THE promised overhaul of Pakistan’s communications framework that was a part of the Long Term Plan for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has seen a major phase reach completion — an achievement that is to be lauded for the benefits it brings to ordinary citizens and the strategic advantages it provides to both countries. The Pak-China Optical Fibre Cable project was inaugurated on Friday, having been completed over a period of two years. The project’s main features are the 820km underground Optical Fibre Cable from Rawalpindi to Khunjerab and the 172km aerial OFC link from Karimabad to Khunjerab. As reported, a communication link has been established with the Chinese side on the border and has been successfully tested for end-to-end connectivity.
Being the first land-based communication link between Pakistan and China, it should immediately ensure secure communication with regard to CPEC-specific projects and other sensitive information exchanges that would no longer necessarily be routed through Europe, the United States or India. As highlighted in previous reports, the existing network by which Pakistan connects to the world has been developed by a consortium that includes Indian companies as partners or shareholders — a security risk that has been voiced by officials in the past. Eventually, the plan will also provide security in the form of a backup route for Pakistan’s internet traffic, which is currently entirely dependent on undersea cables. Those living in the long-ignored regions of Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan will finally have meaningful access to high-speed internet, which is a big step up from the poor to non-existent set-up of the past. Eventually, connectivity will ensure economic growth in those areas, especially in information and communication technologies and the telecom sector. Overall, given proper consideration and investment by the government, the impact of this project could be wide-ranging — from faster, cheaper internet to e-governance and more. It is hoped that this step will quickly be followed up with further development of the digital corridor highlighted in the LTP, which would position Pakistan as a cost-effective communication highway for China and the landlocked Central Asian states that would look to connect to the world through Gwadar. It is also hoped that in the long term, connectivity through China will not necessitate the imposition on Pakistani citizens the many censorship mechanisms currently set up by China for their own state.
Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2018