CPEC & chances of greater regional connectivity

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Dr Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan

CHINA-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has now “revolutionized” prospects of achieving greater regional connectivity. It is indeed a victory of Pak-China’s “commercial diplomacy” having firm belief in the philosophy of “peaceful co-existence” and “shared prosperity”. In this context, operationalization of strategic seaport of Gwadar and signing of trans-regional railway project (Pakistan-Uzbekistan-Afghanistan) has further brightened the chances of greater socio-economic integration and meaningful, productivity, participatory and befitting regional connectivity. Moreover, a series of long- term logistic/transportation projects have further strengthened bilateral or trilateral relations in the region especially, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. Now chances of inflows of FDIs, joint ventures, trade & commerce activities, cultural cooperation, tourism, textile, agriculture collaboration and last but not the least, direct connectivity have been further streamlined.

Most recently, the Advisor to the Prime Minister on Commerce and Investment, Abdul Razak Dawood visited Uzbekistan and held various meaningful bilateral trade negotiations with Uzbekistan’s high officials to enhance the trade volume between both sides. While meeting with H.E. President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev he discussed early completion of trans-regional railway project and diverse matters for further strengthening of bilateral trade, regional connectivity, trans-regional railways project, PTA/FTA, FDI and joint ventures. It was agreed to proceed in a collaborative manner to achieve the mutually beneficial propositions for both the countries. Signing ceremony was also held to finalize modalities (road-map) pertaining to the mega project of rail-link (US$4.8 billion) to be connected with Pakistan and Afghanistan.

During the signing ceremony Uzbekistan’s Deputy Prime Minister Sardor Umurzakov termed peace and stability in Afghanistan essential for development, economic growth and increased regional cooperation. Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar thanked the host country for playing its leading role in the pursuit of the landmark project. Last month, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan assured Pakistan’s seaports facility to Central Asian states for easy and smooth access to the Indian Ocean. The proposed 573 km railway track is set to connect Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent via Afghan capital Kabul with Pakistan’s northern city of Peshawar. The three countries signed a joint request last month seeking a $4.8 billion loan from international financial institutions for the Trans-Afghan railway project.

Furthermore, both states resolved to enter into a Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) for increasing bilateral trade and promote trade liberalization. Revival of the Joint Business Council (JBC) was also discussed and consequently assured that bilateral engagements like Inter- Governmental Commission will be held more frequently. Even business delegation of Pakistan mainly All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (APTMA) and Governor Punjab Ch Muhammad Sarwar visited Uzbekistan and met with different high officials and stakeholders to discuss numerous opportunities of bilateral cooperation in the fields of textiles, garment industry, agriculture, pharmaceutical, culture, tourism and education. The Governor Punjab showcased huge investment and business potential of Pakistan and projected the strategic importance of the CPEC for further strengthening of regional connectivity.

Last month (January 2021) Turkmenistan and Afghanistan inaugurated/initiated three major energy and connectivity projects aimed at strengthening bilateral and regional ties. The three projects consisted of a power transmission project, a fibre optic line for high speed internet, and a railway line between the two neighbours. Turkmenistan President H.E. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani graced the occasion through video links from Kabul and Ashgabat. Turkmen President termed it historic day for further regional connectivity in terms of logistics and transportation.

Turkmen President further elaborated that all three projects have been completed in a short time and termed beneficial for long-term development, wellbeing and prosperity of Turkmen and Afghan people, assisting expanded international cooperation, mutual understanding, political and social stability. Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India (TAPI) gas pipeline is the gift of Turkmenistan for greater regional energy cooperation.

President Ghani said it is a matter of immense pride that Afghanistan is renewing its longstanding relations with Central Asian countries. He shared various mega projects such as railway, TAPI, TAP (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan) power transmission line, fibre optics network that can link South Asia to Europe by land and to the rest of the world will transform the living conditions of the Afghan people for the better and improve the situation in the entire region. Turkmenistan-Afghanistan Railway project is the 30 km (18.6 mi) railway link between the two neighbours 24 km (15 mi) main railroad and 6 km (3.6 mi) branch line in the Andkhoy station along with construction of small bridges, level crossings and a road parallel to the rail-track.

China the international “bearer” of “peaceful” co-existence and “community” development initiated the project of the century i.e. “One Belt One Road” and extended its economic, financial and infrastructure expertise to all the participating countries. China continues to brighten regional connectivity especially, with all the Central Asian countries through “rail-links”.  On June 5, 2020, the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan transportation corridor was further developed into China. A cargo train from China’s Lanzhou, in Gansu province, for the first time transported goods to Tashkent. Tashkent has now become a “logistic & connecting hub” and cargo train received electric appliances from Lanzhou that travelled by way of Kashgar in Xinjiang and Irkashtan and Osh in Kyrgyzstan. For the trip back, the containers will carry cotton fabric. The route is around 4400 kilometres and can be covered in seven to 10 days. At both ends of the trip, in China and Uzbekistan, cargo on the corridor is moved by rail, and in the middle part, in Kyrgyzstan, cargo is transported by trucks. While the railroad has been in the making in one form or another for 25 years, no rail connection exists to directly link China and Uzbekistan via Kyrgyzstan.

Being a prominent regional expert of CPEC & BRI, I really appreciate China’s onward socio-economic prosperity in terms of GDP. According to the preliminary calculation of the National Bureau of Statistics of China (January 2021), its GDP has now reached 101.6 trillion Yuan (around 14.7 trillion USD), increased by 2.3% from 2019. For the first time, China’s GDP exceeded the 100-trillion-yuan threshold. Moreover, the GDP of 100 trillion Yuan and the per capita GDP of 10,000 USD for the second consecutive year indicates a new height in socio-economic development. It has laid a solid foundation for China in implementing the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025). Arrival of H.E. Aybek Arif Usmanov Ambassador of Uzbekistan in Pakistan is indeed a “value-addition” in further strengthening of bilateral/trilateral relations. He is in fact “champion” & “guru” of public and commercial diplomacy due to which business and investment oriented activities have already been geared-up between the two countries. CPEC has instrumented chances of regional connectivity in which Pakistan can play a major role.