CPEC: Regional Geo-economy Concept
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has further consolidated Pakistan’s geo-economy “position”, “proposition”, “prospects” and “prosperity”.
Various interesting but beneficial socio-economic, geopolitical and geostrategic trends in the region and beyond have further enhanced economic importance of the CPEC in terms of eradication of poverty, massive industrialization, climate change control, development of green energies, regional stability, immense socio-economic integration and last but not the least, “realignment” within the “axis of power”.
Now most of the regional capitals are seriously considering “redesigning”, “reshaping” and “remodeling” of their foreign policies and economic “engagements” with Pakistan and also drastically changed anti-CPEC policies.
It is a good omen for the speedy development of the CPEC especially its phase-II which is going to be started very soon.
President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s virtual meeting with Prime Minister of Imran Khan is a historic event which has actually opened a new window of opportunity for both the countries to excel in diverse sectors of economy, trade and commerce, security and defense cooperation, energy & food cooperation and last but not the least, collaboration in textiles and tourism.
It is the vivid reflection of Uzbek President Mirziyoyev’s strategic foreign policy to connect with South East Asia and especially Pakistan being the easiest and short route for greater regional connectivity.
It is indeed height of commercial diplomacy of President Mirziyoyev who has been pursuing comprehensive structural economic reforms to liberalize its macro-economy, develop private sector, seek more and more FDIs, joint ventures, land reforms, assurance of private ownership, relaxation and incentives of taxes and customs duties and last but not the least, pledging of national currency to international currency basket to further strengthen its face value and increase more and more exports in the days to come.
The Uzbekistan President has been striving hard for further regional connectivity through holistic approach of friendly relations with all neighbors since its presidency.
His annual speech of 2020 to his nation and its keynote address to the SCO clearly demonstrate the importance of peace and stability in Afghanistan and regional connectivity with Pakistan through sea and road means.
In this regard, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan have already signed a roadmap for a multi-billion-dollar rail project that is expected to boost trade relations between Central and South Asia.
CPEC mega railway project ML-I may play a decisive role for the completion of this trans-regional railways projects of three countries in the days to come.
Uzbekistan Deputy Prime Minister Sardor Umurzakov said stability and peace in Afghanistan is a key for economic growth and regional cooperation.
The proposed 573km railway project will link Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent through Afghanistan capital Kabul and Pakistan’s northern city of Peshawar. The project, which is expected to take five years for completion enjoys the backing of international lending agencies including the World Bank.
In the start of this year, the three countries signed a request seeking a loan of $4.8bn from world financial institutions for the project.
Pakistan and Uzbekistan have also agreed to form a joint working group (JWG) for future coordination in connection with “access to Pakistani seaports”.
On their visit to Pakistan, Karachi, Uzbekistan Railways Deputy Chairman Akmal Kamalov along with a delegation called on Maritime Affairs Minister Ali Zaidi.
The delegation apprised the Minister of their visit to the ports in Karachi and Gwadar and discussed the way forward for cargo transportation. Akmal Kamalov said that a significant volume of Uzbekistan’s cargo and containers would be availing the facilities at the Karachi Port Trust (KPT).
On his part, Ali Zaidi assured the visiting Uzbek delegation of providing an enabling environment for the promotion of maritime and trade development between the two countries.
As of now, Uzbekistan relies on Iranian seaport of Bandar Abbas for external trade but now seriously exploring other viable options and is prioritizing Pakistani ports because of short distance, being more economical, secure and due to some other reasons.
Uzbekistan is also engaging with Pakistan on the development of two options the first is the Trans-Afghan railway project while the second is the road route via China.
In this connection, Uzbekistan showed its keen interest to join the Quadrilateral Traffic in Transit Agreement (QTTA), an agreement between China, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan to facilitate transit traffic and trade. Pakistan has been supporting Uzbekistan in this regard also.
The road project under this agreement would provide an alternative link between Pakistan and Central Asia while bypassing Afghanistan through the Karakoram Highway which connects Gilgit-Baltistan to China’s Xinjiang region and further on to Central Asia.
Last month, Prime Minister Imran Khan had assured Uzbekistan Foreign Minister Dr Abdulaziz Kamilov of complete facilitation in access to Pakistani ports.
Mr Khan said that Pakistan’s Karachi and Gwadar ports could become “the gateway to the landlocked Central Asia as Pakistan provided the Central Asian Republics the shortest route to international seas”. Pakistan would facilitate Uzbekistan’s access to its ports he further added.
Dr Kamilov’s visit was also focused on regional connectivity and he extended invitations to Mr Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi for participation in Central Asia-South Asia Connectivity Conference in Tashkent in July.
During the delegation-level talks, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and his Uzbek counterpart Dr Kamilov exchanged views on enhancement of economic cooperation, mutual support in international fora, regional connectivity and tourism promotion.
The two foreign ministers expressed satisfaction at the progress achieved in advancing the rail connectivity between the two countries and agreed on early completion of the Trans-Afghan railway project.
Mr Qureshi called for establishing direct air connectivity between the two countries to boost trade and tourism.
He also stressed the need for quick facilitation of visas for businessmen and tourists.
Being a prominent regional expert of CPEC & BRI, I personally endorse that diplomatic ease with India and ongoing track-II diplomacy may further consolidate strategic orientation of the CPEC which is ready to become bridge of regional connectivity, effective instrument of poverty eradication, engine of economic growth, powerhouse for energy generation (mix of hydro, thermal and coal power supplies) and last but not the least, means for new job generation.
Pakistan’s economic future is directly correlated with the CPEC and its phase-II would further consolidate its prosperity in the future.
It is high time that element of inbuilt historic hang-over, unnecessary psychological barriers, economic compliancy, social uneasiness and political discomfort should not cast its shadows on the CPEC because it is the key to greater regional geo-economy and connectivity with all the Central Asian Countries, especially Uzbekistan.