The Transforming Landscape of Sino-Pak Ties: CPEC Dynamics and Challenges By Rana Mudassar Riaz

The Transforming Landscape of Sino-Pak Ties: CPEC Dynamics and Challenges By Rana Mudassar Riaz

The roots of Sino-Pak relations run deep, stemming from Pakistan’s early recognition of the People’s Republic of China in 1950. The test of time transformed the robust mutual partnership of the two nations into stronger diplomatic ties, transcending in future development terms. The friendship is often described as “higher than mountains, deeper than oceans and sweeter than honey.” Since we have to discuss the intricate relations of China and Pakistan vis-à-vis the monumental China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), it becomes evident that while opportunities abound, there are also challenges that demand attention.

The first mutual Treaty of Friendship culminated in signing by both countries during Premier Zhou Enlai’s visit to Pakistan. Notably, the resolution of border disputes through the Sino-Pakistan Agreement in 1963 underscored the commitment of both nations to resolving territorial issues. China’s unwavering support during Pakistan’s conflicts, particularly the 1965 War with India, further cemented the strategic alliance. Over the years, leaders like Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping laid the groundwork for cooperation, propelling China into an economic power by the 21st century. This cooperation between China and Pakistan was further solidified through a mutually signed agreement in 2008 as the China-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement (CPFTA), paving the way for CPEC.

The transformative initiative resulted in 2013, in the form of CPEC, being the biggest mutual economic cooperation of the region. The CPEC was initially estimated at the rate of $56 billion; CPEC encompasses a spectrum of development projects ranging from infrastructure to energy production and special economic zones. The strategic acquisition of Gwadar port in 2013 marked a significant milestone, positioning it as a linchpin for regional trade and connectivity.

The CPEC was planned in three phases: the 1st ending in 2023-24, the 2nd by 2025 and the 3rd by 2030. Almost all planned roads are complete, except for five portions of the railway line under the Belt & Road Initiative. Six Special Economic Zones (SEZs) are completed but not fully operational. Most energy plants (coal, hydropower, solar) are finished, with four still under construction. By mid-2024, $40 billion had been spent. However, consensus on constructing ML-1 and a road from KP to Khunjerab remains unresolved, despite China’s priority. Similarly, there’s reluctance from China to establish more SEZs and social development projects like fisheries, agriculture, mines and minerals, fiber optics, and port development. Delays have been due to uncertain government policies, diplomatic shifts, budget constraints, technical reasons, and security issues. Recently, an Act was passed in the National Assembly to establish an autonomous body to complete SEZs through JV/PP modes, aiming to tackle bureaucratic hurdles.

Apart from other internal/technical vulnerabilities, security threats loom large over CPEC ventures. Terrorist groups, including Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) have targeted Chinese nationals and projects, undermining stability. TTP’s attacks, such as the Dasu bus bombs and Quetta hotel bombing, highlight grave security risks. Similarly, BLA’s insurgency poses challenges with attacks on Chinese Consulates and infrastructure. This alarming situation raises questions about the efficiency of the country’s security forces. Understanding the genesis of terrorism in Pakistan is imperative for devising counter-strategies. Pakistan’s pivotal role in the Soviet-Afghan War laid the groundwork for jihadist ideologies, serving as a frontline state against Soviet expansionism. Leadership decisions then served national objectives, but the conflict’s aftermath, including covert removals of top civil/military leaders, led to militant group proliferation fueled by geopolitical rivalries and internal power struggles. The War on Terror in 2001 further intensified security challenges, with terrorists exploiting religious sentiments and societal grievances. The rise of groups like TTP and BLA underscores the complex interplay of historical legacies and contemporary geopolitics in shaping security dynamics. The lack of a strong judicial system and governance has led to societal deprivations, resulting in violent actions for personal rights. These terrorist attacks have challenged the role of intelligence agencies, which often fail to gauge public sentiment and ensure the security of Chinese nationals.

The mega project of CPEC is a tangible move towards sustainable development of the country. The political instability and governance failure in Pakistan need to be improved. Choosing the right person for the national cause/projects will make the difference irrelevant of their political affiliations. The challenges of economy, inflation and unemployment should be tackled by engaging youth into earning arrangements through skill-based education. National interests are to be safeguarded at every cost. The entire bureaucratic paradigm needs to be revamped by introducing compulsory retirements, regrouping in high ranks and encouraging integrity-based performers. The working norms of political and bureaucratic business should be well defined, transparent and responsible being accountable in every respect. The system should be married based and standardized safeguarded with strong checks and balances. Each government has to prioritize the national commitment and will have to purge the system from corrupt practices, inefficient working and pointed out shortcomings in order to maintain the impetus of the ongoing projects under CPEC. The recent visit of the Pakistani Prime Minister was expected to bridge the gaps/ misunderstandings between the two countries for concluding the CPEC in future.

Addressing security vulnerabilities within the context of Sino-Pak relations necessitates a holistic approach encompassing political, socio-economic, and institutional dimensions. Strengthening governance structures, fostering interfaith harmony, and promoting community engagement are paramount for countering extremist narratives. Moreover, enhancing intelligence capabilities, modernizing security apparatus, and fortifying legal frameworks are indispensable for thwarting terrorist threats. Importantly, cultivating transparency, accountability, and public trust is pivotal for bolstering security initiatives and sustaining long-term stability. The multifaceted approach may include enhanced cooperation between security forces, intelligence-sharing mechanisms, appeasement of locals and proactive measures to counter extremist ideologies.

As China and Pakistan navigate the evolving landscape of bilateral relations, the imperative of addressing the mentioned challenges looms large. While CPEC heralds a new era of economic cooperation and regional connectivity, its fruition hinges upon mitigating security risks and fostering a conducive environment for investment. By adopting a comprehensive approach encompassing diplomatic engagement, security cooperation, and socio-economic development, China and Pakistan can fortify their strategic partnership and realize the full potential of CPEC. In doing so, they can chart a path towards shared prosperity and enduring friendship in the years to come.

The Transforming Landscape of Sino-Pak Ties: CPEC Dynamics and Challenges By Rana Mudassar Riaz


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