TRANSPORT and economic activities are found to be intricately connected to each other. An economic corridor not only includes transport of goods and services by providing paths, gates for the developing countries but also stimulate the social and economic development in the surrounding areas of the routes of an economic corridor. The major focus areas of different economic corridors under consideration include transport, human resource development, energy, telecommunication, tourism, agriculture, environment and trade in a region. The economic corridor’s approach has been executed in various regions of the world including Europe & America to promote regional connectivity and trade from the past decades. The most successful examples of economic corridors are found in Asia and Africa, which are aided by ADB and African Development Bank (ADB).
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship project of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) launched in 2013 and its fast implementation started in April 2015 during the visit of the Chinese President, Mr. Xi Jinping in Islamabad, Pakistan. CPEC is a long-term well-grounded project to develop a strong collaboration between the two neighbouring countries of Pakistan & China for the mutual benefits of China, Central, West, & South Asia. CPEC initially focused on energy and communication infrastructure projects. These projects are seeing fruition now. Since 2019, the focus now is on industrial cooperation, social sector and agriculture. Nine Special Economic Zones (SEZs) have been initiated in first phase of which Rashakai, Dhabeji and the one in Islamabad are being prioritized. Gwadar Port and SEZs are considered to be the pivot of CPEC.
While reviewing the CPEC progress, it has been found that 16 projects have been completed so far. Most important ones are power plants and motorways. The Gwadar Port has also been operationalized. The Rashakai Special Economic Zone in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province has also been finalized. The Orange Train will be completed in June 2020. Four coal-based power plants are fully operational now. The Gwadar Airport, the Gwadar coal-powered plant (300MW) and vocational training centres in Gwadar will be completed this year. In the next phase, the more focus will be on social development with the inclusion of poverty alleviation, health, education and agriculture sectors which are very important for the welfare of any state. For the effective execution under these very sectors, CPEC Authority should take Ministry of National Health, Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, the Ministry of Labour, Manpower and Overseas Pakistanis and the Ministry of National Food Security & Research on board.
Generally, it has been observed in general mass-media that engagement of local manpower is not to a satisfactory level, which is due to lack of skilled manpower in Pakistan. In this scenario, the CPEC Authority in collaboration with Ministry of Labour, Manpower and Overseas Pakistanis needs to establish technical vocational training centres in different areas of Pakistan. This step will not only enhance employment opportunities for the local population but will also contribute to poverty alleviation in Pakistan under SDG#1. CPEC has also gained much attention on international media. It has been facing different controversies from India and other countries that always try to defame it. Although, CPEC will not only benefit China and Pakistan but will also have positive impact on Iran, Afghanistan, India, Central Asian Republics and the region.
Indeed, the outbreak of novel COVID-19 has also reduced some momentum of CPEC in Pakistan. The virus’s spread has deadly affected the investors facing disrupted supply chains, official containment measures and spill-over from the real economy of China to financial markets. But the resilient Chinese nation has a strong belief that nobody can stop the mega project of CPEC in Pakistan. They are fully determined to continue work on CPEC though pace of work has slowed down due to this global pandemic, but will ultimately lead to its completion with prosperity, economic stability and connectivity in the region. It has also been announced this year that the Government of Pakistan in collaboration with the Chinese enterprise, and China Communications Construction Company has planned to develop the first man-made “Chand Tara Island” of Pakistan in Gwadar with an investment of $10billion.The island will exhibit art amusement park, art & culture museum, concert hall, mega theatre, hotels, resorts, shopping malls, and water front walk facilities. After the completion of Chand Tara Island, Gwadar will become the next trade and economic hub of Pakistan and South Asia. It will create an amazing employment opportunities for people in or near Gwadar.
Since, I have already mentioned in my previous articles about the immense maritime tourism potential in Pakistan. On the development of Chand Tara Island in Gwadar, different leisure activities including water sports activities, scuba diving, parasailing, hotels, motels, restaurants, model tourist village, camping sites can be developed not only in Gwadar but also on other different sites along the coastline. In this regard, National Tourism Coordination Board (NTCB) should play an active role in ensuring effective coordination among the Balochistan Coastal Development Authority (BCDA) and Government of Sindh to mobilize investment in maritime tourism sector of blue economy. Now, there is need to engage more private investors (local & foreign) for cooperation in the exclusive SEZs under CPEC for the expansion of scope of activities as initially planned under CPEC. With the inclusion of all stakeholders, private investors under developed and developing SEZs, CPEC will bring prosperity in the region. CPEC is considered to be the latest stage of China and Pakistan friendship, which will benefit all the neighbouring countries in Asia.