Despite knowledge of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) being in the public domain for several years, and widely discussed in the media, many will have little idea of how the project fits into China’s global strategy. What the Chinese are doing is shortening the lines of communication between the countries of South Asia and the states that surround the region, and primarily Chinese activity across sub-Saharan Africa. The project as a whole is called ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) and it is truly going to reshape the region that we live in as well as our relationship with all countries that we share a contiguous border with, including India.
There is now a concerted push led by China for regional economic integration and CPEC is just a small part, but a vital part, of OBOR as a whole. Pakistan is the link between the port of Gwadar on the Indian Ocean northwards through Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to cross the border into China and onwards to Kashgar. The Karakoram highway is to be rerouted for much its length below Raikot Bridge and a railway is being scouted and the route surveyed. For the Chinese, the so-called ‘western route’ through Balochistan is of greater importance than the eastern route through Punjab, largely because there are fewer dots to join up and much of the route is pre-existing. Security of the infrastructure remains a significant issue.
Not all countries are enthusiastic about the impact of CPEC/OBOR. America is decidedly lukewarm if not actively hostile and India is concerned about the shift in the status quo and the enhanced role that Pakistan has within that. Afghanistan is expressing an interest in CPEC and Nepal is reaching out to Pakistan with a view to enhancing trading relations. Although China is at pains to point out that CPEC is not a Trojan Horse for a political agenda, there is going to be a political impact wherever OBOR makes landfall, with increasing prosperity and improved lines of communication. There is no part of daily life that the OBOR project will not touch in Pakistan, and it presents the greatest set of opportunities since independence.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 11th, 2018.