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South Asia

CPEC: Geo-strategic and economic significance

Vahid Pourtajrishi

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Authors: Vahid Pourtajrishi & Tayyebeh Vakilotojar

The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is of prime importance for Pakistan as it can act as the game changer boosting the economic and geopolitical role of Pakistan in the questions of the region.

Roots of China-Pakistan linkages date back to many centuries into the fabled Silk Route connecting the civilizations of India, China, Persia and Europe. Though separated by the formidable mountain ranges of Himalayas and Karakoram, the two regions remained connected through numerous mountainous tracks and routes which not only facilitated trade and travel but also the flow of ideas, culture and religion. Construction of the Karakoram Highway which was completed in 1978 provided all weather links between Pakistan and China, hence, further promoting trade and culture.

The Frontier Works Organization (FWO) is undertaking massive infrastructure development program all over Pakistan and particularly the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).It is constructing a part of the CPEC’s Western Route in Baluchistan and a portion of the Eastern Route besides maintenance of the Karakoram Highway (KKH). Road projects in Baluchistan will link Gwadar Port with Quetta, Chaman and Rattodero at the Indus Highway and bring forth a change in socio-economic dimensions of Baluchistan and Pakistan in general. With the completion of 870 km portion of the road infrastructure developed by FWO, not only people of interior Baluchistan will be benefitted but Gwadar Deep Sea Port would also be linked with Chaman, reducing the distance by nearly 400 km. construction of Lahore-Islamabad and Karachi-Hyderabad Motorways on Built-Operate-Transfer (BOT) basis will facilitate the pace of development to take on the challenges of the CPEC.

Completion of Gwadar Port in 2007

The distance between Gwadar and Kashgar, Xinjiang province (China) is nearly 2,800 KM while the route in Pakistan comes about 2,442 km, comprising highways, energy pipelines and industrial estates stretching from Gwadar to Kashgar through Khunjerab to benefit the economies of the two countries .

According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the project “will provide connection between economic nodes or hubs, centered on urban landscapes, in which large amount of CPEC economic resources. They link the supply and demand sides of markets”.

Communication infrastructure of the CPEC will connect the vast but landlocked Western Chinese region with the Arabian seaport of Gwadar thereby giving it a direct and shorter access to the trade markets of the Middle East and beyond.  FWO, the leading infrastructure development organization of Pakistan, created specifically for the Pakistan-China connectivity through construction of Karakoram Highway five decades back, has a pivotal role to play in implementation of this gigantic and crucial venture.

Two great routes, including the Grand Trunk Road (GT Road) and the Silk Route have served the Indian subcontinent. Link with China through Silk Route was not a single road but a vast network of interconnecting routes that linked the East and the West for nearly two millennia. Karakoram Highway, in 1947, the northern areas were accessible via two routes: the Srinagar Astore-Gilgit mule track and the Kaghan Valley Track over the Babusar Pass and Chilas. After 1948 Kashmir War, the Srinagar Route was denied to Pakistan and the entire northern areas became dependent on the Kaghan Valley Route.

Gwadar is considered to be the gateway to South West and Central Asia. Located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, 624 nautical km to the east of the Strait of Hormuz, Gwadar port has immense strategic significance. The CPEC is a classic manifestation of convergence of geostrategic and geo-economic interests of the two countries bonded in time tested socio-economic and diplomatic relations with absolute trust in each other.

Gwadar Port will not only serve as a shortest route for China’s oil supply but it will also reduce the cost of supplying oil by billions of dollars. Fully functional Gwadar Port connected with China and Central Asia can play a role in the economic revival of Pakistan being located at the crossroads of huge supplying and communicating markets. FWO owes its birth in 1966 to Karakoram Highway. By managing a large work force stretched over inhospitable and harsh mountain ranges for over 887 km, FWO succeeded in carving out the “Eighth Wonder” of the World in 1978.13Today, FWO is a vibrant construction entity of 45,000 professionals equipped with over 5,000 pieces of state of the art construction machinery, stretched all across Pakistan besides venturing overseas.

