PAKISTAN-China relations are always on a positive trajectory, in fact anything to the contrary is seen with a lot of surprise and displeasure by the common people. I experienced the same feeling by our Chinese brethren on the streets of Shanghai and Beijing. If there has ever been unanimity among our successive governments over the years, it has been undoubtedly our relations with our time-tested friend – China. Both the political and military governments over our history have been on cordial terms with China to varying degrees primarily due to their specific approach and priorities of handling matters under considerations some time not to the likings of our Chinese friends. The recent election results, and a landslide victory for a third force led by Imran Khan has indicates to many fresh hopes across the country vis-a-vis our relations with the world in general and China in particular. To the extent that he specifically made a mention of Chinese economic turnaround and poverty alleviation over the last 30 years. He even stated to send a special delegation to China to learn from their example. What makes the bilateral relations this time different than the past and a promise to take it to new heights? The answer to this question lies in the PTI election manifesto and President Xi Jinping‘s vision for BRI of which CPEC is a flagship. Let me briefly recount the two which will surely put our relations on a new trajectory and take these to new heights.
First the PTI election manifesto. On governance side there is greater commitment to accountability, empowerment at grass root level, improving judicial system and depoliticising police and reforming civil service. It mentions of strengthening the federation by attending more seriously to FATA, Gilgit-Baltistan, Balochistan, South Punjab, Karachi, minorities and gender parity. On the economic front it focuses on reforming FBR, creating over 10 million jobs, 5 million houses, manufacturing reforms facilitating rapid growth of SMEs, transforming economic institutions, attacking energy shortages, converting CPEC into a game changer, boosting tourism, turning around IT sector to build knowledge economy, boosting textile and agriculture, livestock, fisheries, building dams to address water scarcity, healthcare, education, youth development, population control and sports/culture.
Now BRI with CPEC as its flagship. ON April 10, 2018, during Boao Forum of Asia (BFA) while outlining his vision for BRI President XI Jinping said, “China has no political calculations, seeks no exclusionary blocs and impose on business deals on others”. Similarly CPEC that provides promises and opportunities for all its participants, it has striking similarities with the focus of PTI`s future manifesto for the country. Few are covered here. CPEC a multibillion project, 55 billion of which will be utilized in connectivity, communication and industrial development. 50% of the investment is being dedicated to energy producing 16500 MW electricity. With Chinese investment coming in there would be greater attraction for multinational corporations finding their way for investment in Pakistan. CPEC also promises 2 million jobs across the country. It envisages 6 FEZs with industrial and production products for its ultimate destinations in West and Central Asia. Similarly business opportunities in transportation, telecommunication will see greater boom in coming years. Balochistan, will get greater opportunities to flourish given its years of neglect and deprivation. With Pakistan becoming full member of SCO besides economic opportunities there would be multiple avenues for Pakistan to fully capitalise on its geo strategic position for domestic, regional and global prosperity.
With Chinese example of economic development and Pakistan’s urgency for attaining economic stability, and Imran Khan having already spoken out for renewed push to Pak-China relations especially in the economic domain, the two countries should accelerate the pace of cooperation on a multi-dimensional levels. Since the people of Pakistan associate great hopes with the new government especially for economic uplift of the country, it will be more imperative for the Chinese government to demonstrate increasing pro activeness in understanding the new govt’s economic woes and extend an iron hand. This gesture will greatly cement our bilateral engagements and take these to new heights leading towards a more peaceful and economically affluent region.
— The writer, a retired Maj Gen, is DG Pakistan Institute for Conflict & Security Studies, an independent think-tank based in Islamabad.