CPEC & drastic change in regional power chessboard | By Dr Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan

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CPEC & drastic change in regional power chessboard


WITH the drastic change in the regional geopolitical and geostrategic scenarios, especially in Afghanistan, there have been lots of anti-CPEC articles published in the Times of India, Hindustan Times and The Diplomat in recent times indicating Taliban capturing Kabul as a great setback to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Even the US and the EU, as usual, propagated spill-over geopolitical and geostrategic repercussions of Afghanistan on the development of CPEC which they termed stalled and derailed.

It is all their wishes and whims making castles in the air and do not have any concrete foundations.

The most recent published book of Mr. Zahid Hussain “No Win War” also showed serious concerns about imminent fall and rise of  the Taliban which it considered a “security threat” to Chinese investment and operations in Pakistan because TTP has been targeting Chinese interests and projects of CPEC in the country. Apparently, his all concerns are baseless and do not have any substance.

Furthermore Muhammad Akbar Notezai’s article entitled “Chaos in Afghanistan Threatens CPEC” published on July 19, 2021 in The Diplomat intentionally raised serious concerns about the CPEC which is the flagship project of massive Belt and Road Initiative aiming to build infrastructure, expand trade links and deepen ties across Eurasia and Africa.

It seems that the writer does not have even basic knowledge of CPEC and BRI and he derived his conclusion on the basis of law and order deterioration in Afghanistan and intentionally correlated it with CPEC. It is even against the basic logic of economic derivatives and rational thinking.

Undoubtedly, China has strategic interest in Afghanistan that is why it has been investing in its infrastructure development and mining projects.

In this direction, Beijing has been advising Pakistan to open border points with Afghanistan in order to increase trade with an eye toward CPEC since 2015.

As a result, Pakistan announced a plan to establish 12 border markets with Afghanistan, versus just six border markets with Iran during 2020.

Time and again, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan revealed an inclination to extend the CPEC project into Afghanistan which could help boost Afghanistan’s exports.

In the near past even the Taliban showed keen interest to welcome China’s assistance in reconstruction and development of their country with the departure of US troops, calling China a friend of Afghanistan.

Now with the peaceful fall of Kabul and seemingly smooth power transition, chances are very bright for CPEC to enter into the soil of Afghanistan for massive reconstruction and development through the potential extension of CPEC.

In this connection, the Foreign Ministers of China, Pakistan and Afghanistan held a dialogue in September 2019.

They agreed then that the three countries should increase mutual connectivity and push the extension of CPEC to Afghanistan.

It seems that the CPEC expected extended operations into Afghanistan, would assist China to help build or improve infrastructure between Afghanistan and Pakistan to facilitate their economic exchange.

In this regard, the highway between Peshawar and Kabul may be again qualified for greater transport connecting hub.

China can help build bypasses to that road as well as expanding relevant customs to make the connectivity between Afghanistan and Pakistan smoother.

After its completion, goods manufactured in Afghanistan will manage to find their way into the abundant markets in Pakistan which is important for its economy and growth of exports.

In this context, Chinese companies could help invest in energy infrastructure in Afghanistan such as building electricity plants and water irrigation channels.

It could be enhanced to a further stage such as the construction of processing areas and industry parks in the two countries’ neighbouring areas, where overseas capital can be directed in.

Therefore, the CPEC has an apparent positive spill-over effect in the reconstruction process of Afghanistan.

Regional connectivity pledged by BRI will facilitate the flow of goods and people via CPEC’s key transportation routes, and it is not hard to see that Afghanistan’s post-war reconstruction, industrial and digital build-up and economic growth could benefit.

Moreover, CPEC’s industrial parks, many invested by Chinese investors, could provide the goods and products needed by the reconstruction process in Afghanistan.

It would create new jobs for locals. Hopefully, it would be conducive to the country’s security and its march to peace.

Afghanistan has become the first among several landlocked Central Asian States to benefit from using the Gwadar Port in Pakistan in transhipment trade.

In 2020, the country imported 43,000 tons of fertilizers via the port, contributing to its agricultural development.

In May 2021, Uzbekistan also sent a high-level delegation to the Gwadar Port to look for logistics opportunities that might help it export its cotton.

So the Gwadar Port will definitely play a major role in the reconstruction of war-torn Afghanistan.

The Chinese spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that the BRI and CPEC are open and inclusive international economic cooperation initiatives that are dedicated to improve connectivity and achieve common development.

He termed CPEC, as pioneering projects of the Belt and Road Initiative, has made important and major progress in infrastructure, energy, ports and industrial parks.

Zhao Lijian also said that China would like to work with Pakistan for the high-quality development of the CPEC and extend it to regional countries, improve people’s well-being and play a bigger role in regional connectivity and economic integration.

The two sides are having consultations through diplomatic channels, he said. “We notice that Afghanistan is importing and exporting goods through Gwadar and Karachi ports.

High-speed highways are also being extended to Afghanistan.” Prospects are very high that China will make an exclusive entry into post-US Afghanistan with its BRI.

Taliban are growing more intensively engaged with China on an extension of the CPEC which involves the construction of highways, railways and energy pipelines between Pakistan and China to Afghanistan, reported international media.

According to another diplomatic source Beijing and Kabul are seriously considering constructing a China-backed major road between Afghanistan and Pakistan’s north-western city of Peshawar, which is already linked with the CPEC route.

In this regard, there is a discussion on a Peshawar-Kabul motorway between the authorities in Kabul and Beijing and linking Kabul with Peshawar by road means Afghanistan’s formal joining of CPEC.

Under its BRI, China wants to connect Asia with Africa and Europe through land and maritime networks spanning some 60 countries.

By virtue of its location, Afghanistan can provide China with a strategic base to spread its influence across the world, ideally located to serve as a trade hub connecting the Middle East, Central Asia and Europe.

Being a prominent regional expert of CPEC & BRI, I suggest that China and Pakistan should now focus on the reconstruction of Afghanistan through the imminent extension of CPEC.

Even the ML-I mega railway project may be extended to Kabul which would be game and fate changer.

In this regard, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan’s proposed trans-regional railway project of “Termez-Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar” would be further consolidated and accordingly connected.

To conclude with the peaceful fall of Kabul the chessboard of power politics should now promote spirit of development instead of destruction, mutual cooperation instead of conspiracies and spells of cooperation instead of contradictions because CPEC stands for regional peace and stability and economic prosperity is a must for greater regional connectivity.

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