Naveed Aman Khan
THE China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is solidifying relations between the two nations but the project faces multiple security and political challenges. Traditionally, China and Pakistan have cooperated closely at the strategic and political levels. Now the two nations are making efforts to expand their bilateral collaboration economically as well. The construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a milestone that signifies this shift.
At its core, the CPEC is a large-scale initiative to build energy, highway, and port infrastructure to deepen economic connections between China and Pakistan. This initiative has been well received in both countries, although it is not without its problems. Nevertheless, China and Pakistan regard the CPEC as a new source of potential synergy between their respective national development strategies which may help the two countries translate their close political cooperation into multifaceted economic cooperation, attain mutual benefits and achieve a win-win outcome. For the economic corridor to reach its potential, however, there are security and political challenges in Pakistan that must be addressed timely and properly.
China first proposed the corridor project in May 2013. Chinese President Xi Jinping then visited Pakistan in April 2015, and both sides agreed to elevate their relationship to an all- weather strategic partnership. During President Xi’s visit, the two countries signed fiftyone agreements at an estimated value of $46 billion initially. The CPEC has now moved into the implementation phase. On May 6, 2016, an opening ceremony was held in Sukhur. It is constructed on a section of highway between Sukhur and Multan. It is part of a network of highways connecting the cities of Peshawar and Karachi. This network is a major component of the CPEC’s plans for infrastructure expansion, which highlights the progress the two nations have achieved in transportation. In addition, on November 13, 2016, the first large shipment of Chinese goods went through the Gwadar Port
China considers these development initiatives a potential source of stability and prosperity for the two countries. From a Chinese perspective, cooperation in the areas of security and economics are closely intertwined, and improvements on one side can improve the other. Security and economics are two separate wheels of the same vehicle, and both spin things forward. China believes economic development can strengthen Pakistan’s internal stability reinvigorating the latter’s economy through investment in infrastructure projects as well as the construction of oil and gas pipelines. China hopes this will create a certain level of stability within Pakistan and in turn stabilize China’s western periphery, particularly the province of Xinjiang undoubtedly.
The CPEC has to be understood in the context of China’s strategic interests in East Asia and the way the United States has challenged them. Faced with such difficulties, China hopes it can expand its strategic space by heading west. Pakistan serves as a crucial bridge between China and Central Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East. Security and stability in Pakistan will make it possible for China to exercise greater influence in these regions and to ensure security at home. This is why China is willing to pour vast amounts of resources into the economic corridor—based on the logic of improving security through economic development.
Likewise, Pakistan has realized that no other country places such high strategic importance in its economic relationship with Pakistan as China does. Pakistan also greatly values the economic corridor and views it as mutually beneficial in terms of politics and economic development. Pakistan aims to advance from being a lower-middle-income nation to an upper-middle-income nation by 2025. To achieve this goal, Pakistan hopes to attract increasing amounts of foreign investment. The country is working to improve its overall economy by constructing energy projects and other forms of infrastructure, to create employment opportunities and to improve its governance.
The logic behind this strategy is that fundamentally improving Pakistan’s economy will help alleviate the challenges posed by political extremists and radicals. China and Pakistan share the belief that economic development can help stabilize Pakistan and improve its domestic security situation. However, China also recognizes that the security, political, and cultural risks and uncertainties facing the economic corridor cannot be overlooked. The first of these risks is terrorism, which has long affected Pakistan’s internal security and stability. The security threat posed by terrorism remains ongoing, despite the economic benefits that the CPEC can offer Pakistan. The corridor aims to enhance the well-being of people throughout the country and bring long-term prosperity and stability. The Pakistani authorities, meanwhile, have promised China they will do everything possible to ensure the safety of Chinese nationals.
Second, Pakistan’s domestic politics is also important to the CPEC’s success. The country’s political system has never been particularly stable. Political power oscillates between military and civilian leaders. General Pervez Musharraf’s resignation as President in 2008 ended the latest period of military rule, and from that point onward, the military has been pushed from centre-stage. In the 2013 election, the Pakistan People’s Party lost power after the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz defeated it. The successful completion of this election, as well as the smooth transition of power that ensued, was the first time in Pakistan’s history that a civilian government was able to serve out its entire term. This was a sign of improvement for Pakistan’s democracy.
On the other hand, Pakistan’s traditional political culture, which is almost feudal in nature, also continues to play an important role. Powerful families based in different provinces, such as the Bhuttos and the Sharifs, have typically held political power. Behind the party politics are local interests groups associated with these families. Various parties within Pakistan have disagreed a lot about how CPEC transportation routes should be mapped out. The competing parties are primarily interested in how the cake should be divided, so to speak. To strengthen its respective standing among the electorate, each of Pakistan’s political parties hopes the CPEC will pass through the region it represents, allowing its local community to enjoy the corridor’s benefits. China and Pakistan have taken positive measures to help set up the CPEC for success ahead.