Col ® Muhammad Hanif
Pakistan is strategically located at the crossroads of Asia and China, with China on its north, India in the east, Afghanistan and Iran on the west and the Arabian Sea in the south. Pakistan’s strategic and economic significance is further enhanced by the location of Central Asia and Russia closer to it, particularly when its seaports – Karachi and Gwadar – connect these countries with the Arabian Sea, being open throughout the year and these also provide the shortest route to the Arabian Sea to these countries. When China is developing its western region, Gwadar seaport is very important for it since its own ports are located at 4500 kilometres from Xinjiang, and Gwadar seaport is located at a distance of only 2500 kilometres. Pakistan’s Gwadar port also offers the Central Asian States (CARs) a shortest route of 2500 kilometres distance as compared to Iran’s 4500 kilometres and Turkeys 5000 kilometres. Pakistan’s strategic importance is also important based on its vicinity to the two important world powers, China and Russia.
In this age of geo-economics, Pakistan’s Gwadar seaport is very important for Russia’s trading also in view of the closure of its ports for almost six months of the year due to freezing of the sea water and because of its continuously souring relations with Europe. Moreover, the Gwadar port provides Russia with the shortest route to the Gulf countries, South Asia, African countries and South East Asian countries. Gwadar port is also important for China as well for its trade with South Asia, Middle East and Africa, having the shortest distance of only 3000 kilometres from the Kashghar city as compared to 12000 kilometres from China’ southern ports and in order to avoid western dominated tension prone Malacca Straights at the time of tense relations with the US-led Indo-Pacific alliance countries, including India, since the US led strategy of containment of China is being refined and strengthened.
With the announcement of China’s Belt and Road policy and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as its flagship project starting from China’s Kashghar city and ending in Gwadar city of Balochistan province of Pakistan, the construction of which started in 2015, has brought Pakistan’s above defined economic and strategic significance to the forefront. The B&R and CPEC projects are very important for China, Russia, the CARs’ trade and for the trade of other countries of the world for the reasons described above and for using the shortest and the most economical land based route from China, CARs and Russia to South Asia, West Asia, Middle East, African countries, Europe and the US as well.
The construction and the completion of the CPEC will not only boost Pakistan’s trade and investment- based economic development it will also further enhance Pakistan’s strategic significance as all the aforementioned regional counties will be trading through its territory, using the CPEC. Pakistan’s strategic significance is also very valuable for the US and the world for successfully fighting the war on terror for peace and stability in this region, to enable these to benefit from the CPEC, although the US is failing to recognize Pakistan’s strategic significance in this context, but in view of Pakistan’s peace and economic-related policies, China and Russia do recognize this.
As discussed above, while the construction of the CPEC enhances Pakistan’s strategic and economic significance for the whole world, Pakistan’s CPEC-related significance for China and Russia is of particular importance. Whereas the CPEC project is further solidifying Pakistan’s strategic and economic relations with its longtime strategic partner, China, the CPEC is also a major economic factor that is bringing Russia closer to Pakistan. This is evident from Russia’s support to Pakistan in its aspired role in the Afghan peace, its signing of a $2 billion gas pipeline deal with Pakistan in 2015, its support to Pakistan for becoming a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in 2016, Moscow’s selling of four Mi-35 combat helicopters to Pakistan, Russia’s holding of anti-terror military drills with Pakistan, signing of a $10-billion offshore gas pipeline deal with it and signing of another significant agreement for the training of Pakistani troops in Russia.
In view of the above, since CPEC is central in enhancing Pakistan’s strategic and economic significance in the eyes of the world and especially for China and Russia, Pakistan should focus on the construction of the CPEC so that it is completed on time, to make use of its trade and investment-related benefits and to further cement its relations with the interested countries of the world with a special focus on China and Russia.