|A policeman stands guard next to giant portraits of Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain, China's President Xi Jinping and Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ahead of Xi Jinping's visit to Islamabad | Reuters
China has emerged as an economic force to be reckoned with in the 21st century. The largest exporting nation of the world and its second-biggest economy, it boasts the remarkable achievement of registering a 17-fold increase in its GDP per capita between 1980 and 2014, and lifting more than 800 million citizens out of poverty, a feat unprecedented in human history. Not very long ago, in 1980, the per capita income of China was lower than that of both India and Pakistan.
In light of its emergence as a leading economic power, China has also taken the lead in assisting other developing countries through investment, financial aid and building infrastructure. In Africa, China has emerged as the number one official donor. President Xi Jinping has embarked upon the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative that, stretching into South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Europe through Central Asia, will link China to the rest of the world through new roads, railways, ports and gas pipelines. More recently, it established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), constituted to provide concessional loans for the infrastructure needs of developing countries.
It is in this larger context that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has to be examined. Any other country would have been thrilled at the prospects of an investment of such large magnitude, which – provided it is successfully implemented – can completely change the economic landscape of Pakistan. But our national psyche of cynicism, deep suspicion and negativity has given rise to doubts over this programme — even when its success depends very much on the consensus, commitment, continuity and collaboration of political parties, all tiers of government, public and private sector organisations, civil society and the military. Let me elaborate this point.
|A proposed map of the China-Pak Economic Corridor | Planning Commission of Pakistan
First, the entire investment programme will take at least 15 to 20 years to be completed; therefore, uninterrupted and continuous implementation of its constituent projects is imperative. If it is perceived narrowly as a project sponsored solely by the Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz, rather than a national project, it is bound to fail.
Second, the financing for these projects will be two-pronged. About 34 billion US dollars worth of projects will be direct foreign investment by Chinese companies; there will be no debt burden on Pakistan. The other 12 billion dollars will be concessional government-to-government loans whose terms are yet to be negotiated.
Third, the Gwadar-Kashgar motorway will follow three different routes. According to the phasing and sequencing, the Gwadar-Sukkur motorway connecting to the National Highway will be the first route to be completed. But the maximum benefits of this network will only be derived when the other two proposed motorways traverse through areas of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, opening up many backward districts and linking them to the rest of the country.
Any other country would have been thrilled at the prospects of an investment of such large magnitude, which – provided it is successfully implemented – can completely change the economic landscape of Pakistan.
It is gratifying to note that, at the recent all parties conference, a consensus has been reached among all political parties on the motorway route and priority will be given to the western route connecting Gwadar with Khunjerab Pass through Kalat, Quetta, Zhob and Dera Ismail Khan. A working group consisting of provincial representatives has also been formed to monitor the progress of the CPEC. Had these initiatives and understandings been reached before the agreements were signed, we would have avoided the unnecessary political controversy and agitation witnessed in the last few weeks.
Strategically, the CPEC will certainly raise a few eyebrows among those competing for influence in the region, those trying to contain the growing power of China and those keen to see Pakistan continue sliding down a path of continuous instability. The best response to address these challenges is to implement the National Action Plan (NAP) in true letter and spirit and create conditions that would lead to political stability and economic growth internally. Pakistan has suffered a great deal economically, socially and emotionally. The CPEC provides an opportunity to change that course and build a strong, interconnected, integrated nation where all segments of population benefit equally from stability and growth.
The CPEC map has been updated with the official map provided by the Planning Commission of Pakistan.