By Muhammad Khan
When great powers are aligning themselves with the pleasant breeze of CPEC, one can see the few unfortunate ones standing against it.
CPEC has become a game changer because of its sheer scale and for becoming the doorway to one of the world’s largest economic trade routes of the modern era; it will serve as the bloodline for the world’s second strongest economy, a vital part of its ‘One Belt, One Road’ vision. This mega project will connect Kashghar to Gawadar through various roads, railway tracks, oil & gas pipelines, airlines and fiber optics. When this project becomes fully operational, it will boost Pakistan’s economy by at least 2 to 3 times and is expected to boost Pakistan’s GDP growth up to 7% per annum.
As the first ships have begun docking at Gwadar, people have all the right to be more optimistic, as Gwadar finally is partly operational now. A lot of suppositions and controversies (both foreign and domestic) are tied to CPEC, and while most people have high hopes associated with it, some partly because of their misunderstandings and partly because they have been played by others, are seen revolting against it.
The pieces are slowly coming together, and the riddle is becoming a little less complicated with time. We see one country after another expressing their interest in joining CPEC. Recently, Iran, Afghanistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia have realized that the mega project is intended for a greater expansion of mutually beneficial endeavors and will cultivate a joint welfare for the participants.
The suggestion for this mega multi-dimensional project was first put forward by Chinese politician, Li Qui Yang, during his visit to Pakistan in May 2013. This project was finalized and agreed upon on April 20, 2015, with its essence being the connection between Kashghar and Gawadar by building 4 routes interconnected with each other, 2 railway lines, oil & gas pipe lines, airlines and fiber optics, with an estimated budget of $46 billion. Along these trade routes, several economic zones will be built to assist pumping up their produce precipitating into an unprecedented economic boom in Pakistan. The total investment in this venture is the 20% of Pakistan’s annual Gross Domestic Product and 90% of it will be paid by China.
CPEC will reduce China’s distance to the Persian Gulf from 16,000 km to only 2,600 km, and will also provide a comparatively much safer passage as well. Experts speculate that with this modern Silk Route, Asia will have unprecedented economic benefits from trade with Europe and Africa. It will act as the bloodline of the largest population centric regions of the world, the gigantic market of Asia, which in return will strengthen Pakistan as its focal point.
Most importantly, CPEC will yield tremendous amounts of fruit for Pakistan. It is expected to generate a large pool of employment throughout Pakistan, bringing economic well-being to various parts of the nation. The most important part of the project is that it will help to end the sense of inferiority prevailing in some regions, and will foster a brotherly attitude in Baluchistan; Baluchistan will have a 38% share and Punjab will have a 25% share. 11 of the economic zones will be situated in Baluchistan, which will provide a better and modernized living standard, and this will eradicate poverty that is prevalent in the province, which in return will help derail any hostile sentiments, eliminate insurgency and develop a sense of trust towards the federal centre.
Chinese investors are acquiring lands near Gawadar to develop industrial zones. CPEC will also assist the flow of minerals like oil, natural gas, copper, gold and precious stones from Baluchistan. Gawadar International Airport and the nationwide roads and railways network will connect under-developed areas with developed areas, which will ultimately contribute to their growth.
The power development projects will cover the energy shortfalls in Pakistan, provide much more than the growth in demand as well as suffice newly developing industrial zones. This will aid every sector to progress.
CPEC will directly link Kashghar to the Indian Ocean. China spends $18 million daily on importing 6.3 million barrels of crude oil from the Middle East. Furthermore, China meets 80% of its needs from the Straits of Malacca, which runs at a distance (from Middle East to China) of nearly 15,952 km. With the development of the economic corridor, China’s expenses will be reduced by almost 33%, the distance travelled will be reduced to 5,836 km from Central China and 3,693 km from Western China to the Middle East. The distance from Europe to Western China will be reduced from 30,790 km to only 15,445 km; and to Central China, from 28,679 km to only 17,558 km. The same factor will influence China’s trade with Africa as well.
On another note, success always comes at the peril of making enemies. When great powers are aligning themselves with the pleasant breeze of CPEC, one can see the few unfortunate ones standing against it. As has always been clear in Pakistan’s situation, the country standing to lose the most by this Pak-China collaborative effort will be India. If we put the future in perspective, we can see that it is NATO which is teaming up with India and her allies (Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bahamas, Solomon Islands, etc.) against the CPEC and the China-Pakistan front.
The rivalry is but natural as Pak-China strategic ties will diminish India’s prospect of dominance in the Indian Ocean and by the time Gawadar Port is completely operational. It will ensure relief for Pakistan’s Navy and cargo merchants from Indian espionage and its range, so that past vulnerabilities would not be a matter of concern anymore. It’s noteworthy to mention that India had blocked 95% of Pakistan’s trade in 1971. All the ports up till Karachi are in the range of 100 km from the Indian sea territory, but Gawadar stands 400 km away giving it a secure vantage point. This will end India’s desire for supremacy in the Arabian Sea.
While evaluating the whole act, one should also keep an eye on the flip side of it. Americans querulously want to contain China. They have done this successfully with the same wit when they were facing Russia and are looking forward to repeat the same story, but the only problem is that this time around CENTCOM requires more logistic cushion, which is where the Iranians and Chabahar come into play.
Though the Iranians have expressed interest to come on-board CPEC, they might just be playing on both sides. Chabahar has always been promoted by the Indo-Iranian duo as an alternate to Gwadar, and the Indian emphasis along with Afghanistan on this question is quite interesting.
A joint Indo-Iran venture to “compete” and “neutralize” Gwadar is designed and directed to restrict China, and subsequently jolt Pakistan’s frame of interest, a compulsive win-win situation for India and the US.
Additionally, America is continuously struggling to increase its dominance in East and South-East Asia. This is especially in the islands of the Philippines, where the presence of numerous American military bases poses a grave threat to Chinese trade routes in the region.
Through CPEC, China will no longer have to worry about the Americans as it will provide a direct supply line. In case war breaks out in the Straits of Malaka, Gawadar will provide China the safest passage for all of its trade through Pakistan. It will ensure China’s better stance in the Straits of Harmuz as compared to America. As already mentioned, the Straits of Harmuz is the channel that facilitates 40% of the world’s total oil supply, which will also have Iranian oil added to it as well. If China only imports 50% of its oil supply from CPEC, it will save $6 million daily and more than $2 billion annually. Another benefit China will reap from CPEC – since half of its exports are from Western China is a tremendous reduction in its transportation charges.
Commercial growth of China in the Far East, Africa and even in South America, with Pakistan in the nexus as being the principal beneficiary of CPEC (which was supposed to go down after what it has been put through over the last decade) has raised a lot of eyebrows at Wall Street and the Pentagon. At the same time, Chinese motives and objectives near the South China Sea are stronger and challenging than ever for the Americans, and their ambitious expansion to central Asia via Gwadar through CPEC will prove to be even more worrisome to America.
Building CPEC is just the start, the actual journey lies next. It will be a continuous struggle, but hopefully with positive intent Pakistanis will reach their destiny, In’Sha’Allah. What game will be played in the future is yet to be seen, but one thing is for sure; CPEC undoubtedly is a game changer.