The political and military leadership of Pakistan is absolutely clear about the importance of the China-Pakistan Energy Corridor (CPEC) vital for the development of the country as well as the region.
The Chief of Army Staff visited Balochistan on July 25, where he was briefed about the prevailing law and order situation in the province. While inaugurating a section of roads network being built by the Frontier Works Organization, General Raheel Sharif reiterated that the strategic port of Gwadar and the CPEC projects will be completed at all costs. "All the hurdles in the way of the project will be removed", he firmly declared.
No doubt, such an infrastructure development provides a sound basis for Pakistan's road to economic prosperity. Originally conceived during the Musharraf regime — to connect Gwadar with Chinese Western province Xinjiang through the Karakoram Highway — it has now finally become a reality. During the historic visit of the Chinese president to Pakistan in April this year, a total of 51 MoUs (Memorandums of Understanding) worth $46billion were signed under the master project of CPEC. It consists of a network of highways, railways and power generation projects.
At strategic plane, the CPEC will accrue great dividends for China. It will provide China direct access to the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea, the Gulf States and Africa. China requires increasing energy to sustain its huge industry and 60% of its energy supplies pass through the Strait of Malacca and 80 percent of its total supplies ultimately pass through the South China Sea, home to the disputed Spratly Islands.
With the US shifting its focus to the Asia-Pacific and its growing relationship with India as a strategic partner to counter China in the region, the chances of a sea blockade of the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea to coerce China to agree to American terms cannot be ruled out. Iran has also shown its interest to supply gas to China through pipelines being laid under the umbrella of the CPEC. It will help China in developing its neglected and under-developed western region and in further broadening the base of the economy to help sustain its graph of the economic growth.
The infrastructure development in Xinjiang province will also facilitate in linking China to the Central Asian States to tap their natural resources. Of course $46billion lending for the project will also bring attractive business to the Chinese banking sector. And last, but not least, with the possession of Gwadar Port rights for the next 40 years, China will make a strategic addition to the "String of Pearls" in the Indian Ocean, thereby reducing American influence. The CPEC is, therefore, a signal success for Chinese strategic planners.
For Pakistan, it will be a game-changer as well as fate-changer. Gwadar will be developed into a mega seaport and metro-politan city attracting huge investments; it's airport will also be upgraded to international standards. The western route, originating from Gwadar, will essentially pass through the Baloch belt and will bring great business opportunities and resultant economic prosperity to the locals. Similarly, the central route will also pass through the southern Baloch belt and rural Sindh connecting it with the National Highway at Ratodero. The Railways and roads infrastructure from Karachi to Peshawar will also be upgraded. With local participation, the entire length of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) will also witness huge economic and social uplift.
More importantly, two-thirds of the total package i.e. approximately $34billion will be invested to generate much needed energy to bring Pakistan out of loadshedding and restart it's industry, lying idle for the want of energy. Inbuilt in the project is the actualization of the Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline stalled due to lack of funding and the pressure of the US government. All-in-all, CPEC will generate significant economic activity in all the provinces, including GB, thereby contributing towards economic growth and prosperity. Economic progress will, perforce, strengthen centripetal forces, in provinces with successionist elements, and also promote inter-provincial harmony.
Notwithstanding the huge benefits of the CPEC, there are local, regional and international actors opposed to a strong Pakistan and will make all possible manoeuvers to sabotage and create hurdles in the execution of this mega project. Although the Pakistan government was able to achieve a political consensus on the route, sequence and priority of the infrastructural development, there are, however, non-state actors who can have divergent views and in collaboration with the regional and international players can adversely affect the infrastructural development part of the project.
In Balochistan it could be the BLA, the BNA, Jundullah, LeJ or the TTP; in KPK it could be remnants of the TTP and parochial parties; In Sindh there are parochial parties which can create problems in case of any difference with the central government; in southern Punjab there is a lingering threat by the Punjabi Taliban; and in Gilgit-Baltistan the TTP can instigate and fuel sectarian clashes to derail the project.
A series of terrorist acts in China's Xinjiang province perhaps by the TTP, can also have serious repercussions on the project. India has expressed its intentions openly by opposing the idea, using the contrived argument that a part of the route passes through the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian intelligence agency RAW is already active in Balochistan in supporting anti-state elements and creating security situations in the province to discourage foreign investment.
India is also opposed to development of Gwadar as it has invested heavily in Iran's adjacent Chabahar port for easy access to Afghanistan without passing through Pakistan. India is also aware of the strategic importance of the route for China vis-a-vis the option of interdicting China's supplies through the Indian Ocean or Strait of Malacca. The USA has a similar agenda, in connivance with India, and wants to deny Gwadar port to China. Therefore, it had been exercising its pull on successive Pakistani governments to hand over Gwadar to the Singapore Port Authorities. America has also been opposed to the Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline. So there are multifarious threats to the project.
The governments of China and Pakistan are quite aware of this multidimensional opposition to the mega project. The start point i.e. Gwadar belt and the end point i.e. Gilgit-Khunjerab area are the most vulnerable. There is an urgent need to mobilize all available resources to create an environment conducive to launching of the project. Security is the key to overall success of the CPEC.
Pakistan has therefore raised and equipped a dedicated force to provide security and protection to the Chinese engineers and the workforce. Operation Zarb-e-Azb has been successful in minimizing the threat of the TTP in KPK as the military leadership has hinted at extending the operation to Balochistan area in order to eliminate the terrorists as well as separatists, and establish the writ of the government. The COAS, General Raheel Shareef has recently stated in unequivocal terms, that disruption or sabotage of the CPEC will be dealt with severely .
Beside equipping and training the law enforcement agencies (LEAs), the local leadership and civil administration of every area will have to be made responsible for both the protection of the workforce and that of the infrastructure as part of the National Action Plan. To make it a success story, both the intelligence agencies and LEAs will have to remain vigilant and extend the perimeter of security to meet all threats emanating from the from the enemies of Pakistan, internal or external.