Maintenance of KKH and Construction of Mansehra Naran-Chilas Road

In 1958, a modest project was initiated to provide a road link between Swat and Gilgit which grew up into a mega highway project when, in 1966.FWO is developing Jalkhad-Babusar-Chilas Road, which has almost been completed. This road is a continuation of the Mansehra-Naran-Jalkhad Road, which is complete and takes in a large volume of traffic during summers.

By end of 2016 would effectively link Gwadar Deep Sea Port with Afghanistan and China. FWO is according top priority to these routes keeping in view the supreme national interest and accordingly almost 60% of its resources have been employed for construction of these road projects. The M-8 Motorway reflects the vision of a progressive Baluchistan.

It is the first highway of the province, which shall be converted into a Motorway connecting Gwadar with the Indus Highway. Eventual alignment of this road will traverse along Gwadar, Turbat, Hoshab, Awaran, Khuzdar and Rattodero. However, the contract agreements were terminated in October 2010 due to adverse security situation as all the contractors expressed their inability CPEC 146 to work.

In 2013, fresh bids were called but only FWO submitted its proposal and the work were awarded to FWO. FWO has undertaken construction of Gwadar–TurbatHoshab and Khuzdar-Shahdadkot segments. The road is sponsored by NHA from PSDP Funding. Construction of Khuzdar-Shahdadkot link is also underway. The Highway is also known as the Gwadar-Quetta link.

According to the scope of work, length of highway is 448 km, carriageway width is 7.3 meters with shoulders of 2.5 meters. Moreover, 15 bridges are to be constructed. The construction work has been divided into four sections: the Hoshab-Panjgur (138 km), Panjgur-Nag (130 km), NagBasima (91 km) and Basima-Surab Section (89 km)

FWO is currently undertaking repair and modernization of Lahore-Islamabad Motorway (M-2) whereas the 4 lane Karachi Hyderabad Super Highway is being upgraded into a 6 lane motorway in its pursuits along the Eastern Route.

Lahore-Islamabad Motorway

Under the Concession Agreement, M-2 has been handed over to FWO in 2014 for concession period of 20 years. Project was inaugurated on 15 December 2014 and work commenced during January 2015 after largest financial close in the history of transportation and communication sector in Pakistan.

Conversion of the existing 4 lane Karachi–Hyderabad Superhighway into a 6 lane Motorway (M-9) has been entrusted to the FWO in 2015 for a concession period of 25 years. FWO is also in the process of bidding for different sections of the Karachi Lahore Motorway.

FWO is working in close harmony with Pakistan Railways for development of ‘Pak-China Dedicated Freight Corridor.’ The Corridor will extend from Karachi and Gwadar to Kashghar and eventually link the regional rail networks in the neighborhood. Oil City and White Oil Pipeline: To meet the strategic needs of Pakistan, besides the huge contemplated and projected requirements of the CPEC, an Oil Village with a capacity of 50,000 MT on Build-Own-Operate (BOO) basis and connecting it with White Oil Pipeline is being planned. Another mega initiative is Gwadar-Kashgar Cross Country Oil Pipeline with 400,000 MT storage facilities.

Economic Development Plan along Major Routes: Under this plan, a number of smart cities, industrial zones, container terminals, grain and fuel storage facilities, warehouses, dry ports and thermal power plants are planned.

CPEC: Infrastructure Development 155 along Lahore-Islamabad Motorway, Karachi-Hyderabad Motorway and Dedicated Freight Corridor.

Energy and Water Sector Projects: In order to develop energy and water sector in Pakistan, FWO has planned to undertake and develop mega dam projects as well as medium size Hydro Power Projects. The last but not the least is the capacity issue, in the implementation phase and addressed by raising and training a huge technical and skilled work force needed. National University of Technology and Skills Development (NUTECH) has been conceptualized. Proposed university to introduce the concept of basic to higher education CPEC 156 in the field of technology for the first time in Pakistan, though already adopted in the advanced countries.

The CPEC is a prized opportunity for Pakistan to realize its strategic and economic potential and is regarded as a “Game Changer” for Pakistan and the region. The benefits of the project will materialize gradually and the require determination from Pakistan and China to achieve their cherished goals in the best possible manner. FWO, in its capacity, has been striving to play its essential part rather leading the implementation of the CPEC.

