Brig (R)Tariq Khalid
Countries are opening economically after months of lockdown, leaving behind saga of loot, death and destruction of economies globally. While poor countries suffered badly economically and socially, COVID-19 exposed the fragility of capitalist economies. Even USA finds itself gridded to ground with loss of trillions of US dollars. It has isolated itself inwardly, and is no more global champion of human rights, engine of industrial growth and arbiter of world disputes.
Post-COVID-19, Trump accused China for the spread of virus, joined by England and EU. But one country which emerged, having controlled COVID-19, is China. Economically and morally it established its ascendancy. It tried to help all the countries that suffered from this contagion. This economic and moral victory further pinched Trump. USA has now openly started accusing China demanding international investigation on COVID-19 which, of course, has been outrightly rejected by China. China accuses USA for exporting lab-based virus into China. In a bid to containing China, Indo-Pacific rim has been created by USA. US plans have been checkmated. China has effectively tackled Hong Kong unrest ostensibly created by CIA. In this milieu, power balance structure in South Asia is disturbed with revocation of Articles 370 & 35-A and dividing Kashmir into three regions, a la forced annexation of disputed territory. Both Pakistan and China assess it is part of greater US plan to contain China and keep Pakistan under the thumb.
On Pakistani side of the LoC has heated up coupled with threats to AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan endangering CPEC. In the wake of this, the quantum and intensity of Indian threat alarmingly increased the tension both in China and Pakistan. In disputed area of Ladakh India embarked on road building which invited reaction from China. Daulat Baig Oldi Road, 255 km long, being built by India to reach KKH route. Clearly this was an operational move in the name of area development. An act of intending aggression. China always maintained, it is disputed area. India, traditionally, in the name of bilateral issue try to gain time and burry the issue, same as it has done in the case of Kashmir.
With China now in effective control , Indian aggression is checked and its plan disrupted.
CPEC thus further gained importance. It is to defeat Indo-Pacific moves to contain China, and make safe US four trillion dollar sea trade. Post-Corona when economies are shrinking, USA will make every effort to stop China becoming number one power economically and militarily. Remaining in the background, the US and Israel are pressing Modi to exercise pressure on Pakistan to disrupt CPEC as part of strategic partnership. Interestingly, Russia signed oil deal with China.
Further, the ME and Gulf especially are now openly opposing Israeli annexation plan in Palestine. The deadline hardly away by three weeks, Israel is in quandary with America gripped in civil unrest, the upcoming ME situation is going to impact Gulf/ Saudi US relations. The major oil buyer from KSA and Gulf is China, roughly 76%. Any threat in Indo-Pacific to China can only be countered by quick infrastructure completion of CPEC. Interestingly, India by joining US camp finds itself in limbo. US/India strategic partnership demands run counter to Indian interests in Saudia and Gulf where millions of Indians can face backlash. Arabs are very sensitive and already negative signals are emanating. Indian treatment of Muslims in India has also irked Arabs who are now sensing true impact of Modi’s policy. Strategically for Arabs, CPEC will become main conduit for oils supply overland to China completely bypassing Indo-Pacific threat to oil supply. Though China is effectively countering US and allies matrix against China in Indo-Pacific, CPEC importance is vital in the post-COVID-19.
Back home, all CPEC projects are behind schedule. Those which should have been completed a year back are still lingering, in energy, roads, most important rail, which is lifeline of logistics and relief to the people of Pakistan. Train’s maximum speed be increased up to 200km per hour. It will save billions in the longer run by reducing turn over time of goods and services and in logistics. Further ML-1 security will demand special arrangements. Enemies of Pakistan will employ every trick, may it be political, judicial, social, financial and labour to stall it. India has been threatening to attack KKH physically, which now has been checkmated by China by its action in Ladakh. Pakistan also has enhanced its alertness and clear message is conveyed to India. Similarly work to link Gwadar by road should be priority number one to gain lost time. All road infrastructure needs to be speeded up in view of fast changing post-COVID-19 milieu. And that CPEC requirement may come up earlier than anticipated. To enhance connectivity, adoptability and ease of road transport operations, Pakistan must seriously take steps to convert automobiles to LHD. The cost of RHD vehicles is around 15% higher (only 26 % of world market). RHD drive deprives Pakistan road connectivity with China, ME and Central Asia and then beyond Europe. All upcoming technical advances are centred around LHD.
Three areas need special care. Check elements in the Government who place spanners in the CPEC implementation. One must not forget statements immediately after IK Government formed created such a heat that right up to Beijing relations soured. IK himself had to mend the fences. With the establishment of CPEC Authority, there is a hope CPEC’s all sectors infrastructure to SEZs be completed in phase-2 as per plan. The Authority should infuse more energy in the projects. Special incentives be given to establish or relocate industries to SEZs. A quarterly review be carried out under PM and he should be seen visiting Gwadar and Baluchistan frequently.