The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is both the flagship project and strand of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Mahan, Mackinder, Spykman, the heartland, world island, rimland, coastal cities, and the Eurasian bridge are now all becoming relevant simultaneously. The BRI is said to follow the centuries-old Marco Polo route along the ancient Silk Road. China has become the heartland of BRI. As per Spykman, rimland is a more important geo-political entity, if China has to be reckoned as the rim land power, it has to dominate the sea to all the sides of its mainland. There comes CPEC through which China also becomes the rimland power. Gwadar is the most important vector in any calculus of projection. CPEC is therefore the jewel of the crown.
The importance of Gwadar both as the gateway and the leeway to CPEC is amply manifested with the recent developments in the littoral states of the Arabian Sea. Pakistan is no more a country with a continental mindset or can be named to have the sea blindness, now the horizons are opening up, both for the old man and the old salt. Everything in and around CPEC is happening under the two funnels: one, the democratic dispensation and national consensus; two, the information overload not about the project details, but certainly about the geo-politics of the region and beyond. Pakistan’s economy is turning upwards due to the mega projects under CPEC. Three new coal-based and two hydro-based power generation plants are now contributing to the national grid. The Diamer-Bhasha dam, Neelam Jhelum along with number of solar parks are a revolution in the making. Laying of fiberoptic cable from China till Rawalpindi has changed the context of communication and has linked Pakistan with the transit Europe-Asia terrestrial cable network. The dual railways line, the SEZs, industrial and agricultural parks and the new urban centres all along CPEC will change the economic landscape of Pakistan from that of a mere agrarian economy to that of a manufacturing and tertiary economy.
For the last six months specially since General Asim Bajwa has become the chairman of the CPEC Authority, things are moving at quite a fast pace. His experience as military spokesperson and the commander of the southern command is definitely coming handy when it comes to handling both the funnels. These small steps towards the second mountain of national actualisation through modernisation of economy will soon have a butterfly effect in all sectors of social wellbeing of the people of Pakistan. People with vested interest, on the other hand, are trying to fiddle with the second funnel of geo-politics. There is an effort going on to embroil Pakistan and China in international geo-strategic competitions. The great game has already started. China is known to be the rare earth metals superpower of the world, which are used in everything from aircraft to cell phones, to computers and what not. China has 40% of the world’s deposit of these metals and uses 80% of the total extracted in the world. Afghanistan has one of the world’s largest deposits of copper and lithium. China has already got the mining rights for the Aynak mines of copper in Afghanistan and was aspiring to have the same rights for lithium and cobalt. These minerals were to travel to China through CPEC, but since India with its 120 cellphone manufacturing factories requires a lot of lithium, the region just close to CPEC, that is Afghanistan, is going to be destabilised again. This will happen through the merger of the TTP with Jamat-ul-Ahrar and Hizb-ul-Ahrar under the leadership of Mufti Noor Wali. The first mineral war of the second funnel is about to start.
Afghanistan is known for having very scant road and rail networks. It has a total of 42 miles of railway track — that too with a different track gauge. All of Afghanistan’s surrounding countries use a different railway track gauge from each other. Pakistan and India use the Indian track gauge, Iran uses a smaller one and Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan use the Russian track gauge. So, extraction and transportation is already a problem. The first mineral war will likely be fought at the same turf from where CPEC is passing.
Lessons for Pakistan are very clear. Items on the to-do list include: one, completion of infrastructure projects as soon as possible; two, diversification of an agrarian-based economy to a service-based one; three, the conversion to blue economy amply linked with CPEC; and four, the enhancement of research and development in sciences and the disciplines of artificial intelligence, robotics, cyberspace, molecular biology and a host of other areas. CPEC should also become a corridor of shifting of knowledge from upper climes to the lower creeks. As now the Pak-Afghan border is fenced, the TTP alliance will try to use the nephrite and marble mines of Mohmand Agency to run their local political economy of terror. In the coming days, India will try to exert pressure in the Arabian Sea towards the Pakistani coast. There a limited naval encounter can take place.
With these developments, the pace maintained by General Asim Bajwa is worth keeping the gradient, the rockiness and granularity will be taken care of by the slight adjustment of both funnels.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 23rd, 2020.
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