China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC): its Social, Economic, and Security Concerns

The 2000 kilometer road and train link between the port city of Gawadar in Balochistan, Pakistan, and the western city of Kashghar in China – dubbed as the “economic corridor” – will be developed by the Chinese under a $46 billion project, promising prosperity for the region in terms of infrastructure development and employment.

 

alt="PakChina Friendship"In the continuation of traditional friendship and a strong association of Pakistani leadership with the People’s Republic of China, Prime Minister Pakistan visited China upon assumption of power in July 2013. This was indeed a key visit since Pakistan is passing through a critical phase of its history; where domestically it is facing the challenges of terrorism and externally being blamed for doing less in the so called war on terror. Earlier to this visit the Chinese Prime Minister, Mr Li visited Pakistan in May, 2013, soon after the General Elections and wished for further promotion of bilateral relationship.

The most significant agreement signed between Pakistan and China during the visit of Prime Minister of Pakistan was the Pak-China Economic Corridor. Pakistan has been emphasizing on significance and practicability of this project since 2002. China however had its own priorities and took some time in analyzing it. The new Chinese leadership, however, considered this Pakistani proposal practical as well as beneficial for its economic benefits. During the visit of Chinese Premier Mr Li Kegiang supported this Pakistani proposal of ‘economic corridor’ between Pakistan and China. The project once materialized, would be the shortest possible route connecting Pakistan and China through Karakorum Mountains.

The Karakorum Highway (KKH) was constructed by both countries in 1970-80s as a joint venture. Today, both countries considered that, this strategic linkage has not been used to its true potentials, thus there is a growing realization that, this overland shortest communication network should be upgraded and used strategically, for the benefit of both countries. Besides boosting the trade and commerce, the corridor will economically upgrade the otherwise poor bordering regions of both countries; Xinjiang autonomous region of China and Gilgit-Baltistan of Pakistan.

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If exploited properly, Pak-China Economic Corridor would greatly promote commerce and trade between these two countries. Indeed, the proposed economic and trade corridor speak of a long-term set of relationship between both countries. For the China, this corridor would become the shortest possible route for the overland transportation of its energy from the energy rich regions of West and Central Asia, through the Gwadar Port. The Gwadar Port developed by China will now be operated by it after developing the communication network, which would link the port with all major cities in the area.  Besides, the Chinese energy transportation routes through sea are rapidly getting under threat by its regional and international rivals, along Malacca Strait and South China Sea. This overland corridor would be the best alternative for the Chinese energy transportation and economic uplift of its western under developed region, ignored so far by this Asia giant, owing to its ethnic makeup and growing insurgent trends.

Concerns

The following commentary is refuted by the Government of Pakistan as there is no change in the alignment since inception of the corridor with the Government of China. The route is not suited to leftists and a formal propaganda campaign is launched through political forum and media. The Minster of Planning Development and Reform formally denied any change in the alignment. The provincial assembly of KPK of Pakistan has adopted a resolution against the decision of the central government to change the multibillionaire route of proposed Kashghar – Gawadar trade road and advised the central government to stick to the same route as agreed upon between governments of Pakistan and China. The resolution states that it will be a sheer injustice with people of war-torn province.

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The proposed change will divert the route from the province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and central Baluchistan to thickly populated and relatively developed areas of Punjab and Sindh. Few days back opposition senators of provinces KPK and Baluchistan staged a brief walkout from the Senate session in protest at the proposed change and warned “The initial route was proposed by China. If it is changed, the country will not remain united”. Though the central government tried to convince them by explaining an interim change in the trade route because of the possible threats but senator Haji Adeel of Awami National Party raised the question “Which part of the country does not have security issues?”

According to Dr Ahmad Rashid Malik, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI), the route controversy is just baseless. He writes in The Nation on 20 February 2015: Another controversy has been stirred like the Kalabagh Dam and the motorway alignment. The controversy could go on for long and damage the national cause yet again. There is no sensible reasoning in opposing the route alignment under the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The basic idea behind the building of the CPEC was to link up the deep-sea Gwadar Port to Kashgar in western Chinese province of Xinjiang. This is a transit route facility to be given to China. In return, many areas along the route will be developed, boosting the economy of Pakistan as a whole. The route alignment connects all four provinces including Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. To say that route has been altered by the government is not true as multiple feasible studies have yet to be carried out.

Wu Zhaoli – an assistant research fellow at the National Institute of International Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in his article published in Global Times China, argued that security concerns are a critical cause which helps to determine the path of this corridor. Terrorism is the biggest threat as to whether this corridor can be put in place as smoothly as possible. An unknown number of terrorists, especially the Taliban, are still stirring up trouble in Pakistan’s western regions. Killings of Chinese citizens in Pakistan’s turbulent west have taken place in the past. Security problems leave no alternative to the Chinese constructors of this corridor. And a detour seems to be the wisest choice. Besides, numerous enterprises will be involved in the construction of this corridor, and there is no reason for entrepreneurs to take high risks of being attacked by terrorists. Other than terrorism, India’s concerns are also posing problems. Kashmir is the first region this corridor will cross when it stretches out of China. The heavily disputed situation in this area will add a few uncertainties. Out of the historical and practical reasons, India holds a negative stance toward the corridor.

“The Gwadar Kashghar route was originally planned to go through Bisima, Khuzdar, Kalat and Quetta onto to Zhob, DI Khan, Hassan Abdal and onwards to Kashghar but it has been changed to Bisima, Ratodero and towards Punjab which means by passing the Baloch and Pashtun areas,” Senator Abdul Rauf Khan, Member of Senate Standing Committee on Defense told News Lens Pakistan.

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He said economic development and prosperity in the Pakhtun and Baloch regions of Khyber Pashtunkhwa, FATA and Balochistan would decrease militancy to a negligible level. “Because of oppression, a sense of deprivation prevails among the Pakhtun and Baloch people. The change in route means taking every economic opportunity to Punjab and neglecting the rest of the nationalities,” said Rauf Khan.

Mehsud said the Gwadar Kashghar route going through Hasan Abdal, Fatehjang, Daudkhel of Mianwali, Dera Ismail Khan, Zhob, Quetta and Gawadar would change the fortunes of the people of FATA, Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan. Motorways, fast track railway, fiber optic line, oil and gas pipeline, free trade and industrial zone are components of the corridor that will usher in prosperity. “Minerals like chromium, zinc, copper, gold, marble, iron etc. that found in abundance along this route would be utilized. Their demand will change the economic fortunes of this area. These areas will not only get connected through motorway and railway, they will also get connected to China, Afghanistan and the central Asian countries.”

Mehsud said the Pakhtun and Baloch areas did not have industry and technical know-how. “When industrial and free trade zones get established here, these [Pakhtun and Baloch] people will get jobs, start businesses, get new skills and techniques –  they will become technical, get managerial skills and finally start big corporations as other people did in case of East China, America and Canada corridors,” he said.

“Realistically speaking, Pakistan is Punjab, and Punjab is Pakistan,” said Mehsud. “Take the example of services sector, railways, motorways, national highways, airports, irrigation, control of electricity etc. Punjab is an empire and the rest are oppressed states and colonies. An oppressor always have the same attitude towards its colonies. That’s why East Pakistan became Bangladesh.”

Shahid Umar

Shahid Umar self-produce and host blogs about the film and music industry. Researches trends and news, all while keeping up to date in the arts/entertainment industry. Writes feature, listing and review blogs via through critical analysis. He is also a passionate photographer who love to write about the new trends and changes happening in lens industry.

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