M Omar Iftikhar
Recently China has been emerging as an economic power by not only spreading its wing over Asia and South Asia, but encapsulating under its influence the Western countries as well. Where Pak-China ties have been withstanding the tests of time, they have been pursuing projects of regional harmony and the ones fortifying their bilateral relations. Including such deals was the China-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement signed between the two countries in 2007 according to which the trade volume between them increased from $13 billion (2013) to $20 billion (2015).
However, last year in April 2015, the two countries signed another major agreement, which began the work on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, worth $46 billion. This agreement has been the cornerstone for reviving Pakistan’s economy and enhancing the trade between Pakistan and China. Also part of the OBOR is agreement to construct the Maritime Silk Road or the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. The goal of this initiative is to bolster alliance in various regions of Oceania, North Africa, and Southeast Asia via key maritime areas, which are the India Ocean, the South China Sea, and the South Pacific Ocean.
Where China’s investment in Pakistan will uplift its economy and provide it with initiatives for job creation, it will also create opportunities for infrastructural development in areas where extremist factions reside, hence reducing their threat, and bringing development in those areas. Therefore, reforms are likely to occur in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Despite assurances from Islamabad and Beijing, the success of CPEC cannot be guaranteed as Pakistan remains an agriculture country, its manufacturing sector has been stagnant, and it does not value innovation, while the political influence remains hovering over all its sectors and decisions.
Moreover, Pakistan may not be able to stay at par with China’s economic progress and the degree of innovation it houses in its many sectors. Furthermore, Pakistan must assure that China’s recent investments in Pakistan must reach the stakeholders and should not be concentrated in the hands of the few – the ones who have been reaping fruits of such deals in the past.
India’s pursuit to gain regional hegemony in South Asia might take a back seat with China investing heavily in Pakistan. India might try to reduce the pace of development works related to the CPEC. However, India-China ties may also face friction and therefore affect Pakistan-India relations. India’s recent ambition to become part of the 48-member exclusive Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) may also aggravate the tension that Pakistan and India have been facing for decades.
India would likely fortify its relations with US, which it has begun doing following the recent visit of India Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US. Moreover, new US President who will take oath to office on January 20, 2017, will likely bring in new foreign policy initiatives for both Pakistan and China and it can affect the CPEC or the OBOR. However, with China already exerting its influence on South Asia, it is unlikely that Washington may be able to sway China from its primary economic objectives and plan with Pakistan.
— The writer is a freelance columnist based in Karachi.