First published in our partner Mehr News Agency

Vahid Pourtajrishi is an expert at planning unit of the department of the international affairs of the Railways of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He has worked as journalist at correspondent of Mehr News Agency.

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South Asia

Democratic transitions in South Asia: Solih led Opposition brings hope to Maldives

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Authors:  Srimal Fernando and Mizly Nizar*

The 2018 Maldivian Presidential Election and the run up to it was closely watched not only by the neighboring South Asian nations but also the international community. The overwhelming victory of opposition presidential candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih a close aide of former President Mohamed Nasheed defeating the incumbent President  Yameen Abdul Gayoom will alter the political direction of the Indian Ocean archipelago. Solih’s victory gaining 134,616 votes with 58.33 % of total votes cast appears to bring new hopes to the island nation ending the authoritarian regime of Yameen who obtained 96,132 votes or 41.7 % of total votes. A few hours after the historic election victory Solih announced on television “I call on Yameen to respect the will of the people and bring about a peaceful, smooth transfer of power”.

Over the past years the discontent in Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) aided in the emergence of several splinter parties. The opposition parties came together in a coalition when there appeared to be no other solution in sight to bring back democratic processes to an ailing nation. In this context Ibrahim Solihof Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)was nominated as the Joint opposition Presidential candidate for the2018 Presidential election.

Some of the factors that led to the formation of the opposition coalition are the arrest of former President Maumoon Gayoom and top court judges in   February this year. The international community had requested the release of all political   prisoners and those in exile including Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Mohamed Nasheed andQasim Ibrahim.

Furthermore, during the turbulent tenure of Yameen, the Indian  Ocean island nation saw  journalists  routinely  facing  harassment and intimidation while the regime practiced a high degree  of censorship  on privately  run  media  channels. State run media monopolized on election propaganda favouring the incumbent Yameen. Maldivian based public interest groups, civil society, journalist and activists played a key role under trying circumstances risking their own lives for the protection and promotion of civil liberties of this nation.

The policies of the west and India’s foreign policy towards Maldives during this period had been one of constructive engagement and noninterference towards the Island nation. Once Maldives had declared the dates for the election, it was back on the international agenda with renewed hopes of facilitating the island nation to transition back to democratic processes.

Closer to the elections, the role played by the Qasim Ibrahim of the Jumhooree Party, Nasreena Ibrahim wife of jailed former President Maumoon Gayoom and Dunya Maumoon former Minister of Foreign Affairs were significant in the current election victory of the MDP.

The electoral behavior of the 26 Atolls  had changed considerably   between the 2013 and 2018 Presidential elections. In the recently concluded election the Maldivian voters were more divided than they had been in 2013 with reduced dominance of the ruling PPM. A large proportion of voters of the PPM’s Gayoom faction had transferred their votes to the Joint Opposition candidate. In addition supporters of Qasim Ibrahim’s Jumhooree Party (JP) and the Adhaalath Party voters had shifted their electoral support to the MDP.  This   pattern was particularly noticeable in Male’, Hulumale islands and especially the Addu Atoll.   However, the ruling PPM tended to be strong in some Atolls outside Male’.

Compared to other South Asian nations, political modernization came late to Maldives. It was not until 2008, that Maldives held its first democratic elections with a multiparty system. The 90 % voter turnout and the election victory of the recently concluded Maldivian election sends a clear message that there is still hope to rekindle democratic process while ending monopolized schemes of autocratic rule. There is great confidence that constructive democratic reforms will take place in the coming months with the victory of   Ibrahim Solih refashioning the previous multi party democratic system while steering the Indian Ocean Island nation in the right direction for progress in the future.

* Mizly Nizar is a foreign policy analyst and a former visiting lecture at The Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS)  and the Open University of Sri Lanka.

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South Asia

Pakistan should ‘Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick’ in response to India

M Waqas Jan

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With the 73rd United Nations General Assembly currently underway, tensions in South Asia once again seem to be building up to yet another verbal battle between the delegations from Pakistan and India. As the Pakistani Foreign Minister and his Indian counter-part both arrive in New York, the mood between both sides remains sour owing to the recent cancellation of the proposed meeting that was to be held between the two on the sidelines of this summit. Thus instead of talks, the age-old issues surrounding Kashmir, terrorism and cross border violations are once again expected to take center stage in both Ministers’ speeches to the General Assembly.

