AMONG the recent developments, Iran and Afghanistan have expressed their desire to join CPEC. Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Pakistan, Dr. Omar Zakhilwal said that CPEC is a great project which is equally relevant to Afghanistan, like Pakistan. Moreover, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in a meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the UNGA session has also expressed the desire to be part of the CPEC. In response, Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, Sun Weidong, stated that CPEC is a win-win cooperation so we are looking forward to explore the possibilities of cooperation among the all the regional countries.
CPEC, in itself carries the ambitions of regional integration and enhanced cooperation. As elaborated, CPEC is not just a road project but a package of port development, infrastructure, energy and transportation projects, if implemented as envisaged, would help Pakistan in achieving an economic turnaround. Recent statements by Iranian and Afghan authorities regarding CPEC show us a budding realization of the importance of this project for the entire region. Current expression of participation by both states would help present the case of CPEC as a genuine effort to develop the region, enticing more support. Rather, their prospective inclusion would help shed off the concerns of strategic exclusiveness associated with CPEC.
Pakistan and Iran have massive scope of bilateral cooperation in the field of energy, especially oil, gas and electricity. Besides, both countries can extend cooperation by enhancing the connectivity between sea ports of Gwadar and Chabahar. Development of Gwadar port is a key component of CPEC and under the framework, better connectivity between both ports can be ensured. Similarly, CPEC is of geostrategic importance for a landlocked state like Afghanistan. With the extension of CPEC to Afghanistan, the country can become a major beneficiary of this project as in future the corridor will contribute to the economic development of this country by enhancing economic activities in the area, which can bring the fragile economy of Afghanistan back to normalcy.
In order to linkup Afghanistan with CPEC, Pakistan has already pledged the construction of 256 km Peshawar-Kabul motorway which will give Afghanistan an opportunity to start economic and commercial activities. As per the plans, the western alignment of the corridor, which originates from Gwadar and runs through Khuzdar, Zhob and finally reaches Islamabad via D.I. Khan, will have an additional connectivity to link Afghanistan through Chaman. Such a link would also help boost trade links with Central Asian states. With its desire to join CPEC, Afghanistan has rightly understood the benefits; it can reap through a project of such magnitude. Pakistan and its neighbours have the potential to grow as economic power hubs, provided if make the right choices. There are challenges in way and prospects ahead which can be materialized only if all the stakeholders work on mutual grounds and interests.
Peace in Afghanistan is a pre-requisite in bringing regional prosperity and stability. Similarly, historic ties between Pakistan and Iran can mutually benefit both countries by promoting energy and defence ties. As a key element, the envisioned CPEC offers energy security alongside various other trade opportunities which is believed to ascertain the new global economic order. The energy needs in South Asia are growing exponentially which demands collaboration at regional level to meet the requirements. Such circumstances require countries like Pakistan, India and China to diversify their options and CPEC provides that opportunity for cooperation.
As Pakistan looks to expand its opportunities regionally, there is a dire need to introduce changes in various sectors internally. Pakistan despite being an ideal industrial base and achieving a remarkable growth of 6.8 percent in the year 2016 is facing decline in exports. In this regard, Pakistan needs to improve its capability to manufacture quality products for export purposes with special focus on capacity building of labor and human development. Besides, the dominant use of raw material in industrial sector and lack of technological up-gradation and innovation are other impediments, requiring attention. This joint venture of CPEC gives Pakistan an opportunity to build its capacity by working closely to an emerging global power, learning from their expertise.
— The writer is Assistant Research Officer, Islamabad Policy Research Institute, a think tank based in Islamabad.