CPEC: Divergence of regional geopolitics & geo-economy
REGIONAL convergent forces have been competing with global divergent allies to pursue their policies of greater regional connectivity through immense socio-economic integration, food & energy cooperation, cultural & education collaboration and last but not the least, integrative transportation systems for so many years.
Unfortunately, Afghanistan has been one the biggest red lines in these harmonious partnerships of South-East Asia and Central Asia.
Deteriorating law and order situation, unstoppable proxies, historic hangs-over of tit-for-tat, widespread warlords groups, obsession of militia glorification and gratification and hideous Indian spoiling activities in Afghanistan have been discouraging factors in the persuasion of sustainable cooperation and connectivity between South East Asia and Central Asia.
However, the successful operationalization and channelization of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) opened a new window of opportunity in achieving the dreams of greater regional connectivity.
Most of the regional countries including the Republic of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Tajikistan etc.,
have shown great interest to join the CPEC which is the guarantor of regional peace, stability, economic sustainability, poverty eradication, job generation, massive industrialization and last but not the least green energy.
The Central Asia Region (CAR) is one of the most important in geopolitical terms. It has certain geographical disadvantages from Nature but it has rich energy resources.
The CAR needs better access to regional markets including Pakistan, China and the countries of West Asia.
Pakistan and China have huge energy demands that can be satisfied by growing trade with Central Asia.
Thus, the CPEC will not only benefit Pakistan and China, but it also presents a strategic opportunity for Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan to transport their goods more easily and gain competitiveness in regional and global markets.
Now CPEC has become the main hub of regional supplies as well as connectivity. Its world class infrastructural development has further strengthened the chances of greater socio-economic integration, regional connectivity and food & energy security.
Moreover, success of CPEC has further enhanced its strategic importance, utility and scope which provide an ideal hub for greater regional connectivity with all the Central Asian countries especially Uzbekistan which has been working hard to enhance its bilateral trade & commerce with Pakistan through various innovative means of transport systems and alternative schemes of arrangements.
Interestingly, Pakistan provides the shortest and easiest route to all the Central Asian countries to get connected with Pakistan and the rest of the South Asian Region.
In this connection, Uzbekistan’s constant structural economic reforms have transformed and enabled it to expand its trade and commerce relationship beyond the immediate neighbourhood, especially with Pakistan.
In this context, continued official liaison, meetings, exchange of mutually beneficial proposals, economic incentives, trade promotion pledges and, last but not the least, constant seaports facilitations have now brightened the chances of regional connectivity between Pakistan and Uzbekistan.
It seems that caravans of greater regional connectivity are going to start their successful infinite voyages towards South East Asia through Pakistan.
Furthermore, the first shipment under the Convention on International Transport of Goods for traffic-in-transit of goods crossed the border reached Pakistan from Uzbekistan via Afghanistan in 48 hours.
It has actually diminished the concept of double landlocked doctrine and enhanced regional connectivity.
Thus, long awaited dreams of connectivity between Fergana and Faisalabad have now been lit-up.
It is hoped that more Uzbek export goods like coal, mineral fertilisers and textiles have been planned for regular direct delivery to Lahore, Karachi, Taxila and Faisalabad.
Pakistani Transport Company Best Trans Pvt. Ltd and Uzbek freight forwarding company Asad Trans for the first time implemented a pilot trans-Afghan logistics project for direct delivery of Uzbek export goods to Pakistan through the territory of Afghanistan.
All main stakeholders have been working since January this year on this project for direct delivery of Uzbek goods to Pakistani cities through Afghanistan according to the “supplier’s warehouse-importer’s warehouse” scheme.
The specified transit transportation of Uzbek goods is the implementation of trans-Afghan transport and logistics project initiated by the President of Uzbekistan.
CPEC has multidimensional utilities which would further enhance Pakistan bilateral or trilateral trade & commerce relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations member countries.
In this regard, the government of Pakistan encouraged the ASEAN member countries to positively consider investment in the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) of the CPEC.
Most recently, the Embassy of Indonesia and the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad arranged a Experts Dialogue on “Pakistan-ASEAN: Shared Future and the Way Forward in which Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood delivered a keynote speech.
The Foreign Secretary recognized ASEAN’s vast economic potential and its centrality in the regional architecture which may be used for enhancing trade volumes in the days to come.
He highlighted Pakistan’s “Vision East Asia” policy and reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to further strengthen Pakistan-ASEAN partnership in all diverse sectors of the economy.
He stressed the importance of forging closer cooperation in political, economic, security, tourism, education and socio-cultural domains.
Unfortunately, Pakistan does still have a sectoral dialogue partner of ASEAN since 1993 and is also a member of ASEAN Regional Forum since 2004.
Critical analysis confirms that ASEAN and Pakistan have great potential for cooperation in various sectors as Pakistan’s total trade with ASEAN of over $7 billion suggests that there is huge scope for Islamabad to scale up its economic engagement with ASEAN.
Through different forums and meetings Pakistan persuaded ASEAN investors to invest in the country and the CPEC projects which offer lucrative incentives towards industrial transformation.
Pakistan offers joint exploration to ASEAN for the promising prospects of CPEC and to devise a way forward to bolster regional economic cooperation.
In this connection, Indonesia vowed to further advance industrial cooperation with Pakistan and investments in the SEZs of the CPEC.
Pakistan and Indonesia can explore collaboration in the field of textile, food processing, agricultural products, infrastructural development, chemical & pharmaceuticals, engineering goods, gemstones, iron & steel to name a few, as Indonesian companies have vast experience & expertise in these areas.
Moreover, the Indonesian companies can help Pakistan in establishing downstream industry and also assist with value added products.
Being a regional expert of BRI & CPEC, I suggest that policy makers should divert their energies, resources and diplomatic connections towards achieving greater regional connectivity with Central Asian Countries and ASEAN.
The G-7 and the US-sponsored Build Back Better World (B3W) may start a new power game in the region as well as in the world.
Pakistan’s principled stance not to give air bases to the US may have some spill-over repercussions.
Moreover, increasing ungoverned spaces in Afghanistan poses an alarming situation for all the countries including Pakistan, China, Iran, Turkey and even Uzbekistan.
Greater regional connectivity, diversification of economic ties with ASEAN, alternative schemes of arrangements/transport systems, routes and corridors is the need of the hour for better utilization of CPEC and greater regional connectivity.