China Pakistan Economic Corridor and Afghanistan

2 Aug

By Tariq Rizwan
The new world order is ever determined by economic development. China is making unprecedented progress in industry. The red China today stands as the second largest economy after US and likely to take over the later by 2030. Chinese are developing the centuries old ‘Silk Route’ to reduce the distances for its products and reach to the world markets in no time. To convert the “Silk Route” in to modern highway, they have produced a new theory “One Belt, One Route – OBOR”. Apart from five multi – national ventures in North and North West, China has also signed China Pakistan Economic Corridor – CPEC with Pakistan to reach to warm water and Gwadar Port. To take benefit out of the available opportunity, Russia and the land locked Central Republics have also signed and inaugurated various highways to open up to warm water via China and fulfill their long standing dream.

Though various extra regional powers including India and US are not happy with the development, both China and Pakistan have shown their strong resolve to develop the route at war footing. It is evident from the frequent visits and meetings at the highest level. CPEC has four components; Gwadar Airport, Infrastructure, Energy needs and economic zones. The foes have played their first card to exploit intra – provincial rifts on “Western Route” and distribution of economic zones but Pakistan government has been able to resolve such issues amicably through various All Parties Conferences. The challenges of security and red – tapism are being tackled efficiently. While FWO get a lion share in construction work, Pakistan Army has deployed a complete Brigade to ensure security of construction work.

After some delay due to political crisis in Islamabad, Chinese President visited Pakistan in April 2015 and inked various agreements. China will construct 4000 km long railroad network from Kashghar to Gwadar, 12 to 13 Economic Zones along the route at a total cost of about $46 billion. China intends to include CARs, Iran, Afghanistan and even India at some later stage.

Long waiting work on CPEC has started. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif inaugurated Pakistan-China Optical Fiber Cable project worth Rs 44 million in Gilgit on 19 May 2016. While addressing the ceremony, he said the mega project will not only bring economic benefits to the people, but also help address the issue of extremism by creating job opportunities for the youth.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also inaugurated Gilgit – Baltistan CPEC patrolling police headquarters in Gilgit. Patrolling force has also been announced, comprising three hundred personnel to ensure safe and smooth flow of traffic on the 439-kilometre chunk of the CPEC project in Gilgit. China has gifted twenty-five vehicles for the patrolling police.

Fedral Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms, Ahsan Iqbal, while addressing a press conference in Islamabad on 1st August has said that out of $ 46 billion under CPEC, projects worth $ 10 billion had already hit the ground while the remaining schemes are in pipeline.

Senator Sardar Muhammad Yaqoob Khan Nasir, Chairman Senate Standing Committee for Water and Power, has also said Gwadar Port is an important component of CPEC which would serve as gateway for Afghanistan and Central Asian Republic (CARs) owing to its location and geo-strategic importance. CPEC is not mere a road rather it is a flaghship project having different land, sea and aerial routes to be expanded from Gwadar to China.

Government has resolved the Western Route issue and it get priority. Provinces have been asked to put up their feasibility report for construction of their respective economic zones. Work has already been started on Gwadar Airport. A huge run way is under construction by Chinese company with a small terminal. About 22000 square kilometers land has been purchased for the 1st economic zone to be established in Gwadar with 43 years tax exemption. As an encouraging step, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has appointed National Party senator Hasil Bizenjo as Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping to solve the problems of Balochistan on priority. Law has been enacted not to allow the local community to become a minority. No one will be able to get a local domicile, cast vote except the local resident of Gwadar city. It has been made mandatory for the businessmen, coming from outside to start business in partnership with locals on the rules prevalent in UAE and KSA.

Once the mega project has kick started, the question arises why Afghanistan is losing the opportunity to become a gateway to Central Asia. Is it a willful act or the war torn and economically fragile Afghanistan is hostage in some hostile hands. The fact is that Kabul is being exploited by the extra regional powers to undermine CPEC. Countries opposed to China especially India and US are bent upon destabilizing the region and frustrate the Chine and Pakistan.

The landlocked Islamic Republic of Afghanistan lies in the heart of Asia, and links three major cultural and geographic regions: the Indian subcontinent to the southeast, central Asia to the north, and the Iranian plateau in the west. Geographically, it is variously described as part of Central Asia and South Asia. Bordered by Iran in the west, Pakistan in the south and east, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the north, and China in the far northeast, Afghanistan had a very important role in an ancient Silk Route. As its history reveals it has an important geostrategic location, connecting East and West Asia or the Middle East. In the age of rapid shrinkage of physical distance through galloping expansion and occupation of technology, Kabul is hardly 235 miles away from Islamabad via the famous Khyber Pass. Likewise Quetta is also about 250 miles away from Qandhar. China is just a few hours away, bordering both Afghanistan and Pakistan at the Karakorum Mountain Range. Afghanistan’s recent history has been one of terrible war and strife.

CPEC is considered a golden opportunity for Afghanistan to become a trade hub between the Middle East, Persian Gulf towards Central Asia. India is trying to divert Afghan business towards Iranian Chabahar Port which is too small to bear the upcoming business between the Middle East and Central Asia and the Eurasia. Gwadar is the only deep sea port which can handle the high business potential in the Persian Gulf, Middle East, China and Central Asia. Moreover, the Central Asian region due to its geo-strategic location depends more than any other region on the regional connection and integration. This requirement is further deemed to gain in significance by the twenty-first century world that is highly characterized by the notion of interdependence and integration. Afghanistan, as a member state occupying the centre stage in the arena has the potential to make large contributions towards regional and international integration.

The writer is a freelance journalist

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