Socio economic Impact of CPEC on Gilgit Baltistan.

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Naveed Aman Khan

China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a part of One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative of the Chinese government to expand its economic horizon around the globe. CPEC is famously coined as a “Game Changer” for Pakistan, as it is expected to enhance economic development in the country. However, some have also argued that it is “the end of the game”, basing their arguments on the challenges associated with this gigantic project. CPEC aims to develop Special Economic Zones in Pakistan through a combination of infrastructure projects including transportation, energy and port development. It will connect western China with Gwadar port in Baluchistan. China transports 80% of its oil, through Strait of Malacca to Shanghai on ships and covers a distance of16000 km which takes around two months, whereas via CPEC it will cover 3218 km, shrinking down the shipment time to a few days.

The initial budget for CPEC was projected nearly $45 billion. However, the portfolio is grown to $110 billion. It is important to note that CPEC is not just a road rather a network of connectivity, industrialization, energy generation, promotion of trade and tourism. The importance of Gilgit-Baltistan cannot be neglected because it is the gateway for CPEC and also the proverbial Chicken Neck. The mighty Karakorum Highway, known as the 8th wonder of the world, was built in 1968-78 to connect China to the Western World by giving access to Arabian Sea. CPEC will continue to build on the existing Karakorum Highway, passing through the mountains of Gilgit-Baltistan. The Karakorum Highway will be improved and a few new roads will be constructed for smooth travel, moreover new bridges, tunnels and railway track is expected to construct to connect Kashgar city of China to Havelian in Pakistan. As Gilgit-Baltistan shares its border with China therefore the business terms have remained friendly between this region and China for past many years, although the Free Trade Agreement was signed between the two countries in 2006.

The distribution of CPE- related projects of Pakistan show that Gilgit Baltistan is going to gain little from this project initially, as so far no hydropower or industrial project is included for this region, other than the Magpoondas Special Economic Zone and the Optic Fibre connection. If we look at indirect impact of the project, it is apparent that Gilgit-Baltistan is likely to benefit in terms of business development, energy generation, infrastructure development and telecommunication. The connectivity through road and train plus intra-city roads will aid to increased social and economic integration. Additionally, resource development is expected in the region as people are getting trainings, learning Chinese language and business skills. I propose some of the steps hereunder that should be taken:-

There is a dire need for more than one think tanks where development practitioners, researchers, business experts, political leaders and even students will come together to engage in research, advocacy and planning with regard to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. This platform could serve as the evidence based research group with a primary mandate to guide and advocate policy makers, members of Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly to formulate policies that will protect indigenous people, its economy and culture. Gilgit Baltistan Legislative Assembly should have the ability to bargain with the government of Pakistan as well as the government of China to promote and protect the rights of local people. This entity will also engage academia especially Karakorum International University to conduct research, offer specialized courses to help prepare young minds for CPEC and equip young people with marketable skills. Gilgit-Baltistan has already experienced dramatic economic transformation primarily stimulated by Aga Khan Rural Support Programme through community mobilization and social action. Almost every village in the area has a grass root platform known as Village Organizations, Women Organizations and Local Support Organizations. These institutions need to be strengthened and empowered through intensive training, sensitization and capacity building. When Karakoram Highway was constructed, those communities took maximum benefit from it than those areas where people were not organized. Organized people will get maximum benefit of CPEC. Otherwise, it would be like the Indus River, we see its rise and fall but can’t get benefit of it. Similar thing will happen with CPEC; we will see trucks going and coming but won’t get any benefit. One very important aspect which is part of this movement, we call it Human Capital. Investment has been done initially and now we need to expand it more relevant to all these opportunities then we ca, I think, get maximum benefit from mega investment which are for people’s benefit so it’s about how we organize ourselves to get maximum benefit. Various training programmes should be introduced across Gilgit-Baltistan to tap the opportunities. This may include high level technical skills such as information technology, information management, international trade laws and marketing as well as other technical skills like cargo management, transport management, hotel management and tourism promotion. Introduction of Chinese language in school curriculum could be another important milestone to be better equipped to handle effects of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Specialized programmes should be introduced preparing youth for the future. This may include awareness-raising sessions, mobilization and training. Different youth forums and platform should be made to engage youth in discussion related to CPEC and its impact on socio- economic dynamics of Gilgit-Baltistan. Student politics at school, college and university levels in Gilgit-Baltistan should be introduced as this will help them understand and take interest in politics of the region as well. Teachers should support students in carrying out different researches on CPEC.

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