CPEC and Azad Kashmir: Prospects and Potential

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Dr Samina Sabir

CHINA has made enormous and substantial economic development in the last 35 years. Since 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping initiated infrastructure development project to revive the ancient Silk Road, and now it is referred as new Silk Road. This consists of two parts: the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st century Maritime Silk Road. Later on this project has been unanimously given the name “Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)”. The US, India and some other countries have shown serious concerns over this gigantic project and they consider that BRI is Trojan-Horse for China led growth and development. Moreover they claim that China is trying to get greater global dominance in international relations and also change the prevailing economic, political and strategic structures to stimulate its own interest at the expense of others. Experts firmly believe that BRI must be based on universally acceptable international norms, transparency, good governance, rule of law and equality, and must be pursued in such a way that honours sovereignty and regional integrity. We know that a country can’t grow in isolation without the network of land and maritime connectivity for the trade of goods and services. Moreover, 21st century is considered as the century of globalization and regional integration for economic and social development, thus, BRI emphasises on the connectivity and cooperation among 160 countries of the world, primarily between China and rest of Eurasia. It is purported that BRI will promote infrastructure connectivity, trade connectivity, industrial connectivity, financial connectivity and people to people connectivity between China and partner countries of the world. The punch-line is that BRI is a road for peace, a road of shared prosperity, a road of innovation and technology, a road of green growth, a road of opening up and reforms, and a road of connectivity among different civilizations.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the flagship project of China and Pakistan. China is investing about $62 billion in roads, railroads, energy projects, fibre optic and special economic zones (SEZs). CPEC serves as a pushback against US propaganda or more precisely Alice Wells’s fear of debt trap as well as a way for China to explore new avenues of investment, explore export market and boost Chinese income and consumption. It is pertinent to mention that Pakistan is located geographically at the apex of Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf and its boundaries are touching with Afghanistan, China, Iran, and India respectively. Another parameter that heightens the importance of Pakistan is its population, especially 52% youth population under the age of 25 years. Therefore, Pakistan has huge potential and tendency to reap the dividends from CPEC through regional connectivity, human capital development, improvement in trade, modernization of agriculture and industrial development.

A highway that connects Gwadar with Xinjiang region of China passes through four provinces of Pakistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir. It is affirmed that Azad Kashmir is contributing less than two per cent in the total GDP of Pakistan and its population is 1.95 per cent of total population of Pakistan. Poor performance of Azad Kashmir economy is not due to scarcity of economic potential but owing to the underutilization of natural and human resources. Particularly lack of infrastructure development, insufficient industrial structures and underutilization of hydropower potential are the core causes of underdevelopment of Azad Kashmir. This area has mountainous topography with enchanting natural beauty, fairy meadows, rivers, waterfalls, streams and lakes. Beside all these problems, each year more than 1.5 million tourists visit Azad Kashmir especially in the summer to enjoy natural beauty of the area. More than 100 heritage and archaeological sites based on the footprints of Dogra, Sikh, Buddhist and Mughal have been found in Azad Kashmir. Religious tourism can be promoted if infrastructure bottlenecks are removed. Therefore, infrastructure development under CPEC will lead to the expansion and development of tourism industry in this territory that will be a source of revenue for the government. Moreover tourism industry will create millions of job opportunities for the people that will have definite impact on the socioeconomic development of the country. A 200km long Expressway has been planned for Azad Kashmir which will connect Mansehra with Azad Kashmir. CPEC Authority should take a serious note on its implementation to outreach the benefits of CPEC to the people of Azad Kashmir. This road project will increase the connectivity within Azad Kashmir and will open the avenues for the Diaspora to invest in Azad Kashmir.

It is remarkable that an energy project namely Karot hydropower project with installed capacity of 796MW has been started in Kotli, Azad Kashmir and will be completed in 2021. Azad Kashmir has a hydropower potential of 8000MW in the medium term and 18000MW in the long run. It is indeed sufficient to overcome the severe electricity crisis facing Pakistan and contribute to its development. Azad Kashmir is also known for its natural as well as mineral reserves such as gold, potassium, mining, coal and ruby. But these precious resources have never been explored due to financial constraint and low intent of the government. Therefore, Azad Kashmir has a huge potential to establish the industry of stones and other minerals. This will create job opportunities and contribute to the GDP of Pakistan. Through CPEC, natural resources can be explored and mining and coal industry should be established to acquire value added contribution.

Further, a special economic zone has allocated in Mirpur Azad Kashmir but it has not been commenced yet. Certain prerequisites should be met before the start of SEZ. For instance, land acquisition, uninterrupted supply of electricity and gas, water supply scheme and highway or motorway facility. It is really disappointing that the aforementioned prerequisites have not been fulfilled till now. This reflects a lack of interest of the government and shortage of small, medium and long term plans on the part of ministry of planning, development and reforms. Now CPEC authority has established and it is operational. People of Azad Kashmir hope a prompt response from CPEC authority to start SEZ in Mirpur Azad Kashmir. Last but not least, we should learn from the development experiences of China, how to set the target and achieve in given time span.

—The writer is Assistant Professor, University of AJK, Muzaffarabad.