In 2013, China disclosed the world with its dream to revive the Ancient Silk Road by undertaking massive infrastructure projects and adding value to ports around the Silk Road. The Chinese named it One Belt One Road (OBOR), which is known as Yídàiyílù in Chinese. This project has one overland module known as the Silk Road Economic Belt, while the other maritime section, titled as the Maritime Silk Road. OBOR is aimed to incorporate China with the rest of Asia, Europe and Africa, and in the process, build infrastructure across these regions to boost economic growth of the region and definitely create a win-win situation for China along with the participants in the project. China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), an essential component of OBOR termed as a “Game Changer” for Pakistan is not only the pivot of China-Pakistan politico-economic relations, but holds similar promise for the region and beyond. China and Pakistan enjoys close strategic partnership based on mutual interests. The two ‘Iron brothers’ also enjoy a ‘shared destiny’ with close political, diplomatic, defence and cultural ties. CPEC is a comprehensive development program that requires the linking of Gwadar Port to China’s north-western region of Xinjiang through highways, railways, oil and gas pipelines, and an optical fibre link. While the project offers enormous opportunities to Pakistan such as economic prosperity, socio-economic uplift of general population and under developed areas, there are also few challenges attached to it. Therefore, now it’s important that the Government of Pakistan should adopt prudent and far-sighted policies and strategies to accumulate maximum benefits.
The foremost opportunity linked with CPEC, which is claimed as fate changer, is the economic boost and increased flow of Foreign Direct Investments. China has invested in Pakistan massively, than any other country and the renowned British economist, Jims O Neil, has also predicted the emerging of Pakistan as the 18th global economy with US$ 3.3 trillion GDP by 2050. Apart from infrastructure development, there is a hope for socio-economic uplift of the region. Operationalization of Gwadar Port will not only provide vibrant maritime sector to Pakistan but load on Karachi Port will also be minimalized.
Apart from prospects, this CPEC venture has challenges also. Pakistan has had roller coaster relations with US and despite impediments, a balanced policy came up from Pakistani side aalways. As Pakistan enhances its strategic partnership with China, it must keep a balance in relations with US and China. It can also act as a bridge between US and China to soften uneasy relations. The present situation of Pakistan’s economy and future scenarios are also important to execute the CPEC on fast track. At present, Pakistan’s economic outlook, although not so bright, is showing improvement. Its GDP growth is steady at 4.24%, yet it must grow at a minimum rate of 7% to achieve its economic requirements. Reaching and sustaining this growth target would be a challenge for Pakistan, failure to which may have negative impacts on timely completion of CPEC projects.
For India, CPEC means that China will have the upper hand in the Arabian Sea as it will have complete control over the Straits of Hormuz through Gwadar Port. Therefore, since the signing of CPEC’s projects, India has been trying to sabotage the prospects of CPEC through its proxies and intelligence operations. Oppositions from other competing stake holders like UAE, Iran, Oman & Qatar cannot be ruled out as well. Despite the positive outlook of the CPEC, we also need to understand the potentially long run negative impact it may have on Pakistan’s industrial sector. If a pro-active approach is not adopted by Pakistan, there is a likelihood that cheaper Chinese goods would flood Pakistan’s markets more rapidly, which will potentially slow down or negatively affect the local industry. Though the apprehensions of political parties have been addressed by the government yet it would be wise for the government to keep all political parties onboard and abreast of all developments on CPEC to have their unflinching support.
There are many frontward options available for Pakistan like engagement of CARs, Iran and India for CPEC to flourish. Security of other projects running in the country can be improved with help of private sector and local populace which must receive duly benefits of this project. The CPEC will greatly inherit the benefits as well as the dividends from the overall Chinese dream. This plan envisions Pakistan’s socio-economic development through a stabilised GDP, improved FDI flows, export promotion, poverty alleviation, generation of employment and skilled labour force. However, in order to fully reap these benefits, the government of Pakistan will have to take account of challenges in order to make ‘One Belt, One Road’ vision worthwhile.