Strengthening relations and sustaining development
In recent years, Chinese influence has globally risen despite considerable inertia from regional counterparts as well as world powers that actively pursue a policy of containment in terms of China’s influence in the region. As part of its strategies in other parts of Asia, China has expanded its influence principally through its economic power and vision regarding regional connectivity and increasing trade that ultimately helps this super power to emerge as an alternative to the Europe and the United States. Much to the anticipation of Pakistan, China has initiated a joined development project – China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Among the most prominent and highlighted projects includes the strategically located Gwadar port. A key development as it places Balochistan’s deep water port of Gwadar on the matrix of intense geo-strategic competition; it serves as an important alternative to other ports in the region.
When fully functional, it has the potential to benefit many neighbouring and landlocked countries in the region in one way or the other. It is apparent that Pakistan and China will gain a great deal from this major development project. However, the real question to ponder over is how it impacts key global players, like Iran, India and the United Arab Emirates. With the Gwadar port becoming the international hub for global shipments; apparently things don’t seem favorable for rival Iran’s Chabahar port which currently serves as the main source for connecting landlocked Asian and South Asian countries like Afghanistan and Russia with the rest of the world. In much the same way, the Gwadar port has the potential to challenge the interests and profitability of the port of Dubai which happens to be the largest and busiest port in the Arabian Sea. Situated at a juncture that gives the Gwadar port an advantage from a defense perspective, it simultaneously makes it significant both geographically and strategically as well. More specifically, the port has the potential to challenge regional players such as India.
However, setting aside international players for a moment, development projects promoting regional connectivity tend to have a positive spillover effect on the overall economy of the countries involved. It has been said that if the Gwadar port becomes the bridge between the engines of growth, it will be able to carve out a large economic bloc and cater to about 3 billion people. With the successful completion of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will serve as a global hub connecting trade routes both regionally and internationally. Operational speaking, unfortunately CPEC has been facing certain setbacks that have slowed down its progress. These include the controversy over the routes that are to be established and adopted. Furthermore, it has been argued that CPEC will deprive a major portion of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and FATA provinces of an opportunity of development, business and jobs.
The dilemma with such a large scale development framework is that in general, it is often deemed as economic since key initiatives aim to help boost economic growth; overlooking its social implications. With human security emerging as a new people centric approach to development, it would be logical to suggest conducting a comprehensive human development analysis for CPEC. Doing so will provide a better understanding of how the local people are socio-economically affected by the growth and expansion projects running through their respective areas. Moreover, by conducting a large scale conflict analysis of the various zones in question that fall under CPEC, problem areas can easily be identified which would allow for the establishment of mitigation plans for the purpose of addressing the crises and potentially reverse the hurdles, ultimately giving momentum to the project.
It is quite unfortunate that Pakistanis generally appear to hold sentiments of a pervasive uncertainty and cynicism towards the successful completion of this China-Pakistan initiative. In order to address this underlying issue, adopting an effective communication strategy just may be the answer. Although the route to be adopted was unanimously agreed, by all political stakeholders at a recent All Party Conference (APC), skeptics of the Northern Area are finding it hard to accept that CPEC holds an all encompassing inclusive roadmap and argue that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and KP are excluded from the country’s development plans. It has been mentioned time and again that in order to effectively achieve development, peace is a vital component. Hence it is believed that in order to win over the hearts and minds of the mass public there is a need to develop and implement an effective engagement plan.
It is essential to build unity in a collaborative, inclusive and holistic development approach, reducing both the existing and potential communication and information loopholes between the provincial governing bodies or agencies and the common man. The key is to utilise all available tools of communication to reach out to the general public. This can be done by reaching out to the influential members within the identified zones that fall under CPEC. These influential leaders of society will be able to facilitate local development through participation and engagement of communities. As a result, this will reduce or eliminate sentiments of being socially and economically marginalized; especially for those members of society residing in the relatively less developed regions of Pakistan. Promoting a culture of transparency will ultimately help build sustainable socio-economic development.
Having been allegedly termed a ‘fate changer’, CPEC aims to not only benefit Pakistan and China but the entire region of South Asia. Although a great deal of challenges is being identified along the way, Pakistan is resilient if nothing and continues to overcome them, but only time will tell when this large scale development plan will become a reality.
China and Pakistan | Uzma Cheema