The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has held hope for the people of Pakistan but also has given rise to fallacies created by conscientious objectors and detractors who grudge Pakistan’s progress. The government and some independent analyst have bent over backwards to allay doubts regarding the mega project. They have also explained its various dimensions, which somehow have been overlooked by a few fickle minded people. Clarity must be brought towards the key dimensions of the project and to appreciate its significance not only for Pakistan but also for the whole region.
There is evidence available that India has been sending agent provocateurs to sabotage and derail the CPEC. The arrest and subsequent confessions of senior RAW operative Kulbhoshan Jadhav are clear proof of India’s machinations. The misfortune is that in its bid to spite Pakistan and deprive it from reaping the fruits of the multidimensional project, India is also denying its own citizens from taking advantage of CPEC and bring prosperity to its teeming millions, a majority of whom are forced to exist below the poverty line.
CPEC is not just a corridor or highway but a plan which encompasses numerous development projects. The projects have been designed in a manner that the entire region can benefit from them. They provide investment as well as employment opportunities and more importantly, enhance the quality of life.
The first phase of the economic corridor is focused on the “Early Harvest” scheme of the CPEC, which will be completed by December 2017. It will bring transformational change by solving the problems of energy and infrastructure sector. In this phase, the road connectivity would also be completed to interconnect not only all the provinces but also the entire expanse.
Second phase of the CPEC envisages the construction of cross-border optical fibre cable system between China and Pakistan; textile garments industrial park projects in Pakistan; numerous ventures in the energy sector yielding power from various sources comprising hydel, coal, wind, solar and nuclear, entailing the development of coal mining projects, construction of dams and the installation of nuclear reactors; besides creating a network of roads, railway lines and oil and gas pipelines. Agreements have been made to construct a new airport, Eastbay Expressway, fully equipped hospital, technical & vocational training institute, water supply and distribution, infrastructure for free-zone & export processing zones, port related industries, refineries, and marine works.
The third phase of CPEC mostly comprises major upgrades to Pakistan’s ageing railway system, including rebuilding of the entire Main Line 1 railway between Karachi and Peshawar by 2020; this single railway currently handles 70% of Pakistan Railways traffic. In addition to the Main Line 1 railway, upgrades and expansions are slated for the Main Line 2 railway, Main Line 3 railway. The CPEC plan also calls for completion of a rail link over the 4,693-meter high Khunjerab Pass. The railway will provide direct access for Chinese and East Asian goods to Pakistani seaports at Karachi and Gawadar by 2030.
In the fourth phase, longer term projects under CPEC call for construction of the 682 kilometre long Khunjerab Railway line from the city of Havelian to the Khunjerab Pass on the Chinese border, with extension to China’s Lanxin Railway in Kashgar, Xinjiang. The railway will roughly parallel the Karakorum Highway, and is expected to be complete in 2030.
It would be pragmatic for India to consider the pros and cons of joining OBOR and CPEC rather than opposing it blindly. If it comes on board, its masses can accrue the benefits while India will have a say in the process of prioritising the projects as well as ascertain its transparency, which it has been crying hoarse against.
Recently, a seminar titled ‘China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – Rhythm of Progress’ was organised by Sahafi Welfare Association Karachi. It was a prudent and timely initiative since the speakers, who comprised mostly the business community, laid emphasis on Afghanistan, India and other neighbouring countries to join the project as they can ensue benefit from this multi-billion project. Experts expressing their views in the seminar opined that Pakistan would become the twenty-fifth world economy in the next 15 to 20 years owing to the CPEC. Gawadar Port, which is a gateway to the CPEC, would become a global distribution centre. Being a deep sea port, Gawadar has the capacity for establishing a major ship repair and maintenance centre.
A major advantage of CPEC is that it is not only going to alleviate Pakistan’s energy shortage issues but also enable it to generate surplus energy which can be supplied to energy starved India.
Beyond the initial phase, there are plans to establish Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in the Corridor where Chinese companies will locate factories. Extensive manufacturing collaboration between the two neighbours will include a wide range of products from cheap toys and textiles to consumer electronics and supersonic fighter planes. The basic idea of an industrial corridor is to develop a sound industrial base, served by competitive infrastructure is a prerequisite for attracting investments into export oriented industries and manufacturing. Such industries have helped succession of countries like Indonesia, Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, South Korea, and Taiwan, China and now even Vietnam rise from low-cost manufacturing base to more advanced high-end exports.
As a country’s labour gets too expensive to be used to produce low-value products, some poorer country takes over and starts the climb to prosperity. Once completed, the CPEC with a sound industrial base and competitive infrastructure combined with low labour costs is expected to draw growing FDI from manufacturers in many other countries looking for a low-cost location to build products for exports to rich (The organisation for economic cooperation and development) OECD nations.
Borrowing the concept from corporate China, the establishment of SEZs along the CPEC where Chinese factories will be located is likely to boost the manufacturing sector. The idea of SEZs has already been a successful phenomenon, besides China, in Japan, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam where low-cost manufacturing provides the impetus to the production of high-end exports; thus it is expected that this time-tested methodology will bear fruit in Pakistan as a success story.
Another important sector, Agricultural development is one of the seven areas of cooperation under CPEC, wherein China is specifically interested to explore areas like cotton productivity, efficient irrigation and post-harvest infrastructure along the CPEC route. CPEC provides Pakistan a unique opportunity to enhance its agriculture exports to China and benefit its agro based economy.