45 days. CPEC will shrink this distance to merely 2500 Kms (80% reduction) whereas, the shipping time will reduce to 10 days (78% reduction). Envious short cut and swift sea transportation will change trade economics of the region.
CPEC is a comprehensive development program that entails connecting Gwadar Port to China’s North Western region of Xinjiang through 2,700 km long highway from Kashgar to Gwadar, railway links for freight trains, oil and gas pipelines and an optical fiber link. The project aims at transforming regional trade routes, increase Chinese participation in the region and bridge the region’s infrastructure gap. CPEC is one of the largest and most momentous project for Pakistan and the region. With an envious investment of $ 46 billion, Pakistan has an uphill task not just to create a transparent, accountable and efficient mechanism of utilizing and absorbing such a huge investment but also to bring about a revolution in corporateethics and efficiency.
The major chunk of the investment, estimated at US$ 34 billion, has been earmarked for energy projects. CPEC aims to add 16,500 MW energy to the national grid in the next decade. Energy sector development will include around 10 coal fired projects, hydel, solar and wind power plants. The $ 12 billion dedicated for development of basic infrastructure will be inter State credit in the form of soft loans by Chinese companies or credit institutions. For such projects share of Pakistan wand China will be 10 and 90% respectively. These projects will be undertaken in phased manner comprising 3 phases i.e. short term, medium term and long term respectively. Short-term projects are estimated to be completed by 2017; medium-term by 2025, and long-term by 2030. In this regard a high-level Joint Coordination Committee (JCC) has already been entrusted to oversee implementation of these projects in an agreement signed on 20th July 2013.
A careful analysis of prevailing environment suggests three pronged threats to CPEC which include security, political and economic threats. Security threats emanate from extremist militancy, nationalist insurgency and criminal violence along the route of CPEC. Nevertheless, Pakistan has requisite capacity and adequate security infrastructure to deal amicably with such challenges. Pakistan has already proven her capacity and resolve in countering such threats under Operation “Zarb-e-Azb” which has been applauded World wide. The said operation has flushed out the extremists from Pak soil besides substantially weakening China specific ETIM. Pakistan is also recovering swiftly from economic crisis. Country is also politically stable with strong democracy and efficient State institutions.
Unfortunately, some political quarters of Pakistan while safeguarding their vested interests seem to be perturbed over CPEC. They do not aspire to see a prosperous Pakistan. These few political elements want to regain their lost political standings through politics of controversy, conflict and intrigue even at the cost of national interests. In this context, some of the political leadership of Baluchistan and KPK while viewing CPEC myopically are polluting minds and hearts of innocent masses by beating the drums of provincialism. They think that their provinces are being deprived of the development andemployment opportunities the CPEC will bring with it.
However, leadership of both mainstream political parties is in complete harmony to pursue the project with strong resolve and determination. Chinese investment will help remove energy bottlenecks and will augment growth and income levels. CPEC has brought sleepless nights to foes of China and Pakistan, who can not digest CPEC as a game changer in the region. These countries are and will continue to create hurdles and impede progress on CPEC.
Being taking it as a national responsibility, our mainstream political parties and their leadership should take lead role in convincing all regional parties that CPEC is a God gifted opportunity for prosperity and welfare of Pakistan. As William Arthur Ward rightly said, “Opportunities are like sunrises. If you wait too long, you miss them”.
— The writer works for Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, Islamabad.