In the context of globalisation, connectivity, diplomacy and trade do not stand-alone; rather are part of a comprehensive concept. If the political and territorial disputes are settled, only then can borders become a source of flow and not obstruction. Here, connectivity and mobility are essential contributors towards prosperity and wellbeing of the people, where Pakistan is well on its way to improving intra-city and inter-city connectivity and mobility within the country as well as with its neighbouring countries.
The completion of trans-border projects shall ensure Pakistan’s connectivity to Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey and Central Asia, ensuring speedy movement of personnel, goods and services between these countries. This coupled with three alignments of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), would result in qualitative up-gradation of Pakistan’s land connectivity related infrastructure. The CPEC provides a unique opportunity for Pakistan to boost its strategic and economic position, where projects and associated economic development ventures are expected to generate millions of direct and indirect jobs. As a result, within a decade or so, there would be significant change in the patterns of personnel and goods movement, quality of services would improve significantly, new trade flow patterns and economic profiles would emerge and glimpses of peoples’ prosperity shall be in sight.
Pakistan also stands committed to enhance Regional connectivity in the SAARC region, where the 18th SAARC Heads of State and Government Summit, considered three draft agreements to promote regional prosperity in South Asian region. While the agreement on Energy Cooperation was signed during the summit, the other two agreements on motor vehicles and Railways could not be signed due to legal and technical deficiencies, with Pakistan taking the position of not signing the agreements in haste. The two agreements for regional connectivity are under discussion since 2007, yet prior completion of legal and procedural requirements as enshrined under the SAARC charter were not completed before submitting the agreements before the 18th Summit. The summit declaration stated that: “SAARC Heads of State/ Government welcomed the significant progress towards finalization of the SAARC Motor Vehicles Agreement and SAARC Regional Railways Agreement and agreed to hold a Meeting of the Transport Ministers within three months in order to finalize the Agreements for approval”. Given the far-reaching implications of these agreements, the government of Pakistan is actively pursuing these agreements to enhance regional connectivity in SAARC region in a seamless manner.
Pakistan has also announced the construction of two motorways and inter- province connectivity projects, connecting Pakistan with Central Asia. The Prime Minister recently told the National Assembly that the Gwadar-Termez motorway will connect Gwadar to Central Asia, as Termez lies between Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. From Gwadar, this 650 km road which meets Chaman will be completed by 2016. The route from Termez to Mazar-i-Sharif, will go to Chaman vain Kandahar. As this project will finish, Balochistan will be better connected to areas near it, and Quetta will stand connected to the rest of the country as well as the Central Asian region by road. The motorway from Peshawar to Torkham and then to Jalalabad is also under construction and would be completed very soon, where it will connect with Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif and Termez, with Pakistan having two routes to access Central Asia.
The federal and provincial governments are undertaking large projects for roads and communication in Pakistan, where these will connect the whole country and each province to one another. These projects will go a long way in forging national unity due to a better means of interacting with people. The federal government has promised at least Rs 22.5 billion in development funds for connectivity related projects in Karachi, such as The Green Line project, costing at least Rs 20-25 billion, easing the mobility of people in Karachi. The Lahore Metro Bus, another project, was built through provincial government funds. Work on the Karachi-Hyderabad Motorway is under way, where it would connect Karachi and Hyderabad to Lahore.
During the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan, the two countries signed 51 Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) and agreements, worth about $46 billion. This wholesome spectrum covers everything from energy to key elements of infrastructure development, including roads, highways, port facilities, airports and communication links. The Gwadar-Kashgar road link is an important portion of Chinese vision of “One Road One Belt” (OBOR), connecting three continents of Asia, Africa and Europe, and aimed at connecting Pacific with Atlantic. This strip has a pivotal role in connecting the maritime and land components of the 21st Century Silk Route, where concessional Chinese loans will help finance the upgrading of a number of key highways of Pakistan and development of a deep sea port at Gwadar.
Materialization of CPEC has the potential to transform Pakistan into a regional hub for trade and investment boasting infrastructure. It will go a long way in reversing the country’s fortunes, which have been held back for years by a dilapidated infrastructure base. This corridor will benefit all provinces and areas in Pakistan, specially focusing on underdeveloped areas. It will also enable China to create a much shorter and cheaper route for trade and investment in south, central and west Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
Since President Xi Jinping put forward the “Silk Road Economic Belt” initiative and “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” strategic belt, China has accelerated the pace of implementing the concept. BCIM has been included in the recently released vision and proposed actions have been outlined on jointly building the belt and road. However, putting this vision into action needs collective will and perseverance, even though full implementation of all these projects may be a few decades away. Nevertheless, owing to nation-wide political consensus, Gwadar-Kashgar component of the broader vision is likely to materialise sooner than expected. This would provide China the shortest access to a deep sea port and would also offset the pressures related to stirs in South China Sea, diminishing the chances of any conflict in that region.
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 their 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 soft power projections, ultimately with a vision regarding regional connectivity and increasing trade that would help China to emerge as an alternative to the Europe and the United States. Pakistan is poised to gain from regional connectivity programmes, for which it should continue to consolidate the political consensus to be part of these projects and improve law and order, especially in the areas through which these connectivity arteries are planning to pass.
Pakistan’s Connectivity Ventures | K. Iqbal