Dr Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan
CHINA Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has now become hope for achieving greater levels of regional connectivity, energy security, socio-economic prosperity and last but not the least, sustainable regional peace and harmony. It is the flagship project of the BRI. It was meant for prosperity, progression, participation and, of course, protection. BRI and CPEC are the projects of 21st Century. Both are custodian for the rise of Asian Century. Both supplement the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s (SCO) vision of regional connectivity and economic integration too.
Most recently, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, while attending the Foreign Ministers meeting of the SCO in Moscow, upheld the strategic importance of the CPEC and termed it supplemented to SCO. He appreciated SCO potential for enhancing closer relations with regional partners and realising the benefits of the emerging connection between the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and South East Asian countries and labelled CPEC as connecting hub for both the regions. He said CPEC would bring economic prosperity for Pakistan and the region.
In the recent past, Uzbekistan’s Deputy Prime Minister for Investment and Foreign Trade, Sardor Umurzakov along with a 7-8 member delegation also visited Pakistan and met with high dignitaries including Prime Minister Imran Khan, COAS General Bajwa and various Ministers. During his stay in Pakistan, Sardor Umurzakov showed his government’s willingness to become the Quadrilateral Traffic in Transit Agreement (QTTA) which has already been signed by Pakistan, China, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The Government of Pakistan has now decided to have access to market of Central Asian Republics (CARs) through China. It offers an alternative mean to CARs by completely circling Afghanistan. Pakistan would use the Karakorum Highway which connects Gilgit-Baltistan and China’s Xinjiang region with the CARs. Pakistan would support Uzbekistan to become part of the QTTA. Uzbekistan has since long been expressing seriousness to join the QTTA which will enable Pakistan to export its products under QTTA to Central Asia. Uzbek Deputy Premier Sardor Umurzakov also met with Adviser to the PM on Commerce, Textile and Investment, Abdul Razak Dawood and explored more avenues for increasing the bilateral trade between the two countries.
For the further strengthening of inflows of trade and commerce, Uzbekistan needs optimal connectivity with the seaports of Pakistan. In this connection, Sardor Umurzakov called on Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs, Syed Ali Haider Zaidi. During the meeting it was decided to develop various trade routes to get connected Pakistan with the CARs. It was also agreed to establish a specialized terminal for Central Asian goods which would be further transformed and revolutionized after the completion of ML-1 Railway project. Therefore, strategic importance of the CPEC is obvious which has already developed Gwadar and Karachi seaports to be used for the promotion of transit trade between Afghanistan and beyond. Uzbekistan, being one of the largest economies of Central Asia, has potential markets in the shape of the Middle East, especially the Gulf countries, Southeast Asia, Europe and Africa. In this context, Pakistan may be used as connecting hub.
It was also decided to establish a specialized shipping fleet for the promotion of Central Asian exports. It was noticed that bilateral trade volume further enhanced during the last 2-3 years. It is hoped that formation of functional trade corridor would further facilitate volumes of bilateral trade between Pakistan and Uzbekistan. Formation of the Joint Working Group would be a value-addition in this regard. Government of Pakistan has been trying its best to increase its exports and vast consumer markets of the CARs would open a new window of opportunity for it. In this regard, Pakistan special geography and strategic location would play a vital role in the days to come. Prospects of extending cooperation and making investment in the diverse fields/sectors of textile, agriculture, pharmaceuticals and tourism were also discussed.
It is suggested that Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar railway with access to Gwadar and Karachi ports would be a game and fate changer for the entire region in the days to come. In this connection, Pakistan, being gateway of Central Asian countries, should also explore the opportunities to untapped Cluster-Trading Routes (CTRs). Moreover, Ambassador of Azerbaijan Ali Alizada said that Azerbaijan desired to strengthen the economic and cultural ties along with mutual trade. He said that with the operational of CPEC and growing regional connectivity will also provide the two countries an opportunity to cooperate in multiple sectors.
Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) unfolds unlimited window of opportunities between South East Asia and Central Asia. The CPEC with investment of over US$ 60 billion is a flagship project of BRI facilitates multidimensional regional integration. Keeping in view its strategic importance and optimal utility, CPEC is very important to Central Asian Republics (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan). CPEC provides alternative route via seaports of Gwadar and Karachi to Central Asia countries. Since all CARs are landlocked an easy and safe access to sea routes is essential which may be easily provided by the CPEC. 75% China-Central Asia trade passes through Xingjian. CPEC serves as a strategic opportunity for CARs to gain access and competitiveness in the regional markets of South Asia, Middle East and Africa. All Central Asian States have already shown keen interest to join CPEC for close regional integration.
Being prominent regional expert of BRI & CPEC, I suggest using Khorgos-Gowadar route to be connected with Kashgar in Xinjiang that borders Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Chinese transport from Kashgar to Gwadar is being carried out. Transit and Trade through Afghanistan, which provides the shortest transit from Central Asia to Gwadar, should also be operationalized after getting sustainable peace and harmony in Afghanistan. Hopefully, diplomacy of peace has now been started in Doha to bring peace in Afghanistan, so future of greater regional integration, socio-economic prosperity and easy and smooth supplies of energy (TAPI Gas Pipeline, CASA-1000, IP Gas Pipeline) will be directly correlated with CPEC. In this connection, its phase-II is going to be implemented very soon in the country.
21st Century belongs to regional interdependence and greater connectivity. China has emerged as super economic power in the world which cares about regional countries and its BRI & CPEC projects provide golden opportunity to all the regional countries especially CARs to be connected via extended projects of the CPEC in the shape of seaports and railways.