Col (R) Muhammad Hanif
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a mega project of approximately 3000 kilometers length comprising the construction of a network of roads, railways, laying of fiber optic internet/communication cable, construction of Gwadar Seaport and Airport and nine special economic zones (SEZs), connecting Kashghar city of Western China with Gwadar port city of Balochistan province of Pakistan. The project is being jointly constructed by China and Pakistan under an agreement with China’s initially announced investment of $46 billion which was later enhanced to $ 62 billion. CPEC is part of One Belt and One Road project, now named as B&R project, which is a grand regional connectivity project, comprising land corridors and sea routes, which China has announced to connect various regions such as Central Asia, South Asia, West Asia, East Asia, Middle East, North Africa and Europe.
The B&R project is an economic connectivity undertaking based on inter-regional investment oriented agricultural and industrial development to higher production targets, increase economic growth and enhancement of exports of many countries. China has termed this project as part of the shared neighborhood and destinies. The CPEC is a pilot project of B&R, which gives China an access to the Indian Ocean for trade through an alternative and much shorter (3000 kms long) and cheaper route as compared with the traditional trade route of 12000 kms length passing through tension-prone South China Sea and Malacca Straits, being subject to closure in case of tension. CPEC as part of the B&R project will also facilitate China’s investment and trade with almost the entire world to make it an economic superpower.
To Pakistan the CPEC has brought in a huge Chinese investment for infrastructure development including a network of roads, energy producing projects and industrial development and it will enable Pakistan to earn substantial sums of transit fee on account of huge trade volumes of inter regional trade passing through it. To various regions as mentioned earlier the CPEC will provide a facility to participate in the investment and trade related economic development of other regions thus earning a substantial amount of trade benefits and profits. In other words CPEC is an economic oriented project in which many regions and countries are interested to join to get economic benefits for enhancing welfare of their people.
Like India, the US also publicly opposes the CPEC Project, knowing quite well that it is a magnificent economic venture for the benefit of the people of large number of countries. The Trump Administration has opposed the CPEC publicly saying that the Corridor will be passing through the disputed territory. The fact remains that the US knows that it is India that has been refusing to hold a plebiscite in Jammu & Kashmir as per United Nations Security Council Resolutions of 1948 to give a chance to the people of the State to express their will whether they wanted to join Pakistan or India. India is also itself undertaking the construction of various projects in the Indian-occupied Kashmir, which shows that India’s opposition to the CPEC is legally not tenable and it is doing it just to deny its economic benefits to Pakistan. Hence US opposition on the same grounds is also not logical. In the real sense it appears that the US is opposing the CPEC linking it with the geopolitics, but in the process it also appeases India, its strategic partner in Asia. However, the question arises as to what could be the impact of US opposition to the CPEC. And if the US is really serious, then what it could do to fail the project and will it succeed in this venture.
If the US really wants to oppose the CPEC, it could do it politically by trying to pressurize Pakistan and also by struggling to isolate it at international level. Because of various reasons it is unlikely that US will be able to discourage Pakistan from participating in the project. Since CPEC has the potential to provide huge economic benefits to various regions and countries, as already explained, and many countries of Central Asia, West Asia, EU, Middle East, East Asia and even Russia have either already joined the CPEC or will join it, they would not like to support the US in opposing the CPEC and in pressurizing or isolating Pakistan. Even the US allies of the EU, East Asia and Middle East would not like to support its stance on CPEC in view of their own benefits linked to the CPEC. The US will also not get worthwhile support in the UNSC to take measures to oppose the CPEC. Hence, it can be safely concluded that the US will not succeed in political opposition of the CPEC.
The second method to harm the progress of the CPEC could be that the US decides to join India in impeding the progress of CPEC by creating security issues by disrupting peace of the areas through which CPEC is passing, by sponsoring terrorist acts in Pakistan. It is more likely that in view of Pakistan’s important role in building peace in Afghanistan, the US would not like to disturb its stability in order to disrupt the CPEC. However, if the US decides to support India on this account using Afghan soil, there is no likelihood that the US can succeed in this kind of disruptive activities because Pakistan is quite capable of countering such a game plan in view of the vast experience its military has attained in countering terrorism.
Moreover, since the people of Balochistan will be getting maximum economic benefits out of the CPEC, they will not cooperate with the hostile forces in destabilizing Balochistan. In this context many dissident Ferrari groups are already surrendering their arms. Therefore, it can be said with surety that any hostile forces creating instability in Pakistan will also fail and CPEC will continue to progress. Hence, in the final analysis it seems more appropriate for the US not to oppose the CPEC and instead of undertaking any such venture it should also advise India to resolve the Jammu & Kashmir dispute with Pakistan and both the US and India should join the CPEC to draw their expected share of the economic benefits of trade with Central Asia and beyond.
Col (R) Muhammad Hanif