However, it is worth noting that despite the appearance of escalating tensions, Pakistan is in a much better position diplomatically in light of the recent steps taken by key officials in India. These include the Indian Army Chief’s sudden sabre-rattling over the weekend, coupled with the confusion and inconsistency in the contradictory statements issued by the Indian Foreign Office.

The case of the latter arises from the fact that Pakistan’s offer for a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the UNGA was at first accepted by India. It was then suddenly rescinded within a day, along with a strongly worded statement that not only questioned Pakistan’s motives, but accused it of harboring ‘Evil Intentions’ from which the ‘true face of its Prime Minister was revealed.’

Even in the long history of Pak – India tensions, the wording of this official statement marks a fresh departure from established diplomatic norms between the two countries. It harks back to the rhetoric employed by the hard-line Iran regime against the Bush led US Administration. Or the kind of statements made by the North Korean leadership as part of its carefully crafted narrative of defiance and belligerence to the world status quo. Both present examples of where international sentiment went against such fiery rhetoric as opposed to supporting it.

Coming from India however, the statements made by its army chief as well as its external affairs spokesperson appear at best as an over-reaction. At their worst, they come off as a grave miscalculation that has in fact played right into the narrative being posited by Pakistan. This narrative is linked directly to the unabashed and hard-line approach taken by the Modi government, in placating its vast political base of far right nationalists. Pakistan has long accused the Indian government of pushing forth an anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan agenda, harking back to the days of Mr. Modi’s stint as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. The rise of religious intolerance and widespread political divisiveness in India are often cited as a direct result of Mr. Modi’s inability to promote peace and diversity within the region.

Based on the above, the recent cancellation of talks between the two countries’ Foreign Ministers is thus widely perceived to have been carried out within this same context. Especially with the Indian elections looming just ahead, many have pointed out that escalating tensions against Pakistan would greatly help in diverting the Indian electorate’s attention away from domestic issues. Channeling such anti-Pakistan sentiments, the incumbent government can thus position itself as the only credible deterrent to the bogeyman that Pakistan is being made out to be; In effect, uniting a fractured and divisive polity against an age-old historic enemy.

Considering how India has often accused Pakistan’s foreign policy of being made hostage to Civil-Military tensions and more or less defined by hawkish generals; it is extremely ironic to see how India’s own foreign policy is here being made hostage to local communal and political tensions amongst its own populace. While Mr. Modi may perhaps achieve some semblance of a political victory domestically, one wonders whether it is worth India losing its credibility as a key regional power internationally.

Based on this scenario Pakistan here has a unique opportunity in claiming the moral as well as diplomatic high ground by merely exercising restraint. Instead of playing into the bellicose rhetoric and being goaded in to a tactical misadventure, Pakistan should continue to push for talks emphasizing the need for peace and restraint. This should be done in spite of the inherent weaknesses on display within the Indian government and military.

Therefore, drawing on the century old dictum espoused by visionary US President, Theodore Roosevelt, Pakistan would do well to “Speak softly and carry a Big Stick, ”in response to the increasingly bellicose rhetoric being espoused by India. While much has been made of the ‘Big Stick’ in the form of nuclear deterrence on the international stage, it is the diplomatic finesse required in ‘Speaking Softly’ that is to give Pakistan the edge within the current debates unfolding at the UNGA.

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South Asia

Prospect of peace process between India and Pakistan

Adeela Ahmed

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The Sovereign States frame their foreign policy to set political goals that enable them to interact with the other countries of the world to promote their national interest, national security and enhance national power. The Government of Pakistan along with other challenges is focusing to formulate a vigorous foreign policy. It is a Herculean task but they are motivated to set the foreign policy preferences.  It has adopted an approach of conflict resolution to review their relations with not only with Eastern and Western neighbors but also with Muslims world and Great powers.

