Dr Zafar N Jaspal
Since the announcement of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project in April 2015, Islamabad and Beijing have been endeavouring to construct and operationalise its infrastructure as soon as possible. Both sides are cognizant to the immense dividends of the project. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif categorised it as a “game changer.” Chinese also consider it imperative for their “One Belt, One Road” initiative. Simultaneously, the adversaries of both nations have been struggling to sabotage the project. Therefore, both sides need to remain vigilant to the implicit and explicit challenges to the project.
CPEC project has amplified Pakistan’s pivotal role in the connectivity of West Asia, Central Asia and South Asia. Though, Pakistan and China would be the main beneficiary of the project, yet other regional actors would be equally benefit from the operationalisation of the project. Islamabad always advocate that without increasing economic cooperation among the regional actors, the Central, West and South Asian nations could not resolve their economic challenges. The regional organizations such as South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation and Economic Cooperation Organisations primary objective is to promote trade between/among the members of these organizations. The member nations of these organizations are economically underdeveloped and also encountering socio-political challenges. Perhaps, without economic stability, the political stability is a wishful thinking. These nations need mutual cooperation for the sake of their socio-economic improvement. Hence, CPEC would be having positive consequences for the members of regional organizations.
Islamabad is encouraging the neighbouring states to invest in the CPEC project. Indeed, the neighbouring states investment enhances the significance of the project, but it also has constructive impact on the investors’ economies. On April 21, 2015, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif stated: “it is catalytic project that will help us combine the geo-economic streams of our countries. The corridor symbolizes our commitment to create win-win partnerships which threaten none and benefit all.” Precisely, CPEC would be having dividends for the entire region.
The ruling elite of the neighbouring countries, except India, also expressed their immense confidence in the CPEC project. On March 1, 2017, Pakistan successfully held the 13th Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) Summit at Islamabad. The participants in the ECO expressed their resolve to enhance the regional connectivity. Therefore, they endorsed the theme of the summit—“Connectivity for Regional Prosperity.” Certainly, without regional connectivity, the ECO members cannot resolve their socio-economic problems.
The CPEC has a potential to revolutionize the regional cooperation in the fields of socio-economic development, trade, shipping, road and railway transportation, communications, industry and banking. It would also encourage tourism in the region. The CPEC project seems very advantageous for the ECO member states. It is because one of the main objectives of ECO is “development of transport & communications infrastructure linking the Member States with each other and with the outside world.” Importantly, out of 10 ECO member states 7 are landlocked. The operationalisation of CPEC routes would provide shortest route to sea at least 6 members of ECO. In addition, CPEC would also facilitate the Eurasian trade.
The 13th ECO Summit Islamabad Declaration states: “Welcome in this regard CPEC as a far-reaching initiative that would act as catalyst for development of entire region.” Perhaps, CPEC would enhance ECO-wide connectivity in terms of transport and transit; telecommunications; cyber; and all forms of energy; as well as people-to-people exchanges, including through regional tourism arrangements.
Pakistan with the assistance of China has been building Gwadar Port. The port obviously holds enormous promise for neighbouring countries and regions such as Afghanistan, China, West Asia, Central Asia and Eurasia. The successful implementation of the CPEC would provide Turkey, Iran and Pakistan access to Central Asian States, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan-Russian Federation and Europe through China. The shipping, trucking and logistics industry of these states would have immense opportunity to grow after operationalisation of the CPEC. Certainly, this unprecedented sea and road link would have far-reaching positive geo-economic dividends for the entire region.
To conclude, the region is primed for a network of rail and road linkages besides sea routes, energy, and trade corridors. Thus, operationalisation of CPEC definitely leads to a new era of regional socio-economic stability through enhanced regional cooperation for development.
— The writer is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.