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The China-Pak Economic Corridor: An Evaluation

June 22, 2015 at 2:13 pm | Zulqarnain Sewag

Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and Chinese President Xi Jinping inaugurating projects through video link at Prime Minister’s Office, Islamabad April 20, 2015

In the contemporary world, economy is treated as a religion. The time has gone when the superpowers had large arsenals and extensive colonies. This is the era of economic independence and self-reliance.
Currently, the nations which are economically independent, sovereign and self reliant are dominant. The story behind the success of the Western powers, China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and other fast progressing countries is their economic independence and self- reliance. But unfortunately, the situation in Pakistan is totally reversed. Although Pakistan is rich in natural resources, it is very poor in management. Sixty seven years have passed since the inception of the country but none of its systems has been developed properly. In Pakistan, there still remains a wide gap between political rhetoric and economic reality.
The 3000 kilometre long Kashgar to Gawadar China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC) previously known as Silk Route and now ‘One Belt One Road’ is an infrastructural developmental megaproject, a railroad, pipeline, and other roads, aiming at enhancing economic well being of Pakistan and a transit route for Chinese exports and imports, Central Asian and Middle Eastern oil and gas. It is known as a network of networks. It is the shortest route when compared to the existing Chinese trading route of the Strait of Malacca. For this purpose, the recent visit of the president of China and the signing of $45.69 billon projects (on energy 33.79, on rail 3.69, on roads 5.90, on mass transit to Lahore 1.60, on Gawadar 0.66 and on China-Paksitanfibre optics 0.04 billion dollars respectively) with Pakistan are worth considering and detrimental but how do we get maximum advantage from this deal is the biggest question? Do we have such rational policies beyond political point scoring and malpractices that could yield maximum benefit? What is its timeframe for completion? It is not clear yet whether the investment is aid, loan or grant. The scepticism is still there that Pakistan failed to provide security to the NATO supplies and therefore, how will it guard the Chinese commercial supplies?
CPEC is the beginning of the Chinese link with the Middle Eastern and the SAARC countries. After its completion, if it bestows desired results, it will link Central Asia, including China to Europe as well. However, it will take at least a quarter of a century. The project, which is seen as game changer, should also be the game changer for Pakistan but it depends on the shrewdness and far-sightedness of Pakistani leadership and policy makers.
The importance of exports in the actual development of a country is undeniable. Singapore and Japan have solely built up their economies on the grounds of exports but the China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC) has no special place to boost Pakistani exports. This plan may further be a huge setback to already declining Pakistani exports to the Middle East and other regional countries. On the other hand, we will have to deploy Pakistani security forces on the route to protect the Chinese exports and cargos on our own cost. This may raise further costs and casualties as the proxy wars and the protracted war on terror are still not over. 394
The issue of changing routes and alleging the project as Ittefaq Foundry corridor can’t be ruled out. The change in the route will add fuel to the fires of deprivations. The ethnic insurgencies in Baluchistan may get further fuel from it if they are ignored and not handled properly. The route should be the one that is most suitable and economic for the country instead of politicizing it like the Kala Bagh dam. The route should be analysed on the basis of economy, Pakistani exports, security, special economic zones, neighbouring countries, proxies and infrastructural and social development in the country. Gilgit-Baltistan should also never be ignored and should be given its due share in the development. It is time for our policy makers to consider these elements before due time is over for if that occurs, the results will be costly.
Terrorism plagued and energy starved Pakistan will hardly reap any benefit from this scheme until unless it is able to overcome its water, energy and security problems. Therefore, Pakistan must overcome the grave problem of its water and energy crisis by tapping its own natural resources and constructing small and medium dams mostly on the natural reservoirs of the Swat, Kabul and Indus rivers.
Secondly, a deteriorated law and order situation in the shape of terrorism, sectarianism and extremism has harmed Pakistan in every sphere of life. It must be controlled urgently. Pakistan must focus on improving first its agricultural sector and then its industrial sector. Only then will it get maximum output from the economic corridor.
To mitigate unemployment, the labour and other allied personnel from Pakistan should be employed on the China-Pak Economic Corridor and other associated projects as was carried out by President Roosevelt after The Great Depression of 1929 in the USA.
Industries should be built up all around the route to give rise to both exports and employment. The project should primarily be a networked economic corridor instead of a strategic facility. It should not merely aim at facilitating Chinese exports to the rest of the world and be a transit route for Chinese goods. There must have a plan to exploit it for Pakistan’s interests as well. The project should practically believe in the mass movement of people, goods, supplies and services from both sides.
Timely execution, implementation and completion of the projects will in reality bear fruit and prove whether it is a game changer or mere sloganeering. Pakistan needs to improve its legal, institutional, financial and logistical commitments, requirements, jigs and fixtures in this regard. Transparency and accountability are the key agents of good governance that could better shun the fears of corruption. There are many international observations and reservations over CPEC. Pak-China needs to complete the corridor as early as possible, keeping in view and realizing each others’ interests and benefits on equal terms.

Zulqarnain Sewag

The writer is a poet, columnist and researcher in in public policy. He tweets at ?@Z_Sewag.