The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project seems to be the part of a grand development scheme par strategic maneuver. It is a reflection of intensified and expanded bilateral cooperation at a time of the rising Chinese geopolitical ambition and persistent concerns about Pakistan’s security and development. It is intended to promote connectivity across Pakistan with a network of highways, railways, and pipelines accompanied by energy, industrial, and other infrastructural development projects to address the critical energy shortages needed to boost Pakistan’s economic growth and regional uplift. Eventually, the CPEC will facilitate trade along an overland route that connects China to the Indian Ocean, linking the Chinese city of Kashgar to the Pakistani port of Gwadar.
The CPEC is a 3,218 kilometers long route, to be built over next several years with actual estimated cost of $75 billion, out of which $45 billion plus will ensure that the corridor becomes operational by 2020. The remaining investment will be spent on energy generation and infrastructure development. Being developed as part of China’s “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) initiative, the CPEC marks a further consolidation of what has long been billed as an all-weather partnership.
The Pakistan government considers the project as a game changer for its growing economic structure. The country’s steady economic performance partly induced this exhilaration in the recent past despite the turmoil created through terror menace. The project has also elevated Islamabad’s strategic partnership with the regional superpower China’s current imperative to export excess infrastructural capacity and Pakistan’s massive need for such investments. The economic rationale is reinforced by a powerful strategic quest at Beijing to strengthen its position in the critical regions of Southwest Asia and in the Arabian Sea. Although based primarily on economic principles, the project is also driven by the broader strategic and security based rationale.
Now the CPEC is viewed as a lifeline for Pakistan with its progression, being carried out day and night, despite looming intimidations from the enemies who have openly threatened to derail this multifaceted project. Given the alarming challenge, both the political community and the military in Pakistan are in unison aware of their respective responsibilities; they are completely on board with this project and have a positive outlook towards the initiative. They are convinced and very much keen for the CPEC to succeed, which would signal a viable investment environment in Pakistan and perhaps attract further initiatives.
It is estimated that if all the planned projects are implemented, the value of those projects would exceed all foreign direct investment in Pakistan since 1970 and would be equivalent to 17 percent of Pakistan’s last year’s gross domestic product (GDP). It is further estimated that the CPEC project will create some 700,000 direct jobs during the period 2015-2030 and add up to 2.5 percentage points to the country’s growth rate.
The CPEC will open doors to immense economic opportunities not only to Pakistan but will physically connect China to its markets in Asia, Europe and beyond. Almost 80 percent of China’s oil is currently transported from Strait of Malacca to Shanghai, (distance is almost 16,000 km that takes 2-3 months); with Gwadar becoming operational, the distance would reduce to less than 5,000km. If all goes well and on schedule, of the 21 agreements on energy – including gas, coal and solar energy – 14 will be able to provide up to 10,400 megawatts (MW) of energy by March 2018.
According to China Daily, these projects would provide up to 16,400MW of energy altogether. As part of infrastructure projects worth approximately $11 billion and 1,100km long motorway will be constructed between the cities of Karachi and Lahore, while the Karakoram Highway between Rawalpindi and the Chinese border will be completely reconstructed and overhauled. The Karachi-Peshawar main railway line will also be upgraded to allow for train travel at up to 160km per hour by December 2019. Pakistan Railways network will also be extended to eventually connect to China’s Southern Xinjiang Railways in Kashgar.
A network of pipelines to transport liquefied natural gas and oil will also be laid as part of the project, including a $2.5 billion pipeline between Gwadar and Nawabshah to transport gas from Iran. Oil from the Middle East could be offloaded at Gwadar and transported to China through the corridor, cutting the current 12,000km journey to 2,395km. It will act as a bridge for the new Maritime Silk Route that envisages linking three billion people in Asia, Africa and Europe, part of a trans-Eurasian project. When fully operational, Gwadar will promote the economic development of Pakistan and become a gateway for Central Asian countries, including Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, linking Sri Lanka, Iran and Xinjiang to undertake marine transport.
Over $33 billion worth of energy infrastructure will be constructed by the private consortia to help alleviate Pakistan’s chronic energy shortages, which regularly amount to over 4,500MW and have shed an estimated 2 to 2.5 percent off Pakistan’s annual GDP. With approximately $33 billion expected to be invested in the energy sector projects, power generation assumes an important role in the CPEC project. Over 10,400MW of energy generating capacity is to be developed between 2018 and 2020 as part of the corridor’s fast-tracked “Early Harvest” projects.
The construction of the Corridor has been defined by many as a strategic moment that Pakistan has assumed the position of economic pivot for the whole region. This paradigm shift in the circumstances is a cause of great worry for the enemies of Pakistan both within and outside. India, Israel and the US are unhappy. For India, CPEC is a thorn in its paw. They have put their heads together to work out new strategies to block the project’s forward march. India’s intelligence agency, RAW, has opened a special office at Delhi and has allotted $300 million to disrupt CPEC. Already one can notice sudden upsurge in the acts of terror in the three restive regions and activation of certain NGOs and think tanks all trying to air misgivings and create fear psychosis. The support of American CIA, Israeli Mossad and Indian RAW has continuously been assisting the militant groups and Sub-Nationalists in all the provinces to conduct subversive acts – and using terrorist elements in the whole country to threaten the Pak-Chinese plans of developing the CPEC. In the past few years, they kidnapped and killed a number of Chinese nationals in Pakistan despite Pakistan’s efforts to provide best possible security.
The Pakistan Army has announced the creation of 10,000-man special force for protecting the development projects. The new force, named the Special Security Division, will comprise two divisions, or nine army battalions and six wings of paramilitary forces, the Rangers and the Frontier Corps. There are major concerns about the Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan, where multiple terrorist groups including al-Qaeda, the self-styled Islamic State, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, the Movement of Islamic Uzbekistan and the Turkmenistan Islamic Party, etc., are concentrated. These groups can pose a direct threat to the CPEC in Pakistan’s northern region.
There has been an air of suspicion with the change of command in the Pakistan Army from certain circles regarding the fate of the project which is altogether groundless. The Armed Forces of Pakistan are not a political institution but a pivotal state organ that is destined to resolutely carry on with the continuity of the policies of strategic importance in order to achieve the long-term goals. As a vital stakeholder in the implementation of CPEC, it is supposedly very clear in its aim to go out of its way to ensure the safety of not only the overall project but also the Chinese workers and quash any rebel and militant attacks and keep the route operational at all costs.
With the Pakistan Army taking the responsibility of the fool-proof security of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, this gigantic project could not have been headed forward to turn this dream into reality. The threats and challenges have already been evaluated and a well calculated response initiative has already been taken. An elaborated and detailed minute-to-minute plan has been implemented and set in motion into automatic functioning with the help of state of the art sophisticated indigenously built infrastructure. These measures have made possible to complete the 13 out of total 38 related projects, on the sidelines of the CPEC project, within a very short span of time. The newly raised two divisions of armed guard have gone operational that includes the Pakistan Army, FC, Rangers and Police.
The dream of CPEC therefore became a reality with the starting off of the first shipment of trade cargo consisting of 200 truckloads from inside China to the Gwadar Port and to onward international destinations last November. Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, who took over the command as COAS, in his vow to the nation, declared in unequivocal terms that the Pakistan Army would continue to provide foolproof security for the Corridor project as its national obligation. The Corridor created with the heart, and built with the mind, is destined to change the destiny of nation.