CPEC: The challenges continue!

Iqbal Khan

ACTUALISATION of the western route of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) indicates Pakistan’s unwavering focus towards country-wide inclusive growth. CPEC is envisaged to fill the huge infrastructure and energy shortfalls in the underdeveloped areas, and empower historically disadvantaged people and places of Pakistan including Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan. Complete unity of the people is essential to foil designs of the enemy, and hopefully, no one would become, a tool in the hand of some foreign powers or their domestic stooges to disrupt the speedy completion of CPEC projects. Planning and Development Minster Ahsan Iqbal has done well by handing over sealed copy of CPEC Agreement to Chairman Senate [and presumably to Speaker National Assembly as well] for consultation by Parliamentarians.
India has thrown all diplomatic norms to wind and has come in a most open way to destabilize Balochistan—the nerve centre of CPEC. Reportedly, soon All India Radio will start broadcasting in Balochi language to show support for a free Balochistan. In this regard, announcement was made by Indian Union Cabinet on August 31. This announcement is a big step and it is only one part of the Indian government’s policy towards CPEC; more of this kind would follow. India is likely to sponsor a string of high profile conference within India and abroad. Pakistan should take a timely note of it and reply in kind. India has set up a special cell of RAW to sabotage the project with a generous one billion rupee budget; it has also set up a similar cell at Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) headquarters, Afghan equivalent of RAW, for coordinating anti-CPEC activities. Moreover, agencies of several other countries are also active to undermine CPEC because of their unfounded strategic and economic concerns. There is indeed a grand international design against CPEC; and a couple of local poodles are keen to jump the lap.
CPEC is the focus of attention for the people of Pakistan because of its rich and far-reaching benefits. The CPEC is part of China’s strategic ‘One-Belt, One Road’ initiative, known as OBOR, which talks about connecting about 64 countries in three continents. “The OBOR will be the largest economic belt in human history that will link Central Asia, South Asia, South East Asia and Africa,” said China Institute of International Studies President Su Ge. With the bulk of the Corridor expected to be ready and operational by 2025, the future appears promising. CPEC Summit and expo on August 29 was a landmark event. Attendance by all Chief Ministers, and their unambiguous resolve for implementation of CPEC indicated emergence of national consensus on this vital project. It also implies that most, if not all, of reservations of Provinces stand addressed.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif rightly declared that CPEC will not just be a game-changer but a fate-changer. He pointed out that though economic value of the project is 46 billion dollars, its overall impact is much deeper and far-reaching. He referred to the greater economic activity to be generated by the completion of early harvest projects by 2018; and that CPEC’s western route shall be ready by 2018. Chinese Ambassador Sun Weidong expressed satisfaction over the pace of work on the corridor project, and hence put to rest the rumours that CPEC faced economic and timeframe related difficulties. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif stated that multiple projects under the CPEC banner would add 30,000MW of energy over the next 10 years and bring development to Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and the western belt of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
One must appreciate that within a short span of three years, despite a loss of eight months due to domestic political crises, projects worth $18 billion stand actualised. Moreover, investment projects worth $17 billion are in the pipeline, to be launched within a year or so. This is a remarkable story of devotion, commitment and hard work of Pakistani and Chinese experts and workers involved in the CPEC. Assessments have it that once the corridor becomes operational, Pakistan would acquire a central position in world trade.
CPEC is focus of conspiracies by our enemies, as well as some friendly countries. Americans have already started applying oblique pressures to squeeze Pakistan. Since the beginning of conceptual work on CPEC, almost one third of American aid has dried up on one flimsy pretext or the other; and America has taken several steps to elevate India’s strategic potential to the peril of Pakistan—and China. Recent Indo-US Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement is an important step towards joint Indo-US strategy to contain China, and as a corollary Pakistan. To mitigate international meddling and muddying, China and Pakistan need to take collective measures. As per envisaged economic targets, gross domestic product will grow by 1.5% during the next four years and another 1% from 2020 to 2030. Annual average trade would increase by 24% from 2016 to 2020 and an additional 16% from 2020 to 2030. The annual average investment growth is expected to be 25% from 2016 to 2030. Contribution of industry as a percentage of GDP would increase by 1.5% and about 800,000 new jobs would be created. China Development Bank has prepared the draft of long-term investment plan covering bilateral payment and settlement mechanism to reduce the need for third-party money. Central banks have agreed to expand the scope of bilateral currency swap agreements to Rs 520 billion.
Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif has, time and again, reaffirmed Pakistan military’s resolve to provide full security for the purpose. A Special Security Division comprising 9,000 Pakistan Army soldiers and 6,000 paramilitary personnel has already been set up—at a fantastic speed. In addition to efforts by the Provincial governments, the Federal government has chipped in Rs 1.3 billion for CPEC security. It is important that a comprehensive security concept be evolved for the security of Chinese workers, covering their entire stay in Pakistan.
CPEC summit was a show of strength and commitment from the government to the peoples of both China and Pakistan. The same commitment will be needed to ensure that the promises of equitable development are fulfilled.
— The writer is consultant to IPRI on policy and strategic response.

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