CPEC as Game Changer in South Asia

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a multibillion mega development project which will connect Kasghar in China with Gwadar port in Pakistan through a network of roadways, railways, pipelines and energy infrastructures. CPEC is a network of 3000 KM road and railway connecting Kasghar in North Western China with Gwadar Port of Pakistan situated in Balochistan. The mega project is actually a collection of many projects which will cost China $46 billion, out of which the USD 34 billion are allocated to energy sector and 11 billion for communication and infrastructure. CPEC is a priority part of “One Belt, One Road Vision” of China which is development strategy and framework of roads, railways, oil & gas pipelines and sea routes stretching from China to Central Asia, South Asia, Middle East, Africa and Europe.

The importance of CPEC lies in the prime geo-strategic location of deep sea Gwadar Port lying at the mouth of Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz which is world energy jugular. This project will bring huge investment to Pakistan that will boost its infrastructure and will uplift its economy and trade. The project has the potential to economically integrate Balochistan province and curb terrorism and provide better maritime security of Pakistani waters. Once the project is developed, Pakistan can act as a gate of trade to all landlocked Central Asian Republics, Afghanistan and even Russia.

Security will be a major challenge for Pakistan as CPEC passes through Pakistan’s most vulnerable province of Balochistan. Terrorism in Balochistan and Uyghur movement in China will pose a challenge to CPEC. However, security situation is improving due to presence of Pakistan army in the region. Secondly, Pakistan has to fight internal political chaos over CPEC project i.e. route controversy, political deadlock and concerns of smaller provinces to avoid Kalabagh Dam like situation. The vastness of the project itself is a challenge in terms of funds and time period. Under the ideal situation, CPEC will be completed by 2030 in all respects. It is hoped that this dream comes true.

CPEC will reduce distance between Kasghar and North Arabian Sea from approximately 14,500 km route from Indian Ocean to Shinghai Port to a mere 3400 km. China will secure its energy supplies and get rid of Indo-US patrolled Indian Ocean and Strait of Malacca for oil tankers and other trade goods from Arabian Sea to Western China. Also, China will be in an advantageous position geo-strategically at Gwadar for its pursuit of sea power in line with the Mahanian theory. China’s policies are still economic but America will never like China to be the master of the oceans. China will be having access of every kind in the Indian Ocean and strategically well placed after CPEC in the region. China-Pakistan alliance against Indo-American entente in Indian Ocean changes the shape of entire region’s geo-politics. It will be important if Chinese Navy is allowed to be stationed in Gwadar in future by Pakistan to counter Indo-US entente in Indian Ocean. Critics argue that China is pursuing its “String of Pearls” strategy and Gwadar is a key pearl. China is surely preempting and defending itself from US encirclement which played key role in the disintegration of USSR.

CPEC will have many Special Economic Zones on its way from Gwadar to Kashghar. This mega development programme will transform Pakistan into a trade corridor and gateway for South Asian trade with rest of the world. Economy of Pakistan will boost with huge infrastructure development and energy projects along the route of CPEC. Pakistan needed a more trustworthy strategic partner in the region in the wake of growing Indo-US ties. Indo-US ties in the last decade had put Pakistan out of the equation in the region. Through CPEC, Pakistan has been able to balance the power in the region. Also, warming up of relations between Pakistan and Russia on the sidelines of CPEC project gives rise to future possibilities of China-Pakistan-Russia axis to counter Indo-US entente in the region.

All the South Asian states Pakistan, China, Afghanistan, India including Iran, CARs and even Russia can benefit from CPEC project. China needs energy from Gulf and Iran. Moreover, Iran is eager to export energy to China. India can also benefit from CPEC for energy import from Iran. There can be more possibilities of trade and co-operation in the region if the states come out of the security dilemma and work together for mutual benefit. Economic interdependence of countries will increase on each other after CPEC which will reduce chances of war, border skirmishes and will lead to perpetual peace due to economic interests of states being embedded together by CPEC. CPEC will integrate whole South Asia into economic interdependence and will prove to be a game changer by the virtue of geo-political and geo-strategic shifts in the region.

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