It is foremost goal of Pakistan not to confront any country but there would be no compromise on its national interests and national security. However, the incumbents at the helm of affairs are taking significant steps towards improving Pakistan’s relations with the neighboring and significant geopolitical countries like China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, and Afghanistan.

Pakistan is well aware of the fact that the improvement in relations with neighbors would reduce hostility in the region which would benefit not only Pakistan but also bring prosperity to the region. Pakistan is on the track of bringing peaceful relations with India and Afghanistan as peace in neighbors is peace in the Regions.

The international system is moving towards multipolarity. So, it is in the strategic interest of every state to develop good relations with countries to avail new opportunities and counter all the challenges for economic prosperity, regionally and globally, both at the bilateral and multilateral levels.

South Asia has significant Geo strategic importance in the world politics.  The sea lanes in the Indian Ocean are considered among the most strategically important in the world which makes South Asia more important region for trade and global security. Pakistan Government took a big diplomatic step to initiate the Peace Process. The vision of Peace Initiative is to develop cordial relations on equal footings to improve trade and commercial ties. Such diplomatic move is beneficial for both countries and can reduce poverty and economics crises. With such positive proposals, Pakistan realized to avail the international platform of 73th Sessions of United States General Assembly to engage with India for regional connectivity and prosperity.

Keeping aside all the hurdles imposed by US and India to isolate Pakistan at the regional and international level Pakistan wrote letter to Indian counterpart.  The hurdles executed by US and India are as they have placed Pakistan in Financial Action Task Force (FATF) by the global financial watchdog and the United States has frozen aid to Pakistan for the country’s alleged failure to take serious steps in fighting terrorism and extremism. And on top of all that, Pakistan’s relations with neighboring Afghanistan are once again returning to the usual blame-game by Afghan Government due to India propaganda and subversion.

Unfortunately, on 22 September India rejected the step of peace initiative taken by Pakistan government arrogantly by making an excuse of the issuance of stamps of Kashmiri freedom fighters. Although the stamps were issued on July 24, a day before the general elections were held, the issue was raised by Indian media within 24 hours after New Delhi agreed to the meeting.

Actually, it is in the Strategic interest of India to cancel the talks for their domestic political advantage. The reality is that India did not want to engage with Pakistan and to hide its intentions by using old tactics of blame game and fake propaganda. Ridiculously, they criticize Pakistan intentions as “the evil agenda of Pakistan” and nullified the importance of dialogue.  It disappointed Pakistan as the resumption of the peace dialogue is the need of time.

India wants its supremacy in the region by suppressing and isolating Pakistan but Pakistan new government diplomatic tactful moves of improving ties with neighboring Afghanistan and Iran and revive strategic ties with China, Saudi Arabia, and UAE annoys them. They cannot perceive Pakistan growing and flourishing economically. They try to use the political card of “military adventure” on Pakistan but Pakistanis have warned that any misadventure may turn into a disaster. Pakistan will not bear it.

In South Asia, India and Pakistan are Nuclear power states and it put more responsibility on both states to make strategies that will keep safe the interests of the entire region.  The role of rational decision makers who can act pragmatically in the time of crises and conflict without any pressures is like heart line. In that context when we analyse the current situation, the attitude of Indian media, the public pressure is so severe and their domestic politics instigates decision makers to bend and issued harsh irrational statements. Such an attitude is not only against diplomatic norms but also interrupts the conditions of deterrence equation which build stability between nuclear adversaries. Military adventurism is a dangerous step which can cross the threshold and the result would be drastic.

Pakistan Government use the international platform to draw the attention of world about Indian human rights violations against and oppression of the people of India-held Kashmir along with Indian stubbornness in Peace talks with Pakistan. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi stated at 73th UNGA forum that Pakistan’s principled position of being open to dialogue and firmly believes that it’s the only way forward to ensure regional peace and stability. Globally it should be noted that India aggressive policies did not want peace and despite Indian belligerence, Pakistan always makes efforts for peace and stability of the entire region.  India has once again wasted a serious opportunity to change the dynamics of the bilateral relationship and has unleashed the hate among the rivalries. It is high time both the countries should realize that the only way forward is regional connectivity through amicable ways as their region is becoming the centre of world economics.

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