The development of $47 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) allows China the access to energy-rich Middle East and Central Asia. The CPEC is actually the part of the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, a game changer project, proposed by China’s President Xi Jinping in 2013. China’s ambitious OBOR program is not merely a way of reviving ancient trade links between Asia and Europe but it is likely to have massive economic and geo–political impact on various regions in Asia and Europe. In South Asia, the OBOR is in execution stage in the shape of CPEC.
In May 2017, China declared the status of the CPEC as the ‘flagship program’ of its OBOR initiative during the first Belt and Road Forum (BRF) meeting in Beijing. China’s OBOR vision extends from the Baltics in Europe to Southeast Asia and from China to Africa. The OBOR initiative involves over $3 trillion spending by China in the next several decades on infrastructure development in more than 60 countries. It is not only an economic stimulus for China’s economy but it is also a serious effort on the part of China to raise its international standing. China is eager to expand OBOR into a major trade and development initiative instead of restricting it to infrastructure development. During the Belt and Road Forum meeting in May this year, Beijing offered funds for poverty eradication and health centers in developing countries besides allocating money for infrastructure construction. Critics, however, contend that a major part of assistance would go to the projects that provide construction and machinery supply opportunities to Chinese companies.
With Russia’s growing interest in joining CPEC, some international observers see the emergence of a superpower triangle of nuclear-armed Russia, China and Pakistan with an aim to end the US-controlled unipolar world order. Geopolitically, the CPEC is viewed by some observers as a tool to challenge the US status of sole superpower and its global dominance. CPEC is bound to raise Pakistan’s status as a major power in Asia. To some observers, China is covertly working on a plan to connect Europe, the Arab world and Africa with the Russia — and China-dominated Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The strategic partnership of Russia and China continues to deepen as both are the members of BRICS and the SCO. The China’s OBOR initiative will further enhance their strategic and economic cooperation through a broader Eurasian partnership.
Pakistan has already submitted its full membership application to the SCO. A superpower triangle perception strengthens after Pakistan’s approval of a Russian request for using the Gwadar Port for its exports. Russia, China and Pakistan will come closer if Russia joins the CPEC, which is a part of OBOR. Certainly emergence of a superpower triangle of Russia, China and Pakistan will go against the strategic interests of the US and the India.
India strongly opposes the CPEC and the projects under CPEC on the ground that it goes through the Kunjerab pass and the Karakoram Highway in Gilgit-Baltistan, a part of disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. India calls the CPEC passing through Gilgit-Baltistan territory as an infringement of sovereignty. India’s opposition is, however, baseless because CPEC is a commercial venture that does not target India. India is actually opposed to the China’s OBOR initiative as a whole and views it as colonial enterprise. India is the only major country to refuse participation in the ambitious Belt and Road Forum meeting hosted by China in May 2017.
Islamabad has been accusing India of using Afghanistan soil to fight a proxy war against Pakistan by sponsoring terror attacks inside it. The capture last year of Kulbushan Jadhav, a serving Indian naval intelligence officer and a top agent of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) from Balochistan raises questions: Is India engaged in a proxy war to destabilize Pakistan through its presence in Afghanistan and Iran bordering Balochistan? Afghanistan is in virtual control of the US and it is not possible that the US is not aware of India’s anti-Pakistan activities. The US is apparently in alliance with Pakistan in war on terror, but actually it is allied with India.
Under the CPEC, the development of road and rail links between the two provinces, Balochistan and Xinjiang, will give distinction to Gwadar port of becoming the gateway port for western China. Rail link will transfer goods to and from western China, changing it from a remote region into a station that will transfer goods and commodities worth billions of dollars every year.
China has already declared Kashgar, an important transit point on the ancient Silk Route and a gateway between China and Pakistan, as Special Economic Zone (SEZ). The proposed Kashgar SEZ would develop Xinjiang into a major trading hub and more energy and economic integration with South and Central Asia. The SEZs in Gwadar and Kashgar and the rail and road connectivity between the two proposed SEZs would have great economic, political and strategic implications for the whole region.
China and Pakistan are connected with the Karakoram Highway, which is a part of the silk route that links China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey. While addressing a gathering of students and academics in Beijing, the former President Pervez Musharraf in April 2008 had first floated the idea of building gas and oil pipelines between Pakistan and China. He suggested the gas pipeline from Pakistan’s south to the Khunjerab Pass, linking the two countries, would be raised till it crossed the Pass at 15,000 feet, thereafter more than half of the length would be in descent. He proposed that gas pipeline between Iran and Pakistan could be expanded to China. A year after the Musharraf’s proposal, Beijing showed interest to import about one billion cubic feet a day through the proposed Iran-Pakistan-China (IPC).